This is the fourth installment in a series of stories about my experience on the campaign trail with Fred Karger, an openly gay candidate for the Republican presidential nomination.
The first Mormon girl I ever met, I married. Her name was "Janet," and we were summer camp counselors together in college.
Janet and I were J-High leaders, which meant we had the unenviable task of entertaining groups of precocious 12- to 14-year-olds. I shaved my head and ignored them, while Janet was her peppy, wholesome self. We were a formidable team and sealed our partnership for one of the staff's notoriously racy theme parties.
Janet was Hera to my Zeus, and our station was "Hedonism of the Gods." She may not have inhaled, imbibed, or otherwise ingested, but she sure could give one heck of a back rub!
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I hadn't actually encountered Mormonism until college. The first time I laid eyes on the temple on Stanford Avenue in Palo Alto, I remember thinking, "Good for them!" The name "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints" implied an outsider quality that appealed to me for obvious reasons. Lord knows my own Catholic faith hadn't gotten Jesus right. Maybe these Mormons with their latter-day saints were doing a better job?
So I kept an open mind, even when Utah kept popping up while shooting a video about reparative therapy for George Michael. Michael had read an article an acquaintance of mine, Tomas Mournian, had written called "Hiding Out." It was about underaged kids living on the street after escaping from mental hospitals, where they'd been sent by their parents to be cured of their homosexuality. He wanted to showcase the issue in his set at the Equality Rocks concert during the Millennium March on Washington for LGBT Rights in 2000.
The stories of 3:00-a.m. abductions, locked mental wards, razor-wire fences, and electroshock therapy the kids shared with my camera overwhelmed me. While I continued exploring the subject in MTV's I'm Coming Out, it wasn't until Reed Cowan and Steven Greenstreet's 8: The Mormon Proposition that I saw the subject addressed with the honesty it deserved. Reed, a former Mormon, and Greenstreet courageously and accurately lay the blame for the lives of collateral damage these kids endure where it belongs, on the doorstep of Salt Lake City's Temple Square.
I myself had not been up to that task. I had made a rule of unquestioningly extending to any marginalized group the same unconditional acceptance I was seeking as a gay man. I perceived the Mormons, not to mention African Americans, to be such a group.
All that changed in 2008.
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Like many in the LGBT community, I was intensely invested in the outcome of Proposition 8. Since 2004, I had been making, and still am making, a marriage equality documentary called Justly Married, and I was anxiously reading every new poll and projection.
So was Fred Karger.
Fred hadn't missed a beat since saving the Boom. He was now tracking the divisive ballot initiative as only a former political operative could, and he was not a happy camper. When the money started pouring into the "Yes" campaign that August, he was the first to sound the alarm, and with Brian Wilson, the only one to uncover the source of most of those funds -- Mormons.
So when he told me two years later that he was thinking of running for President of the United States, I knew what was up. The penetrating beam he had focused on the tax-exempt Mormon's illegal backing of a political measure was arcing straight for the Republican frontrunner, the Mormon Mitt Romney. "Getting the Republican Party out of the gay-bashing business" is how I remember Fred putting it, which sounded good to me.
But it isn't that simple.
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Running for president is the birthright of any natural-born American, and as such, I believe it carries its own set of responsibilities
There's a fine line between vision and vanity. I wouldn't call Fred Karger vain; expedient, perhaps, opportunistic, or self-absorbed -- he's definitely a ham -- but he's also loyal, generous, and a friend.
There's also a fine line between vision and naïveté, or "lacking in sophistication," as my seventh-grade homeroom teacher put it to my mom in a parent-teacher conference.
Mrs. Capozzi's assessment of me was fittingly based on my performance in a mock presidential debate. It was 1976, and Jimmy Carter was challenging Gerald Ford for the presidency. My "sophisticated" classmates argued that because neither candidate was sufficiently inspiring, it was appropriate for people to register their displeasure by not voting. I disagreed, countering that it was our duty in a democracy to vote, even if it meant writing in a third choice who had no chance of winning. Mrs. Capozzi exasperated my mother by telling her that she didn't think I was equipped to navigate my life with the same kind of aplomb my peers were able to employ and was worried about the quality of my future success.
On the specific point of voting, Fred and I undoubtedly agree. My parents are from the Greatest Generation, and the struggle to guarantee voting rights, whether for women or African Americans, was a significant part of their life experience, and they instilled the sanctity -- some would say "holiness" -- of the vote in their children. Fred's currency as a political strategist is the vote, and he has a reverence for it that goes hand in hand with that significance -- so much so, in fact, that he was beside himself when the gay establishment didn't make an effort to reach out to register any new voters during the protests that rallied Los Angeles after Prop. 8's passage. (Where you and I might see marauding youth, Fred sees voters lining up at the ballot box.)
But on other matters, well, call me naïve, unsophisticated, or René Descartes, because I believe that anything I can think is possible. To me, hope, or, more accurately, desire is not a luxury; it's an essential part of creation. It's not enough just to talk about wanting something; one has to believe that whatever one is wanting is actually possible, because desire without belief is hopeless. But, desire with belief? That changes the world.
Fred does not share this outlook, and this fundamental difference in philosophies would uncoil over the coming months to become our snake in the grass -- an inescapable divergence of beliefs that, whether in the cornfields of Iowa, thy ivy-covered halls of Dartmouth, or the headlines of the Los Angeles Times, would inevitably rear its head and send Fred and me in opposite directions.
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But that was for another day, because it was it was April 2010, and I was on my way to New Orleans for the Southern Republican Leadership Conference.
Fred was planning to hold a press conference at the host hotel to announce his "seriously considering" intentions of running for president as an openly gay candidate, and he wasn't getting any cooperation from the conference organizers. If the Log Cabin Republican Dinner in L.A. had been the belly of the beast, this was going to be the fire that was going to roast that beast, and I was looking forward to the sizzle.
They were all going to be there, too! Sarah, Mitt, Newt, Ron, even that washed-up, anti-gay former Senator from Pennsylvania, Rick Santorum, made more famous for the "frothy mix of lube and fecal matter" that a Google search of his name brings up than for anything he had actually accomplished while in Washington.
If Bette Davis had been with me, she would have warned me to fasten my seatbelt. I did the next best thing: I wiped my camera's lens clean and charged up all my batteries.
Fred Karger was about to declare the opening of a new chapter in American history.
Up next: Part 5: State Fair!