State Rep. Sarah Davis

State Rep. Sarah Davis

AUSTIN — Log Cabin Republicans from across Texas met in Austin this weekend to share ideas on the Republican Party’s growing support for gay rights and how they could influence lawmakers in the state to back equality.

Members from Dallas, Houston and Austin chapters attended the first-ever statewide conference, as well as a few people from San Antonio, who decided they would try to start a chapter later this year.

State Rep. Sarah Davis, R-Houston, addressed a group of about 35 people Friday as the keynote in the speaker series.

Davis began her speech by acknowledging the audience’s “courage and the bravery that I think many of you have shown probably spending a great period of your life struggling with your identity and then finally having the courage and the strength of character to come out to your friends and family as a Republican.”

While Davis is not a member of the LGBT community, she said she understands what it is like, recalling when members of the Republican Party looked at her suspiciously when she was the only member of the party to vote against the sonogram bill last session because she believed it was about personal freedom and keeping the government out of the doctor’s office.

Davis said her philosophy is to vote on the basis of personal freedom, individual responsibility and limited government, adding that Republicans allow social issues to cloud their judgment when it comes to those ideals, including placing “what I believe to be inappropriate restrictions on your personal relationships involving two consenting adults.”

“It’s not the job of the government to socially engineer society. Government should focus on opportunity of outcomes and let people rise on their own merits,” Davis said. “And I believe that that applies not just to how you spend your money, but who you spend your life with. I don’t want the government in my bedroom anymore than I want the government in corporate boardrooms.”

Davis, who has volunteered with the Houston Log Cabin chapter over the years since she was first elected in 2010, said the group had supported her from the beginning, helping her beat an incumbent and then win re-election last year. She said her election is proof that the party is changing in Texas to become more inclusive.

“I believe that the definition of Republican, freedom-loving Republican is coming back into fashion in America today,” she said. “As evidenced by my own election as a young Republican who has no tolerance for what I perceive are social issues that are offensive.”

Davis encouraged the audience that they were working on behalf of a party that they are members of and that accepts them.

“You’re not looking at the Republican Party from the outside,” she said. “I think you are in the Republican Party, you are part of the Republican Party, and I am very honored to stand in this Republican Party with you.”

At dinner Friday night, Jerry Katlin, chairman of the national Log Cabin Republicans Board of Directors, gave the keynote speech to close the conference.

Katlin said he grew up in Kansas without a lot of gay role models that he could identity with. He later came out at 35 when he was married with two kids. And suddenly, a Republican all his life, his party wouldn’t accept him. Katlin then became involved in Log Cabin and knew he’d found a political home.

“Those were the darkest days of my life yet the most refreshing and liberating as well,” he said. “All of a sudden I came out and I didn’t fit in the Republican Party anymore.”

Katlin then showed a video documenting the 1998 struggle when LCR wanted to attend Texas’ statewide Republican convention in Fort Worth. He said the state has come a long way in 15 years, but there is still progress to be made among lawmakers and party members.

“The key is coming out to your friends and co-workers to make that difference,” he said.

“It’s so critical that we’re in the room. We don’t need all the Republicans on our side, but we’re always going to need a few.”