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A Tale of Two Parties

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. It was the age of wisdom; it was the age of foolishness. It was the season of political parties; it was the season of pool parties.

Pardon my cribbing from Charles Dickens, but with all the talk of resistance in 2018, it only felt right to imitate a book about revolution. We’ve got marches in the streets, hashtags on Twitter — and in the greater Los Angeles area, inadvertently dueling LGBTQ+ pool parties.

On Saturday, Sept. 22, the Log Cabin Republicans hosted their second publicly advertised pool party of the summer. The first came and went without much fanfare, a “snowflake”-themed event designed to conjure up the right’s favorite dismissal of the left. This second event, however, caught quite a few more eyes, with its “Russian Collusion” theme. The Facebook posting for the event even had the Russian and American flags intertwined.

A mere eight days later, the Stonewall Democratic Club in West Hollywood hosted their own pool party, this one with a similarly political theme: impeachment, presumably of President Donald Trump. Emphasis on the peach.

I attended both parties, purchasing my own ticket (reimbursed by INTO) and giving organizers in both groups advance notice that I’d be attending as a reporter. What I found was a set of differences between the two events that, in many ways, encapsulated what divides the two political parties. From exclusivity versus inclusivity, to luxury versus economy, to the demographic makeup of both events, if you went into both blind, you’d have easily been able to guess which was which.

As I mentioned, I gave both groups the same notice that I’d be attending. While the Stonewall Democrats said press was welcome, the Log Cabin Republicans had concerns with letting me come — this despite having bought a ticket.

“We typically do not permit any media at our events unless specifically invited by us,” LCR Los Angeles chapter president Joshua Herr told me via email. The reasons for this were twofold: First, not all members are out, and thus LCR has “prioritized making our organization a safe space.” Second, Herr told me, was because “LGBT publications are more interested in hit pieces against Log Cabin or its members, personally, than unbiased reporting.”

Nonetheless, after I explained my intention to write a trend piece about both pool parties, LCR permitted me to attend — but restricted who I could speak with on the record to members of the group’s board. Unless Herr introduced me to someone, I was not to initiate conversation with them.

As a member of the general public attending the event via a paid ticket, these restrictions were in no way binding; however, as it is a private event, LCR did have the right to kick me out if I didn’t follow their directions. So I agreed to the terms laid out, and attended the party — which was held at a member’s residence in Whittier, 20 miles east of downtown Los Angeles. The following week, I attended the Stonewall Democrats’ event, which cost a third of the price ($10 for an early bird ticket versus $30 for an LCR non-member ticket) and was held in the Hollywood Hills.

Stonewall Party

I mentioned exclusivity versus inclusivity above, as that was one of the crucial differences between the two parties. Herr was posted up at the front of the LCR event with a list of RSVPs, and was taking money from those who preferred to pay at the door. There wasn’t so much as a sign-in sheet at the Stonewall party. At one point I was standing near the entry, and several confused guests looked to me as if I might be an organizer checking folks in. You could argue that the former was intimidating and restrictive, and I wouldn’t disagree with you. But it was also more formal in a positive way — more welcoming.

To put it plain: As an event, the LCR party blew the Stonewall Democrats’ party out of the water. The venue was better, with more space for guests, a bigger pool, and a stocked bar with specialty drinks. (“Can I get the Trump?” one attendee asked of the bartender, who was clearly uncomfortable in an American flag thong.) There were American and Russian flags along the side, plus a banner with information on the Rainbow Railroad, a group designed to help LGBTQ+ people flee from violent governments, for which LCR raises money. The Stonewall party’s bar was simple, its pool limited, and its seating basically nonexistent. If the LCR party felt like a professional gay get-together, the Stonewall event felt like a college party.

But of course, this makes sense. The LCR event was more expensive to attend, thus almost certainly more expensive to put on. The attendees were overwhelmingly white men, many of them older. (I counted three Make America Great Again hats in the crowd.) Contrast them to the younger crowd at the Stonewall event, with a more even spread between male and female attendees and a few (though to be frank, not many) more people of color in the crowd, and you start to understand why one party felt more slapdash than the other. Socio-economically, the groups differ in the exact way you’d expect.

At the Stonewall event, I spoke to one attendee, a doctor named Brian Fletcher, about the LCR event. He declared that there’s “a special place in hell” for Log Cabin Republicans, expressing confusion as to how a queer person could be a Republican. “Is money that important to you?” he rhetorically asked, although looking at the disparity in luxury between the two parties, I’d guess there’s a non-rhetorical answer.

Fletcher attended the Stonewall event specifically because of the “Impeach” theme, adding that while he doubts his contribution was going towards actual impeachment efforts (and doubts impeachment or removal will happen for Trump anyway), he knew he was spending his dollars on something anti-Trump. The Stonewall Democrats’ plan worked, then; they said through a spokesperson that their hope was to throw a party “that would reach further than our typical audience.”

“We thought IMPEACH would be a catchy name, considering the fact that if we do indeed flip the house and senate in November, we’ll be on our way to taking back our house,” the Stonewall spokesperson said.

In contrast, LCR California chair Matthew Craffey downplayed the Russian Collusion theme of their event as nothing serious. When I asked Craffey about the optics of decorating with a Russian flag considering the country’s flagrant human rights abuses against LGBTQ+ people, he reminded me that LCR did fundraising for the Rainbow Railroad.

Herr said the theme came up at a board meeting, and called it a “hilariously attention-grabbing theme.” He also indicated he didn’t think the Stonewall party’s theme was a response. In response to a question about LCR’s party, however, Stonewall went full Mariah Carey ‘I don’t know her,’ saying, “We’re not sure to what events you might be referring.”

Coincidence or not, the two parties’ confluence was an oddity that I can’t shake. In both their attendees and their format, the events perfectly encapsulated the parties they represent. It was almost too perfect an illustration of the divide — and it’s hard to imagine the divide ever bridging itself.

Dickens ended A Tale of Two Cities by imagining a happy ending that could not actually exist in the French Revolution. It’s a hope for the future instead of a reflection on the present, as scores of people are taken to the guillotines (including Sydney Carton). I’m thus tempted to express hope that the divide between LGBTQ+ people as reflected here no longer exists in the future — that our country as a whole can escape its current chaos and move toward a more accepting place.

But I’m not sure I have faith in that future. We live in polarized times, as people move to the extremes. Even gay pool parties are political now. If this reflects the intensity of the stalemate, one has to imagine we’ll be in full-blown revolution in no time.

Illustration by Bronwyn Lundberg


Kevin O'Keeffe

Kevin O'Keeffe is a writer and 'RuPaul's Drag Race' herstorian. He covers film and TV for INTO, and writes the movie review column "But How Gay Is It?" every Friday.

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