Welcome Out, Ken Mehlman
August 25th, 2010
In bringing to an end what was probably the worst-kept secret in politics, former GOP chairman Ken Mehlman has publicly confirmed that he is gay:
Mehlman arrived at this conclusion about his identity fairly recently, he said in an interview. He agreed to answer a reporter’s questions, he said, because, now in private life, he wants to become an advocate for gay marriage and anticipated that questions would be asked about his participation in a late-September fundraiser for the American Foundation for Equal Rights (AFER), the group that supported the legal challenge to California’s ballot initiative against gay marriage, Proposition 8.
“It’s taken me 43 years to get comfortable with this part of my life,” Mehlman said. “Everybody has their own path to travel, their own journey, and for me, over the past few months, I’ve told my family, friends, former colleagues, and current colleagues, and they’ve been wonderful and supportive. The process has been something that’s made me a happier and better person. It’s something I wish I had done years ago.”
Obviously, this brings up a host of questions concerning Mehlman’s role in the President George Bush’s 2004 presidential campaign, as well as his role in some of the GOP’s anti-gay activities in 2006. According to The Atlantic’s Mark Ambinder:
Mehlman said at the time that he could not, as an individual Republican, go against the party consensus. He was aware that Karl Rove, President Bush’s chief strategic adviser, had been working with Republicans to make sure that anti-gay initiatives and referenda would appear on November ballots in 2004 and 2006 to help Republicans.
Mehlman acknowledges that if he had publicly declared his sexuality sooner, he might have played a role in keeping the party from pushing an anti-gay agenda.
“It’s a legitimate question and one I understand,” Mehlman said. “I can’t change the fact that I wasn’t in this place personally when I was in politics, and I genuinely regret that. It was very hard, personally.” He asks of those who doubt his sincerity: “If they can’t offer support, at least offer understanding.”
“What I do regret, and think a lot about, is that one of the things I talked a lot about in politics was how I tried to expand the party into neighborhoods where the message wasn’t always heard. I didn’t do this in the gay community at all.”
He said that he “really wished” he had come to terms with his sexual orientation earlier, “so I could have worked against [the Federal Marriage Amendment]” and “reached out to the gay community in the way I reached out to African Americans.”
Mehlman had been publicly outed by LGBT advocate Mike Rogers in 2004 and 2006, and he was one of the subjects of the documentary film Outrage, which discussed the phenomenon of closeted gay politicians who work against LGBT rights, and even LGBT dignity. Mehlman at the time refused to address questions surrounding his sexuality. He now admits that he mislead several people who had asked him directly.
Now that he is out, his goal is to become an advocate for gay rights within the Republican Party.
I hope that we, as a party, would welcome gay and lesbian supporters. I also think there needs to be, in the gay community, robust and bipartisan support [for] marriage rights.”
I think this is a good time for me to interject my own thoughts here. I definitely think that Mehlman should have come out earlier, and I fully believe that harsh criticisms of his tacit support for GOP gay-bashing during the 2004 and 2006 campaigns are fully warrented. I further believe that Mehlman has a lot of ground to cover in order to make up for his past sins.
But the first step in making up that ground comes in his coming out. Ambinder likens it this way:
The disclosure at this stage of Mehlman’s life strikes one close friend as being like a decision to jump off of a high diving board: Mehlman knows that there is plenty of water below, but it is still very scary to look down and make the leap.
I’m no longer religious, but this reminds me of a proverb in Luke, “In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Any time someone serves as a stumbling block to LGBT equality and dignity changes course, our best response would be to welcome the good news. Unfortunately, we’re not always up for our best responses. Mehlman does have a lot to make up for, but this first step is not insignificant.
And his second step isn’t small potatoes either. He is chairing a fundraiser for Americans for Equal Rights (AFER), the organization behind the lawsuit which has successfully challenged Prop 8 in Federal Court. That fundraiser has already needed $1 million for the effort. According to Andy Towle:
The fundraiser is co-chaired by prominent Republican donors Paul Singer and Peter Thiel and will be held at Singer’s home. A large number of other Republicans are co-hosts of the fundraiser including Mary Cheney, Margaret Hoover, John Podesta, and Steve Schmidt. Dick Gephardt is also among the hosts.
AFER board member and Academy Award winning filmwriter for Milk, Dustin Lance Black, described Mehlman as “an incredible coup for the American Foundation for Equal Rights.”
Mehlman has a lot to make up for. The 2004 and 2006 campaigns that he was directly involved in — and in which he colluded or directed terrible vilificaiton directed toward fellow LGBT people — caused considerable damage to to his fellow Americans, and they will rightly demand accountability. In order to truly heal those wounds, that does need to be his next major step.
But as we wait for that to come (and we shouldn’t have to wait too long for it) , let me say this: welcome out, Ken Mehlman. And let the rejoicing — and acts of contrition — begin.