Gay GOPer has star role in same-sex marriage fight
by Matthew S. Bajko email@example.com
A sought after Republican campaign adviser for three decades beginning in the 1970s, Fred Karger called it quits and retired nearly five and half years ago. During his time working to elect GOP politicians, such as former state senator and then-California Governor George Deukmejian, Karger remained in the closet.
After leaving the political world, he split his time between homes in Los Angeles and Laguna Beach. He probably would have stayed silent about his being gay had his idle seaside lifestyle not wore thin.
But Karger became restless and his political instincts called out to be put to use.
“I was a closeted political aide for decades,” said Karger, 59, who considers himself a moderate Republican and worked for The Dolphin Group, whose clients have included Presidents Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, and the senior George Bush.
In a twist of fate that would propel Karger to break his silence and thrust him into the media spotlight, it was the threat of losing a famed Southern California gay bar that would forever change his life.
Back in 2006 a developer bought the building housing the Boom Boom Room, which for 60 years had operated out of a hotel nestled above Laguna Beach’s coastline. Shocked at losing an LGBT institution, Karger launched a campaign to save the gay bar. In the process, he came out publicly, first in the local Laguna Beach paper and then in a cover profile in the Los Angeles Times’ Sunday magazine.
“I wasn’t taken seriously at first with the Save the Boom campaign. Then right before the L.A. Times piece came out we won a reprieve,” said Karger, referring to the developer’s decision to put off his plans for a year. [The club shuttered last year after its lease expired, but activists are still pushing to see it reopen since the building has yet to be demolished.] “It was this huge profile with 12 photos of me, one even ran on the cover. Then everyone knew I was gay. It was a major hurdle for me.”
His newfound activist role didn’t end there. Last year Karger was astounded to read how much money anti-gay groups pushing Proposition 8, the voter-approved same-sex marriage ban, were able to raise in San Diego, a place he knew well from his political campaign work.
“It was surprising because it is not a socially conservative place,” said Karger, who was especially irked to see hotel mogul Doug Manchester “gloating” about donating $125,000 to help put Prop 8 on the ballot.
Another quote in the news article also struck a chord with Karger.
“This one guy said we should boycott these businesses supporting the anti-gay groups,” recalled Karger.
Fred Karger founded Californians Against Hate: Photo courtesy of Fred Karger
Inspired, Karger founded Californians Against Hate, a 501(c)4 organization, and set out to do just that; he led a successful boycott of Manchester’s hotels that continues to this day. Knowing how to draw a media crowd, he chose to launch the boycott the Friday of San Diego’s Pride weekend and invited parade grand marshals Cleve Jones, founder of the AIDS Quilt, and Gilbert Baker , creator of the rainbow flag, to speak.
“My bottom line is you have to change people’s opinions. You got to think big,” said Karger, who donated $2,500 of his own money to the No on 8 efforts. “Our target is straight women throughout the country. We have gay people with us, and straight men are not as likely to be with us. But straight women are more likely to be with us.”
He then set his sights on the donor rolls for the Yes on 8 campaign, listing them on his Web site and creating more media attention. And he worked in tandem with Equality California, alerting the statewide LGBT group and lead coordinator of the No on 8 fight.
“I told them I would not raise a dime so as not to compete against the No on 8 campaign. We will be the watchdog group and follow the money,” said Karger, who has been closely monitoring the money anti-gay groups are raising to overturn Maine’s pro-same-sex marriage law. “We would list donors who gave $5,000 or over to Yes on 8.”
EQCA Executive Director Geoff Kors called Karger “a great partner and colleague” whose work has been beneficial to the fight for marriage equality.
“He has been successful in highlighting to a lot of people that the community is not going to support any businesses who believe we should be denied the same rights everyone else has,” said Kors.
In the process Karger has morphed into the main nemesis of the Alliance Defense Fund, an anti-gay group that has provided legal counsel to campaigns in numerous states against LGBT rights, and the National Organization for Marriage, a group helping to finance anti-gay ballot fights across the country.
He also helped expose the involvement of the Church of Jesus Chris of Latter-day Saints in last year’s No on 8 fight. The church insisted it did not financially support the campaign, and ProtectMarriage.com, the group behind the Yes on 8 effort, unsuccessfully tried to conceal its final donor report this January to hide the Mormon money it received.
“I never thought of the Mormon donations until the end of the campaign and the reports came out and I discovered the Mormon money given to Yes on 8,” said Karger. “Once you start communicating outside your church membership, it is reportable.”
ProtectMarriage.com is now suing California in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California in Sacramento in a bid to throw out the state’s campaign contributions disclosure laws. The Alliance Defense Fund is representing the anti-gay group in the lawsuit and is working with Indiana-based attorney James Bopp Jr. and his firm.
The lawyers for the anti-gay side just won a victory in Washington state when a federal judge ruled the backers of a voter-referendum aimed at repealing a newly enacted domestic partnership law did not have to identify who signed the petitions to put Referendum 71 on the ballot.
Timothy D. Chandler, an attorney with the Folsom, California-based Alliance Defense Fund, did not respond to a call seeking comment for this article.
Chandler has subpoenaed Karger to appear at an October 13 deposition in the California case. He is seeking documents and records on Karger’s various Web sites about the boycotts he launched and his Californians Against Hate group. He is also seeking documents on how Karger obtained the donor records of those supporting Prop 8, who he disseminated that information to, and the financial records for Karger’s nonprofit, which as a 501(c)4 does not have to report its donors if it does not raise or spend more than $25,000 a year.
“They are trying to intimidate me and silence me. To harass me, they called me as a witness, now I have to get lawyers and be prepared,” said Karger, who does not draw any salary from the nonprofit group he founded. “The Mormons are trying to use it to deflect attention away from them. It’s a publicity stunt.”
As for the lawsuit, Karger said, “I don’t think they have a snowball’s chance in hell of getting it through. There is no reason to throw out this law.”