TAMPA — The shirts said "freedom is fabulous." The souvenir key chains had shiny disco balls. The color scheme was pink, white and blue.
The fete rode the line between flashy fun and resolute message, buoyed by people who believed in their political party so much, they could deal with the things they didn't like. It was Homocon, supporting gay Republicans.
Hundreds of people of all persuasions came to the Honey Pot in Ybor City on Tuesday for the party thrown by GOProud. The group is the only gay Republican organization to endorse Mitt Romney, leaders said. They function on conservative values of free markets and limited government. They want to embrace the word "homocon," which they said is a put-down homosexual liberals use for homosexual conservatives.
"We set out to show that not all gay people are liberals and that not all straight conservatives are antigay homophobes," said Jimmy LaSalvia, executive director. GOProud has 10,000 members across the country, LaSalvia said, and as many as half may be straight.
There's that obvious question — why support a candidate who doesn't want you to get married? Most folks hanging at Homocon said things weren't perfect, but their identities were bigger than one thing. They didn't want to hide from being conservative.
"I'm a Republican and I'm gay and I care about issues like the economy and turning around the country," said Eddie Mehnert, a 27-year-old marketing guy from Miami. Mehnert is supporting Romney, but Ron Paul was his first choice. "It's important to show that the GOP is inclusive and to soften hearts and minds within the GOP. If we have hyper-inflation and the country goes to hell, then me being able to feed myself takes precedence."
The club was filled mostly with reporters at the start. Former congressman Mark Foley was there early, watching Ann Romney's speech on one of the club's flat screens and talking to reporters while organizers set up the space. Foley, whose political career ended after an email scandal with congressional pages, works in real estate now. His longtime partner died in March. Foley said sexual orientation matters less and less to most people in politics, or life.
"Most people don't care who their co-worker is, just that they have one . . ." he said. "I always hold out hope that the greater good and the higher calling of most people is to not be judgmental but to be tolerant."
MSNBC commentator S.E. Cupp showed up for a bit, as did activist Grover Norquist. Some eyes were turned toward the door on lookout for Ann Coulter. The controversial conservative spoke at the first Homocon gathering in 2010.
"Our folks love her," said LaSalvia. "Her response to our invitation was, 'Of course I'll do it. I'm the right-wing Judy Garland.' "
During that speech, Coulter gave reasons why gays shouldn't marry and said marriage wasn't a civil right. Still, rumors swirled through the Honey Pot all night Tuesday that Coulter might show up. And indeed, at 1 a.m. she dashed across the sidewalk outside the neighboring Ritz Ybor and climbed into a black SUV. Maybe she was going around back? Time ticked by. More confetti was dispensed, more drinks were poured and more Don't Stop Believin' was played. Coulter never showed her face.
The only speeches this time came from GOProud co-founders Christopher Barron and LaSalvia. They paid homage to late writer Andrew Breitbart and proclaimed Mitt Romney the right person to help all people, gays included.
"Marriage is important," said LaSalvia from a podium. "But before you can get married, you have to have a date. And everyone knows you can't get a date without a job."