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Gay Republican Presidential Candidate Reveals Why He Ran -- And It Wasn't To Win

Lila Shapiro   |   April 10, 2014    9:28 AM ET

You may not be aware that Fred Karger ran for president in 2012. He was on the ballot in only a handful of states. He wasn't allowed to take part in any televised debates. The slogan on his campaign buttons and flying discs alluded to the central predicament of his candidacy: "Fred Who?"

But winning was never the point for Karger. Being openly gay, he was "a different kind" of Republican, as he puts it in a new documentary about his ups and downs on the  campaign trail. He had hoped to "open the flap to the tent and let everyone in."

Nearly four years after first hitting the trail in New Hampshire, Karger is back in the state this week, showing the documentary at high schools, colleges and film festivals. 

As the film, "Fred," makes clear, Republicans were not always welcoming to Karger, despite his background as an adviser on nine presidential campaigns, including those of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. On Wednesday, Karger spoke to The Huffington Post about life as an openly gay Republican candidate, coming out in his 50s, and the likelihood of America electing an openly gay candidate to the country's highest office.

What's it like being back being back in New Hampshire? Do you have a different perspective now?

It's a lot less pressure. It's fun to be alongside this historic documentary and traveling with John Keitel, who made the movie, and Kevin Miniter, who was on the campaign for me for 2 1/2 years. It's just nice to bask in the glow of a successful 2 1/2-year campaign.

You mentioned when we spoke last that you've been thinking of the film, and your tour with the documentary, as a kind of guide for how to run for president. Why that approach?

It's interesting. We've had four screenings now and in New Hampshire, and others around the country, that is one of the big takeaways. Number one: people didn't realize the extent of the Karger campaign and all we did, but as a part of that I think we realized how important access to the Republican debate was. How important it was to stand up to the opponents who would try to create roadblocks, like Steve Scheffler in Iowa [president of the conservative political group Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition, who warned Karger he intended to "abort" his campaign], and the Southern Republican Leadership Conference where I wasn't allowed a room to have my press conference. How to get ballot access.

I think that in the film, people got a little understanding, a real inside look at the machinations and work that goes on whether it's the design of the T-shirts or whether it's speaking to a group or finding college students to listen and volunteer. I think they see that the various stages of the campaign. I would invite other first time presidential candidates like Ted Cruz or Rand Paul to view it. And I think they would learn a little bit from it as well.

Is there any particular aspect of your campaign that you would handle differently now?

I would have, and I tried but failed, to really concentrate on fundraising, which is a very unpleasant part of the campaign for me, but would have given me the ability to do a lot more and to hopefully get my name identification up to get in to a debate. That is my biggest regret because we only raised -- outside of my contributions -- about $85,000, which for a 2 1/2-year presidential campaign is nothing. The size of a city council race in Manchester, New Hampshire, or Laguna Beach, California, where I live. So in order to do all we did, I had to chip in my own money, which seemed more pleasant than asking others. But in hindsight I really wish we were more aggressive. I think that would have really made a difference, we would have been taken more seriously too.

Looking back, what was the most difficult rejection you faced as an openly gay candidate?

I was really hurt by the Victory Fund [an organization dedicated to supporting openly lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender candidates] and their lack of support. They treated me so poorly. I couldn't see how the largest and most successful LGBT organization designed to support openly LGBT candidates would just completely sit out my campaign.

I was dismayed by the reaction I got, not just from Victory Fund, but a lot of the LGBT groups, because of my Republican Party registration. And I understand that, because nearly everything bad that has happened in our civil rights movement has come from Republicans. But I think a lot of the sophisticated people understood what I was doing, to hold the Republicans' feet to the fire, to make them include an openly gay candidate.

Why exactly do you still identify as a Republican? Which issues do you agree with the party on?

I still believe in a lot of the basic principles -- smaller government, keeping government out of our lives. I don't know if you saw that Alan Simpson video? That's me. And that's why. Those basic Republican principles. I feel very strongly that we have a strong national defense, I believe in tough law and order, I believe in the empowerment of the individual.

It seems of course hypocritical with a lot of the [anti-gay] marriage amendments that Republicans have led and sponsored, but to me that's still the basics of the Republican Party.

You first came out during a campaign to save a gay bar in Laguna Beach from closing. At that time, did you consider switching parties?

I never gave it a serious thought, to switch parties. I'd lived in the same house for 36 years, I had the same job for 27 years. I don't make a lot of changes and I value the Republican Party for what it used to be, and want to be an agent of change. There have been lots of offers, 'the Democratic Party would welcome you, you should really be a Democrat,' and I appreciate that, but they don't need me in the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party is doing great, particularly on LGBT issues. It's the Republican Party that needs to see the light.

Why was that bar closing the issue to coax you out of the closet?

I was terrified. Looking back, I feel a little queasy, all these years later. Part of it was getting used to living this double life, and being on guard, being scared of discovery. I knew, because of what i was getting into, and my background in Republican politics, that it would be somewhat newsworthy. It's hard to even verbalize how scared I was of that, and how silly it seems today.

But [after a screening of the film] I talked to this class in New Hampshire, and when we videoed some of them for comment, many didn't want their last names used, or to participate in this little video we're dong. These are kids who are out in college, but they're still not there publicly. I, of course, appreciate that, understand that, but we have a long way to go before that comfort level for everyone is there to do what a lot of us are able to do now. But I'm able to do it only because I'm at this point of my life where I don't have a career that might be impacted, and my family is aware and supportive.

But there are so many people out there that are unable to express themselves and live their lives honestly, and that's why I did what I did. I wanted to be this Republican candidate for president that people would go, 'Oh my God I can't believe this guy is doing this, I guess it's okay now to be gay, or lesbian or bisexual or transgender now.'

How many years away do you think we from electing an openly gay president?

It's a good question. I don't know. I've seen the polls. when I started running there was a Vanity Fair/ 60 Minutes poll showing that 50 percent of the public would support an openly gay president. And then Jimmy Carter came out while I was running and said he could easily foresee an openly gay president. So I think it's not that far away. People are getting so accustomed to gay characters on TV, gay people coming out, that its just a matter of time. And we've got a great farm team, members of Congress, state legislators -- even some statewide officials. I'm thinking in the next six, eight, 10 years we'll have a very serious candidate for president who's LGBT and gets into the those debates and I think people will be very excited to support a candidate who is very open and honest and has great ideas on issues and would do a good job.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Click here to watch the documentary trailer.

A Very Open Letter to NOM President Brian Brown

Fred Karger   |   March 24, 2014    9:43 AM ET

Mr. Brian Brown
National Organization for Marriage
2029 K Street, NW # 300
Washington, DC 20006

Dear Brian:

First, I wanted to let you know that thanks to you I was able to raise a near record amount of money in one week for my Legal Fund, Five for Fred. We met our goal by putting your photo on my fundraising appeal. It was the picture of you not looking too happy as you testified before the Maine Ethics Commission. That coupled with the fact that NOM was responsible for my being subpoenaed and deposed by the U.S. Justice Department, helped to raise enough money to cover our legal bills. Most of our contributions were for $5.00. That's a far cry from how NOM raises money. Last report, nearly 90 percent of the $16 million you raised came from just 5 donors.

But the main reason for writing you today was to let you know just how poorly served you were at last week's deposition of me by your star attorney, NOM Chairman, John Eastman.

Mr. Eastman was not as bad as Cleta Mitchell was on last summer's 51-minute conference call with the Iowa Ethics Board (CLICK HERE FOR AUDIO), but close. When Ms. Mitchell was representing NOM as your attorney in the proceedings, she managed to offend the entire Ethics' Board and its Executive Director over and over again by questioning their impartiality. Take a listen if you haven't heard the entire meeting: CLICK HERE

John Eastman Was Just Plain All-around Awful

Your attorney was totally unprepared, wandering, perplexed, seemed confused, disorganized and generally discombobulated. He had trouble finding dozens of exhibits that he kept trying to introduce while continually digging through stacks of papers that were strewn all over the conference table and floor.

At least half of Mr. Eastman's questions to me during the deposition were way beyond the scope of your lawsuit and were objected to by the defense attorney with the Department of Justice and my attorney.

He was repeatedly asked where he was heading with his line of questioning because it was so far off the mark. He kept saying that we would see, but we clearly never did. Wonder if he was just wasting everyone's time to run up his billable hours to NOM with all those oddball questions?

Anyway, the transcript will be available soon and you can see for yourself. Since you were not in Los Angeles for the deposition I thought you'd want to know.

If you are attempting to scare me, Brian, like you hoped to five years ago when you tried to subpoena and depose me in a case that I was not a party to either, you are barking up the wrong tree. CLICK HERE

Mr. Eastman was trying to make the point over and over again in the deposition that I did not like NOM and all the hate that you spew. That point was on the mark.

As far as I am concerned you and your NOM are hell-bent on destroying the lives of millions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people all over the world.

Know that while you undertake all your evil deeds, I will continue to monitor NOM and do everything in my power to make sure that you obey state and federal laws and play by the rules.


Fred Karger
Rights Equal Rights

James Nichols   |   October 9, 2013    1:06 PM ET

National Organization for Marriage President Brian Brown made a shocking claim last month that he engaged in a unpublicized trip to Moscow to meet with members of the Russian Duma in June.

His intention? To collaborate on legislation that would ban gay foreigners from adopting children from the former Soviet Union.

Now, Brown is coming under fire by Fred Karger, President of Rights Equal Rights, who claims that Brown's actions to help pass this legislation with Russian officials violates The Logan Act, a federal statute that states that it is a crime for a U.S. citizen to confer with foreign governments against the interest of the United States or without authorization of the American government.

In a letter addressed to Secretary of State John Kerry and Attorney General of the United States Eric H. Holder Jr.,, Karger states:

The presentations by NOM’s Brian Brown were apparently very effective. Five days later, the Duma passed a ban on the adoption of Russian children by same-sex couples and by single people living in countries that allow marriage equality.

Immediately after Mr. Brown’s meetings and testimony in the Russian capital, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a severe crackdown on LGBT rights, affecting all LGBT visitors to Russia to include Americans.

If Mr. Brown did travel to Moscow with French religious leaders with the express intention of furthering discrimination against LGBT Russians and all LGBT travelers to Russia, this could be in direct conflict with current United States laws.

Brown, who has long been a vocal opponent of same-sex marriage, reportedly even spoke with Russia 1’s Vesti news program during his Moscow trip, stating, according to a translation provided by, "Right now you’re having the fight about adoption, but the adoption issue is indivisible from the marriage issue. If you don’t defend your values now, I’m afraid we’re going to see very negative developments all over the world."

(h/t Towleroad)

Will the Mormon Church Sit Out Hawaii's Gay Marriage Vote?

Fred Karger   |   September 16, 2013    8:44 AM ET

On September 23, 1995 the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon Church) released "The Family, A Proclamation to the World."

The landmark Mormon one-page document is often framed and hangs in Mormon homes all over the world. It was issued that day by the The First Presidency and Council of the Twelve Apostles of the Mormon Church. Since the First President of the Mormon Church is a living prophet, Gordon B. Hinkley at the time, The Family Proclamation came directly from God.

Mormon Church Declares War on Gay Marriage

It turns out *The Family Proclamation to the World was actually the Mormon Church's declaration of war on gay marriage in this country by the politically savvy, wealthy and extremely powerful religion.

Paragraph six says it quite clearly: "The family is ordained of God. Marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan. Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and a mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity."

The next paragraph is the first indication that the Mormon Church would become the leader in the fight to stop same-sex marriage in state after state for the next 13 years. The Family Proclamation to the World says: "We warn that the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets."

I did not discover just what the Mormon Church had been doing since 1995 until its massive involvement in California's Proposition 8 campaign in 2008. It was well on its way to raising over $30 million from its California and Utah members, when I figured out just what they were doing. I turned my discovery over to the Wall Street Journal, which broke the story on September 20, 2008.

This amazing investigative piece by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Mark Schoofs detailed just exactly how Mormon Church leaders raised all that money.

Mormon Church Investigated and Prosecuted in California

I later filed a sworn complaint against the Mormon Church with the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) 10 days after the November 5th election when I realized just how much money the Mormon Church itself spent to pass Prop 8. I discovered that the Church produced 23 slick commercials, developed elaborate web sites, organized 25,000 door-to-door volunteers for the nine Saturdays leading up to election day, ran massive phone banks out of Utah and Idaho and bused in thousands of Mormon Church members to California during the final weekend before the election to hold up "Yes on Prop 8" signs all over the state.

The Mormon Church had only reported spending $2078 directly on Prop 8, so the FPPC decided to investigate my charges. It prosecuted the Mormon Church, conducted an 18-month investigation into all its activities and in the end the Mormon Church pled guilty to 13 counts of election fraud for all it spent to pass Prop 8 and never reported. Taking unprecedented action, the State of California fined the Mormon Church for all its election law violations CLICK HERE

Mormon Church Began in Hawaii

Soon after issuing its September 23, 1995 Family Proclamation, the Mormon Church hit the ground running in Hawaii to stop the first state that was about to consider legalizing gay marriage. The Aloha State began looking at the issue after the Hawaii Supreme Court opened the door to the possibility two years earlier.

The Mormon Church has a large presence in Hawaii. The Church-owned Brigham Young University -- Hawaii (BYUH) and the Polynesian Culture Center are there, along with enormous real estate holdings and thousands of Church members.

The Mormon Church assembled the coalition which soundly defeated Hawaii's effort to allow gay marriage by placing Amendment 2 on the ballot. On November 3, 1998, Hawaii voters approved the amendment by a vote of 69.2-28.6 percent. The Mormon Church reported spending $400,000 of Church money on that campaign, for which it received a huge black eye.

As a result of that experience the Mormon Church went underground and got others to "front" the campaigns in the next 28 states that voted to ban gay marriage. Instead of giving Mormon Church money directly, it coerced its Church members to give the necessary campaign cash in each and every state that subsequently voted to ban gay marriage just as it did in California.

I know, I received boxes full of secret Mormon Church documents to prove it. These official documents detail exactly how the Mormon Church qualified, ran and funded the elections to ban gay marriage all across the country. We have posted just some of this treasure trove of Mormon Church evidence on our web site at Rights Equal Rights: CLICK HERE

Will the Mormon Church Sit Out Next Hawaii Gay Marriage Vote?

Last week Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie called for an October 28, 2013 special legislative session to move forward on a bill that would legalize gay marriage.

What will the Mormon Church do now? It appears that post Proposition 8 the Church has backed away from leading the fight to stop gay marriage at any cost, because its public image received such a shellacking. Take a look at this Washington Post story from May 29, 2009 "The Mormon are Coming" as a prime example.

In the story the Church's own pollster Gary Lawrence admits that the Mormon Church was badly hurt because of all it did on Prop 8, "We're upside down in our image," he said. "The Church's favorability ratings declined for Mormons over the last year, from 42 percent to 37."

Mormon Church has Changed

The Mormon Church has taken steps to end the discrimination and mistreatment of gays and lesbians in the Church and elsewhere. Through the tireless work of several prominent gay former Mormons, meetings have taken place and the Church has softened its anti-gay rhetoric. It finally now uses the word "gay" and even lunched a web site recently,

The Church led the effort to have the Salt Lake City Council pass workplace and housing non-discrimination laws, even having Michael Otterson its Public Affairs Director, testify at the meeting. Both laws passed unanimously. The Church-owned Deseret News reported on it.

Romney Campaign Kept Mormons on Sidelines

However, I believe that the Mormon Church sat out most all of the gay marriage elections over the last four years because it had a far more important political cause to embrace, the election of the first Mormon president of the United States, Mitt Romney. The Church definitely did not want to become an issue in the Romney campaign. They did not want to do anything that would harm his chances to capture the White House.

Now Mitt Romney is no longer a consideration, and a gay marriage vote is coming back to the state where it all began, Hawaii. What will the Mormon Church do now? Can its leaders resist temptation and sit out next month's special legislative session? Only time will tell. I know that we at Rights Equal Rights will be watching very closely. If the Mormon Church gets back in the game, we will make sure that this time they do so without hiding their involvement and obey all state election laws during the process.

*The Family Proclamation to the World was read by President Gordon B. Hinckley as part of his message at the General Relief Society Meeting held September 23, 1995, in Salt Lake City, Utah.

What Drives NOM Now? Greed!

  |   January 9, 2013    3:00 PM ET

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How to Help the GOP Survive: Saw Off the Far Right Hate Groups

Fred Karger   |   December 21, 2012    5:52 PM ET

As a lifelong Republican who believes in the key principals of the Republican Party like smaller government, a strong national defense, fiscal responsibility, a balanced budget, tough on crime, an independent judiciary, keeping government out of our lives and personal empowerment I am deeply concerned about the survival of today's Republican Party. One of the major reasons for the GOP's potential demise is that it has been hijacked by dangerous, bigoted and self-serving organizations like the Family Research Council, the National Organization for Marriage and the American Family Association. These are all "hate groups" who seem hell-bent on cleansing the Republican Party of minorities, moderates, women and anyone who supports full equality for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans.

I had the honor of working for President Reagan for seven years as a senior member of his political team. While a true-blue conservative, Ronald Reagan felt strongly that the Republican Party should be inclusive, not exclusive. He embraced a "Big Tent" belief and practiced it regularly both as governor of California and president. He almost singlehandedly brought back the Republican Party from the ashes after Richard Nixon nearly destroyed it with Watergate and his eventual resignation in 1974.

President Reagan reached out to Democrats, Independents, minorities, labor and women and built a coalition that helped defeat incumbent President Jimmy Carter in 1980 just six years after Nixon resigned. As president, he grew this coalition to help him win his 49 state landslide reelection victory in 1984.

The Republican Party used to be the party of civil rights. The first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, unified a divided nation and ended slavery. One hundred years ago Republican Teddy Roosevelt was the first president to appoint African Americans in his administration, all of whom were fired by his Democratic successor Woodrow Wilson. This is the GOP that we long for, a party that welcomes everyone, grows the economy, balances the budget, leads on civil rights and provides for those who are not able to care for themselves.

In a recently unsealed secret memo from a federal lawsuit, one of these third party hate groups, the newly formed National Organization for Marriage (NOM) talks openly about using its influence in last year's GOP presidential primary to get all the candidates to sign its anti-LGBT "Marriage Pledge." Additionally, its strategy to "go after any pro-gay marriage Republicans in primaries and destroy them" was backed up with a $1 million budget and led by NOM leaders Maggie Gallagher and Brian Brown.

NOM's "Marriage Pledge" was signed by six of the leading Republicans running for president this year Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, Tim Pawlenty and Newt Gingrich. Only Jon Huntsman, Ron Paul, Herman Cain and I withstood the pressure from NOM and refused to sign its hateful pledge. Congressman Paul was brutally attacked by NOM in paid ads in Iowa and press releases for refusing to cave into its demands.

Tony Perkins, the head of the Family Research Council, the lobbying arm of Focus on the Family, took great pride in the fact the he wrote the anti-women, anti-LGBT and basically anti-everybody section of the Republican Party Platform at this year's GOP Convention in Tampa. His toxic language further served to drive away centrist, fair-minded Republicans and Independents from November's election. Several political experts and pundits blame this year's GOP platform for Romney's lopsided loss to President Obama.

Bryan Fischer of the Tupelo, Mississippi-based American Family Association (AFA) spews hate daily on his radio show. He is very influential with Republican Party leadership and many members of Congress because of his 190 radio station network and all the money the AFA gives to candidates and causes. He bullied Mitt Romney to fire openly gay foreign policy spokesman Ric Grenell and gloated when Grenell resigned. Fischer said that "Mitt Romney will never hire any more homosexuals again."

Mainstream and inclusive Republican Party leaders across this country should take back the GOP and repudiate these third party organizations. Tell Tony Perkins, Maggie Gallagher, Brian Brown and Bryan Fischer to take a hike. Let's reshape the Republican Party in the image of Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan. Let's roll out the red carpet and let young people, women, minorities and everyone know that we are the party that will grow this economy, help them become prosperous, support immigration reform, guarantee their freedoms, protect them from foreign enemies, support full equality for LGBT Americans and stay out of our lives.

With these positions and strong independent leadership that distances itself from these outside hate groups, Tony Perkins, Maggie Gallagher, Brian Brown and Bryan Fischer may well go the way of the dinosaur to extinction instead of the Republican Party.

Where Have All the Mormons Gone In the Fight for Marriage Equality?

  |   November 12, 2012   12:12 PM ET

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Where's the Outrage? National Organization for Marriage Out to Destroy Lives

Fred Karger   |   October 31, 2012   12:42 PM ET

The LGBT community and everyone who cares about fairness and equality face four crucial votes next Tuesday in Maryland, Maine, Minnesota and Washington State. All four elections are the doing of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM).

NOM has an unlimited amount of money at its disposal and is hell-bent on hurting millions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans every conceivable way possible, especially at the ballot box.

In 2009 the Maine State Legislature passed and the Governor signed a historic bill allowing marriage equality in the Pine Tree State. On the first day possible NOM hired professional signature gatherers to qualify a referendum to repeal it. NOM was successful.

This year as soon as Washington and Maryland passed marriage equality, NOM hired professional signature gatherers in both states to place referenda on their November ballots to repeal those newly passed laws.

In Minnesota NOM lobbied heavily and got the State Legislature to place a Constitutional Amendment on its November 6th ballot to enshrine discrimination into that state's Constitution banning gay marriage there.

The fourth state voting next week on the freedom to marry is Maine once again. This time the LGBT community placed Question 1 on the ballot to overturn NOM's last vote and finally allow gay marriage to be the law just as it should have been three years ago.

NOM Costs Us Dearly

So NOM has cost the LGBT community and our friends at least $30 million and counting in these four states this year alone. NOM heads Maggie Gallagher and Brian Brown are determined to fight equality every step of the way no matter what the cost or the consequences. Once again they appear to be getting off scot free in their never ending attempt to demonize and harm the LGBT community whose only desire is to have the same marriage rights as their brothers and sisters, friends and relatives and to be able to marry the person they love.

NOM Under Investigation in Two States for
Election Irregularities

The Maine Ethics Commission has been investigating NOM for over three years on a complaint that I filed against them for money laundering in the election of 2009. In spite of federal and state lawsuits filed by NOM to try and stop that investigation, NOM has lost its battle to break state election laws and not disclose its donor's names. Earlier this month the United States Supreme Court denied NOM's second appeal to skirt the Maine law, yet NOM refuses to obey this ruling and continues to hide the identity of its donors. Just who are they trying to protect?

In 2008 NOM raised $345,000 including $10,000 from Mitt Romney to qualify and pass California's Proposition 8 and did not disclose this money at the time. The California Fair Political Practices Commission has been investigating NOM on those charges I filed as well.

This very shady organization that sprung up out of nowhere just five years ago to do battle against the LGBT community has raised and spent tens of millions of dollars and is at it again. NOM is determined to destroy lives and while doing so do everything in its power to avoid the very election laws of transparency put in place to protect us.

We should be angry and fight back against NOM with all our might.

You Can Give, But You Can't Hide -- The Amway Boycott

  |   August 9, 2012   12:36 AM ET

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Open Letter to Mormon Church President Thomas S. Monson

  |   June 14, 2012    4:00 PM ET

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Alana Horowitz   |   June 13, 2012    6:20 PM ET

Openly-gay GOP presidential candidate Fred Karger was greeted with a less-than-friendly welcome when he began campaigning in Utah this month. As the L.A. Times reports, Karger received a harsh email from the wife of a Republican official.

Nanette Billings, whose husband is Washington County Republican Party Chairman Willie Billings, wrote him to tell him she thought he was "a radical idiot."

"Do you know you cant[sic] procreate right? Well thank goodness for that," she wrote, according to Yahoo's Chris Moody.

She defended the email to Moody, explaining that "my feeling is the only reason he's running for president is to find more [sexual] partners."

Of course, Karger probably isn't too shocked by Billings' language-- he's received his fair share of push-back over his gay rights-focused campaign. One of his web ads was temporarily pulled from YouTube after it was flagged for inappropriate content. Even gay conservative group GOProud has said he is "not a credible candidate" and accused him of "running around the country with a rainbow flag" without actually making a case for why he'd make a good president.

Read Karger's HuffPost blog from earlier this month to find out more about why he's still running.

Openly Gay Republican Wins Round 1 Against Conservative Group

Sam Stein   |   May 30, 2012    2:42 PM ET

WASHINGTON -- Fred Karger, an openly gay Republican presidential candidate, has won the first round of the discrimination complaint he brought against a leading conservative organization. And in the wake of that victory, he is floating the idea of escalating his fight with the American Conservative Union Foundation to the courts.

In a little noticed ruling last week, the District of Columbia Office of Human Rights denied the ACUF's effort to throw out a complaint alleging that it had discriminated against Karger on the basis of his sexuality. Karger has said he was deprived of a booth and speaking spot at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, which is a project of the ACUF, because he is gay.

The ACUF tried to have the complaint dismissed, arguing that it doesn't run CPAC -- rather, the related but separate American Conservative Union does -- and has a First Amendment right to chose who speaks at its events. The group also argued that its disagreement with Karger was over his support for gay marriage and not his own sexual orientation. Gustavo Velasquez, the Office of Human Rights' director, rebuffed that argument, and found that "an investigation is warranted" into the causes of Karger's exclusion from CPAC.

"Good news," Karger said in a phone interview, "they stood up to the bullies."

A spokesman for the ACUF did not return a request for comment.

ACUF does have a right to apply for reconsideration, which it is poised to do in the near future. But Elliot Imse, a spokesman for the Office of Human Rights, said it had not yet received such an appeal. Even if one was filed, Imse said, it might not be enough to avoid a formal mediation process. The reconsideration process will take place in the next week or so, if it fails, a formal investigation will be conducted over the subsequent three to four months. If a resolution is not reached, the D.C. Commission on Human Rights could be brought in to determine if there was "probable cause" for Karger's exclusion.

The resulting proceedings could prove uncomfortable for the conservative movement at a time when the debate over gay rights is at the forefront of the public consciousness. Karger is hardly alone when it comes to feeling excluded from the Republican Party because of his sexuality. GOProud, a pro-gay rights conservative group, was also barred from CPAC this year. Its executive director, Jimmy LaSalvia, told The Huffington Post that the group "will cooperate with any government investigation we are asked to participate in."

Karger himself has turned over the evidence he has to the Office of Human Rights. He said he expects that the next step in the process will be mediation, and that he has a list of 10 demands that he wants met before he will drop the complaint.

"I don't want to tip my hat," he said, "but obviously they will have to allow people who are openly gay to participate or sponsor [CPAC] ... I'm not looking for monetary damages but more access and ability to communicate."

Should those demands not be met, he added, he would explore alternate vehicles, including taking the matter to the courts. That would be a much higher bar to clear, as there are several legal precedents allowing groups like ACUF to choose its membership (chief among them Boy Scouts of America et al. v. Dale). With the Republican primary essentially over, however, Karger is in need of a new stage from which to push his message. A highly public legal proceeding could be the answer.

"They will either have to allow people like me who are openly gay to participate," he said, "or they are going to have to move to a state like Virginia that has no anti-discrimination law."

UPDATE: 3:45 p.m. -- An ACU official, requesting anonymity to speak about pending legal matters, sent over the following response:

"We can't get into the details of an ongoing matter, but the notion that the American Conservative Union is required to invite to its key political event a man who proclaims he is to the left of Obama on many issues is absurd on its face. Mr. Karger's publicity stunt is baseless and will fail."

What Will History Say? An Interview With Fred Karger, the First Openly Gay Man to Run for President

Justin Sedor   |   May 29, 2012    7:19 PM ET

Fred Karger is a man to whom life has been very, very kind.

You can see it in the way he shows all of his teeth when he smiles, feel it in the way he squeezes your hand when he introduces himself, hear it in his easy yet firmly composed laugh. You can't help thinking it, bitterly, as you pull up in front of his beach house off Pacific Coast Highway in Laguna Beach. The pictures in the little frames in his living room are meant to drive the point home, and they're certainly impressive -- there he is with Dianne Feinstein, and Jake Gyllenhaal, and the Clintons, way back before Chelsea learned how to work her own toothy grin.
It's not surprising, upon meeting him and taking in the meticulously crafted package that is Fred Karger, that he is running for president of the United States.

At time of writing, Fred Karger is one of the three remaining candidates participating in the Republican primary. It's Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, and Fred Karger. Never heard of him? Fred doesn't mind. His campaign's main catchphrase is "Fred Who?" It's on his T-shirts and bumper stickers; it's the title of his 2011 memoir.

Karger has a sense of humor about it. "I'm not delusional," he says. "I know it's a long shot."

A very long one. While Karger looks every bit the presidential candidate, with horn-rimmed glasses and short-cropped sand-colored hair and that infectious smile, he's not exactly Mitt Romney. For starters, he's never held public office. He's 62, but he's never been married. He describes himself as an "activist." He's also an out gay man.

Running for president. Of the United States. On the Republican ballot.

But he's not delusional. Fred Karger is on a mission.

* * *

Unlike his opponents, politics isn't Karger's motivation for running for president. Nor is it the prospect of the presidency itself. For him, it's about telling his story as an out gay man, and the stories of thousands of others like him. It's about using the considerable attention that comes with a presidential campaign to effect the change he believes our country needs. It's also about the gravity of being the first openly gay person to run for president. His memoir is punctuated by letters from supporters young and old, Republican and Democrat, voicing their admiration and gratitude for running -- a fan named "P." thanks him for "paving a way politically for the LGBT community, and what I believe to be the human race in general."

Karger sees his campaign largely as a platform to improve visibility for the LGBT community. Take his latest campaign ad, produced to kick off his California publicity push in advance of the June 5th primary. "'Sexy Frisbee' Viral Video" features the candidate on the beach with a group of fitness models in bathing suits doing crunches and tossing Fred Frisbees, and ends with a kiss between two attractive, shirtless Caucasian men in Ray-Ban shades. It ran on several major networks in San Diego, Orange County and Los Angeles, and made headlines when it was removed from YouTube for "inappropriate" content.

"Every commercial I've done, there's a subtle gay reference," Karger says. "It was a ballsy thing to do, but I think we need to tell our stories. I think we need to get same-sex couples in mainstream advertising, not just in the Advocate or Logo. I want to normalize LGBT life so it will become like interracial marriage. It's just normalizing who we are, and that is one of my major goals."

Over the course of four hours, Karger used the terms activist or activism a total of six times to describe himself and his experience. Coming from a political world run by men and women who balk at the A-word -- these days it sounds more Occupy, not Oval Office -- it certainly casts him in a different light. Somehow, though, it's difficult to picture Fred Karger in a tent in Zuccotti Park. Maybe this is what activists look like in Laguna Beach?

It began in 2006. Karger had retired two years earlier from a 30-plus-year career as a partner at the Dolphin Group, a political consulting firm in Los Angeles. "I didn't want to just sit around and be a dilettante," Karger recalls. "I wanted to do something significant." So he did what any aspiring activist would do: He found a cause. The legendary local gay bar, The Boom Boom Room, was on the chopping block after the property was bought up by a conservative billionaire.

"It was a place that meant a lot to a lot of people," Karger says. "People would come out from miles and miles away. It was a place where people could go to be themselves. No one wanted to see it go."

So he "took on the Goliath." With the help of some good press and political wrangling, the fight became international news. Though the bar eventually closed, it was this first very public fight on behalf of the LGBT community that led Karger, then 55, to his new calling: gay activist.

The transition challenged Karger, who had spent most of his career in the closet. "All of a sudden, there I was, out in the world, publicly proclaiming that I was gay. It was scary."

Scary though it may have been, Karger didn't go back into the sleepy, shadowy closet of retirement in Laguna Beach. In the months before Proposition 8 passed in California, Karger found his next opportunity to do something significant for his community. He organized large-scale boycotts of various businesses whose bosses had made large contributions to Yes on 8.

The boycott movements were an unqualified success, costing the offending companies millions. Once again, Karger received widespread media attention, garnering profiles of Fred Karger, Gay Activist, in the L.A. Times, the Washington Post, the New York Times and many others. "Suddenly, I became a hero," Karger said. "Suddenly, the LGBT community said, 'This guy rocks.'"

In his book, Karger writes, "I've become an activist so that younger people don't have to go through what I went through."

Clearly, he's not referring to his "idyllic" childhood in an affluent Jewish family in suburban Illinois. He's referring to the double life he led until he was 56 years old.

He describes being "afraid" of walking down the street with his boyfriend, of "panicking" when he thought he would be outed by someone who knew his secret. He tells a story of lies and fear, stomach-churning turmoil and self-hatred. It's a story that's all too familiar -- and still poignant.

In a recent interview on Hardball with Chris Matthews, Karger talks about the "rainbow glass ceiling" faced by today's gay men and women in politics, a "glass box" that prevents gay people from dreaming big and achieving their potential.

It's something that held him back in his career, as the fear of coming out (or of being outed) stopped him from running for office until now. He told the L.A. Times last August, "When you're gay and in the closet, you learn there are a lot of things you can't do."

* * *

Most of the profiles of Fred Karger the presidential candidate focus on his role as pioneer, while almost completely ignoring his policy points. It's a disservice to a man who has worked hard to be more than a "one-issue candidate."

Indeed, he's built a solid set of policy fundamentals that define him, a must for any candidate. He's got the requisite well-formulated plan to fix the economy, revolving around his "Jobs Now!" plan that would help connect businesses with qualified applicants, wherever they may be, in the hope of filling the 3.1 million jobs that remain unfilled around the country. With the help of a privately run entrepreneurial fund, he hopes to create a microlending system that would fundamentally change the way small business works in America.

Like many Republicans, he wants to balance the budget, and isn't afraid to cut Social Security and Medicare to do it. But unlike many Republicans, he wants to raise taxes -- except he's careful to call it "revenue enhancement."

He's in favor of providing a Bush-style "path to citizenship" for undocumented immigrants, "to help them assimilate and pay taxes, and make them a part of this [country]." At the same time, he's "not opposed to deploying troops and drone technology to secure both our borders."
The main focus of his campaign, however, has been the legalization of same-sex marriage.

"Marriage is symbolic," he says. "It sends the loudest, clearest message to anyone who's LGBTQ that you are equal. You can have the same rights as your brother, or your cousin, or your best friend. A lot of people say, 'I don't want to get married, I don't care.' Well, it's not about your personal position, it's about what that message says. And I know because I had such a struggle, and I see so many people having struggles, and when marriage is the law of the land, that is the most important thing we can do."

While his LGBTQ policy also includes getting ENDA passed and making DOMA history, the gay marriage fight is the keystone of his platform, and indeed, of his presidency. It is what has shaped him into the man he is today.

* * *

Over the course of a four-hour interview, the perpetually positive and energetic Karger seemed to consistently ignore one very large elephant in the room: The extent to which any of this means anything depends on how many people know who Fred Karger is -- and how many of those people end up voting for him.

Karger attributes the relatively low impact of his campaign to the fact that he was kept out of the Republican debates, for reasons both legitimate (low poll numbers) and questionable (Fox News kept him out of one of the debates for which he qualified). He thinks things could have gone a lot differently, had he had at least modest support from LGBT organizations. Their support could have translated into large amounts of money, he said, that could have qualified him for certain debates and bought airtime, increasing exposure.

Groups like Human Rights Campaign and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force have been largely silent since Karger began his campaign. Again, he's not exactly surprised. "My first trip to Washington, D.C. in February 2010, I met with the heads of all the organizations. I told them I was thinking of running for president. I asked for two things: Watch what I do, and keep an open mind... basically, I didn't want them to badmouth me. And they've been very good on that. My unhappiness is from the fact that they haven't taken it any further. I am disappointed, especially with the Victory Fund. What a difference [their support] would've made."

The Victory Fund, an influential organization that backs gay candidates based on their background in public service and their chances of winning their races, passed on Fred Karger, the first openly gay man to run for president. "I'm a big supporter and I love what they do, but I think they should have been a part of this. What is history going to say?"

And it's not just the movers and shakers. The reception from regular LGBTQ folks has been lukewarm, as well. "I knew that 'gay Republican' makes for an awfully good headline," he says with a chuckle and a hint of smug satisfaction; unfortunately, it hasn't won over the overwhelming majority of LGBTQ voters who remain firmly in the Democratic camp. "The LGBT community has become so partisan," Karger says, the vaguest hint of frustration escaping his command. "I think it's a little short-sighted. We have that attitude in this country, and it's destroying our ability to get things done."

But today, a few weeks after President Obama came out in support of same-sex marriage, and as gay men and women in state after state win the right to marry, the fight "to get things done" feels almost as if it's already been won. A majority of Americans support same-sex marriage. It's a matter of when, not if.

In many ways, so many people in this country have moved past gay marriage. The debate over Prop 8 has given way to genuinely productive discussions, in the media, in legislatures, and in schools, on the rights of trans individuals and school bullying, on the unique and complex needs of queer people of color. It's not about marriage anymore -- not completely, not really. For so many people, it's not about "normalizing who we are" -- it's about finding ways to achieve real respect, real justice, that means something to real individuals, not all of whom are as meticulously put-together as the gay men of Laguna Beach.

So maybe it's not just the Republican thing. Maybe some people feel that the first gay man to run for president should stand for more than marriage equality. Maybe they feel he should fight for the issues faced in communities that don't look like his, for people who don't look like him. Maybe it's Fred Karger's mission to "normalize" LGBT life that keeps him from being embraced by those who would otherwise find his bravery and vision inspiring.

For so many people in our community, whether because of their skin color or their gender identity or simply because they don't look like the men and women in Karger's campaign ads, marriage equality doesn't even scratch the surface of the equality they desperately need. They don't want to be "normal" -- they never will be, not from Karger's definition, and not from society's.

And for them, that's okay. As David Halperin wrote, "Queer is by definition whatever is at odds with the normal, the legitimate, the dominant. 'Queer' then, demarcates not a positivity but a positionality vis-à-vis the normative." Many would argue further that those who aspire to normalcy perpetuate exactly that which they are trying to fight -- while working for equality, for "normal" status, they grant their permission for society to continue to treat gay people as sub-normal, as sub-human.

In many ways, Fred Karger represents something larger than himself. He represents a choice that is facing the LGBTQ community. As more and more gay people gain a foothold in politics and respect from society, they must decide what to do with the power they've been given. As the community continues to make history, the question becomes ever more difficult to avoid: will Karger's "normal" get us where we need to go?

This piece previously appeared on

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