After years of exclusion from the Conservative Political Action Conference, GOProud, the conservative gay-rights group, will be welcomed back at the annual conference this March.
"We welcome GOProud’s attendance at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference," said American Conservative Union executive director Dan Schneider told the National Journal. "I believe their presence could help establish a productive relationship in the future."
Participating in the largest conservative gathering in the nation means the tensions between the American Conservativ Union and the GOProud have seemingly settled down after CPAC objected to allowing pro-gay rights groups to attend the conference. The relationship between the two conservative organizations was severed in 2011 when the ACU's new leadership excluded GOProud from acting as a co-sponsor as they had in 2010 and 2011.
Al Cardenas, the director of the ACU, who organizes the annual event, said in February 2011 that will "be difficult to continue the relationship" they've established with GOProud for the past two years. Cardenas cited a specific incident in an interview with FrumForum when then-GOProud director Chris Barron referred to ACU chair Cleta Mitchell as a "nasty bigot."
The tone of the gathering appears to be shifting with Gov. Chris Christie, who was uninvited to speak at CPAC last year, slated to take the podium, and a panel on medical marijuana being hosted at the conference, according to the National Journal.
"At CPAC, we hope to encourage a dialogue among friends, one that works to advance the conservative movement by reinforcing the principles of free markets, limited government and a respect for individual rights," GOProud stated on their website. "This is also an opportunity for GOProud to highlight the support we have within the movement, working with individual allies and coalition groups to advance the principles of freedom that have made the conservative movement strong, and its members proud. This historic event is a symbolic step forward for both for the Republican Party, and for GOProud."
While GOProud members will be welcomed back as guests this year, the group will not host a booth or a panel at the event.
Jimmy LaSalvia, GOProud's co-founder, told msnbc that the fight has always been about whether a gay organization could sponsor CPAC.
"Honestly, there likely won't be real change until the old, out-of-touch leadership of the ACU board retires," LaSalvia said.
"If I was still running GOProud," LaSalvia told Slate on Wednesday. "I wouldn't accept a 3/5 invitation to CPAC."
LaSalvia chose to leave the Republican Party last month, writing on his website that he changed his voter registration to "No Party."
"I am every bit as conservative as I’ve always been, but I just can’t bring myself to carry the Republican label any longer," LaSalvia wrote. "You see, I just don’t agree with the big-government ‘conservatives’ who run the party now."
"The other reason I am leaving is the tolerance of bigotry in the GOP. The current leadership lacks the courage to stand up to it – I’m not sure they ever will."