Thursday, August 26, 2010

Now He Comes Out

This is not exactly stunning news: Ken Mehlman, the former chair of the GOP, is gay.

“It’s taken me 43 years to get comfortable with this part of my life,” said Mehlman, now an executive vice-president with the New York City-based private equity firm, KKR. “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.”

Privately, in off-the-record conversations with this reporter over the years, Mehlman voiced support for civil unions and told of how, in private discussions with senior Republican officials, he beat back efforts to attack same-sex marriage. He insisted, too, that President Bush “was no homophobe.” He often wondered why gay voters never formed common cause with Republican opponents of Islamic jihad, which he called “the greatest anti-gay force in the world right now.”

Mehlman’s leadership positions in the GOP came at a time when the party was stepping up its anti-gay activities—such as the distribution in West Virginia in 2006 of literature linking homosexuality to atheism, or the less-than-subtle, coded language in the party’s platform (“Attempts to redefine marriage in a single state or city could have serious consequences throughout the country…”). 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.

I’m all in favor of people keeping their personal lives to themselves as long as it doesn’t harm others, and I don’t like outing people for no other reason than to embarrass them. For one thing, there shouldn’t be any stigma for being gay. I realize why Mr. Mehlman kept it under wraps: he was more interested in his career than in his own sense of self, and he knew that the GOP would never, ever accept an openly gay leader in the party structure. So he made that choice.

What I find unacceptable was that he stood by all these years as a party official and let all the gay-bashing, including the stuff from the Bush White House such as the proposed Constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, go on and he supported it. Now he’s saying he’s a much happier person and he wishes he had done it earlier. (It’s not as if it was a huge secret, at least to a lot of people in the community; my gaydar went off the moment I heard him on TV). Yeah, well, bully for him. It’s easy to come to terms with yourself and relieve yourself of the terrible burden when there’s nothing at stake. As for coming to the defense and advocacy of same-sex marriage, that’s just great. But appearing at one rally for a group in favor of it doesn’t make up for all the years he let the people in his party demonize and marginalize people just like him.