Little-known openly gay Republican presidential candidate Fred Karger is accusing the American Conservative Union, which produces the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), of discrimination based on his sexual orientation. During a campaign swing in Lansing, Mich., Monday, Karger said he intends to file a complaint with Washington, D.C., officials charging he was denied a booth at CPAC because he is gay.
"They have a no-gays-allowed policy," Karger said.
Karger, 62, is the first openly gay man to seek the nomination of a major party in the United States. CPAC event is the event for conservative activists and a must stop for all GOP presidential candidates. Confirmed speakers for this year's CPAC, slated for Feb. 9-11 at the Washington Marriott Wardman Park hotel in D.C., include: Speaker of the House John Boehner, Eagle Forum founder Phyllis Schlafly, and Family Research Council President Tony Perkins.
In a radio interview (video here) with The American Independent and Michigan media partners Between the Lines and Lansing Online News, Karger said the conference blocked him from getting booth space at the event, for the second year in a row.
In 2011, he said, the group denied him a booth on the basis that the conference display floor was full. But Karger charges he knew of others who got booths after he had been denied. He said he ended up sharing a booth with former Republican Presidential nominee Gary Johnson, who has since agreed to be the Libertarian Party candidate for President.
"So I thought, 'Well, I'm going to get a leg up next year,'" Karger said. "I'm going to apply way early."
Karger said he applied for his booth in November, when the conference first began accepting booth reservations.
"Low and behold, they were happy to take my credit card," he said. "Well then they found out who I was and pulled the plug. Never responded to me."
Watch the interview:
The ACU has denied that Karger was refused a booth because of his sexual orientation.
Buzzfeed reported that the ACU only indirectly answered questions about Karger's allegations:
CPAC communications director Kristy Campbell didn't directly address Karger's charge in an email, but said, "The ACU is sold out of exhibitor space for CPAC 2012, and priority is given to previous sponsors and partner organizations."
But Karger is taking action.
"I will be filing a a complaint with the Washington, D.C., Human Rights commission, because, I think, in Washington, D.C., you cannot prohibit someone from exhibiting in a public facility because he happens to be gay," he said.
The District of Columbia indeed has a policy (PDF) that public accommodations cannot be denied to anyone on the basis of their sexual orientation.
In recent years, the CPAC event has been host to controversy related to anti-gay sentiment. The conservative gay group GOProud co-sponsored the event in 2010 and 2011. That caused anti-gay groups such as the Family Research Council and the American Family Association to threaten to withdraw from the event as sponsors if gay groups were allowed to sponsor and attend again. As a result, the American Conservative Union's board of directors voted to reject sponsorships from GOProud and the John Birch Society (the John Birch Society was kicked out for its ultraconservative, sensationalist views -- not for supporting LGBT rights).
Karger, who was in Michigan for a week, says he plans to file the complaint this week in D.C. and will be campaigning again the state in February. Karger is one of six remaining GOP candidates vying for Michigan's delegates to the national convention. The Michigan primary -- one of the few where Karger's name will be on the ballot -- is slated for Feb. 28.
Photo: Openly gay GOP presidential candidate Fred Karger speaks at a Lansing coffee shop while on the stump Monday (AMERICAN INDEPENDENT/Todd Heywood)