The American Conservative Union (ACU) was once a powerhouse in the anti-LGBTQ+ movement. These days, it’s a shell of its former commanding presence in the right wing, primarily due to multiple sexual harassment allegations against the group’s chairman, Matt Schlapp, by men.
While the group’s flagship program, the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), was once one of the biggest events for Republican politicians and activists, multiple board members have resigned over the past few months and half of the staff has exited.
LGBTQ+ titles topped the number of book bans in the past year, but a growing number of grassroots organizations are rewriting the story.
In early January, a male staffer who worked for Herschel Walker’s failed Senate campaign accused Schlapp of groping him without his consent. Carlton Huffman said Schlapp “groped” and “fondled” his genitals in a car as he drove the conservative leader back from an event to his hotel.
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“Matt Schlapp of the CPAC grabbed my junk and pummeled it at length, and I’m sitting there thinking what the hell is going on, that this person is literally doing this to me,” he said in a video recorded after the incident.
Another male CPAC employee has accused Schlapp of trying to kiss him without consent, and a third man has reported an unwanted physical advance.
Schlapp blamed the allegations on “fake journalists” when high-profile Republicans refused to attend his organization’s annual conference. The event normally draws top-tier politicians and religious right activists. Fox News did not stream the conference speeches live as they have in previous years.
CPAC has always been a hotbed of anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Donald Trump Jr., and the former president himself have all launched diatribes against the trans community in recent years.
When Richard Grenell, the gay former ambassador to Germany, shared the experience of Gina Roberts, a trans woman who attended CPAC with the Log Cabin Republicans during a speech in 2021, he was denounced for showing support for trans people. GOP celebrity activist Caitlyn Jenner was repeatedly heckled, stalked, deadnamed, and ridiculed when she attended when she ran in the California gubernatorial race as a Republican.
The gay conservative group GOProud, which is now defunct, was banned from the event. One of the group’s former leaders has now left the party.
Still, so many closeted gay men have historically attended the conference the Human Rights Campaign paid for ads on the gay app Grindr to target them specifically.
Board member Morton Blackwell, a member of the Republican National Committee and the founder and president of the Leadership Institute, which trains conservative activists, is the latest to hit the door. Blackwell, who served on the board since the 1970s, repeatedly expressed concern about the allegations against Schlapp and the mounting cost to the organization – both financially and to its reputation.
“Morton Blackwell resigning is a signal to the entire conservative movement that the game is over,” Grover Norquist, the well-known anti-tax activist who served on the CPAC board for more than 15 years, said after the resignation became public. “CPAC stopped being a useful part of the movement long ago and now it’s veering toward dysfunctional.”
So far, the legal cost for Schlapp’s defense has risen to over $1 million, according to a resignation letter from former vice chairman Charlie Gerow. Board treasurer Bob Beauprez resigned in May, saying he could no longer justify the organization’s financial statements – especially the cost of Schlapp’s defense.
“Any settlement of upwards of a couple of million dollars plus the accumulated legal expenses … would break the organization, not to mention the reputational damage,” he wrote.
“There’s enough out there in the public eye to warrant not only transparency but also consequences,” former chairman Al Cardenas said. “It’s time for damage control if ACU is going to continue to be a viable entity. For the benefit of the ACU and its future, there’s no other solution than to elect new leadership.”
Cardenas, the former Florida Republican Party leader, served as chairman immediately before Schlapp.