August 26, 2010 | by Kevin Naff
Mehlman’s secret finally revealed

Ken Mehlman, former Republican National Committee chair and campaign manager for Bush-Cheney in 2004, came out as gay in a stupefying interview with the Atlantic on Wednesday.

In it, Mehlman says he only recently realized he’s gay — an absurd claim — and insists that he worked behind the scenes to beat back efforts to attack same-sex marriage during the Bush years. That’s a staggering claim from someone who presided over a campaign that exploited homophobia to advance constitutional amendments in 11 states banning same-sex marriage.

Now, long after leaving the public eye and public service, Mehlman wants our collective “understanding” because “everybody has their own path to travel, their own journey.”

True, but for most of us, the journey didn’t involve working side-by-side with those who fought to enshrine our second-class status in the U.S. Constitution, not to mention what Bush-Cheney did to advance the cause of torture.

Mehlman is the Roy Cohn of his generation, quietly enabling some of the most damaging attacks on LGBT people and our families. But some of the most prominent voices in the movement seem to have amnesia about that past. Chad Griffin and Dustin Lance Black of the American Foundation for Equal Rights are singing Mehlman’s praises. Griffin told the Atlantic, “when we achieve equal equality, he will be one of the people to thank for it.” Really? Mehlman will need to devote the rest of his life to undoing the damage he helped foster before he earns any thanks. It turns out that Mehlman is helping to raise money for AFER, so the praise is predictable and hollow.

Mehlman’s sexual orientation was the subject of rumors for years and the Blade looked into the story numerous times. He dodged the question and flat out denied it on several occasions. We were alternately accused of covering up to protect his secret or propagating salacious gossip. Neither was true; Mehlman remained deeply closeted during his reign of terror and former classmates and associates of his routinely described him as “asexual.”

The silver lining to this sickening hypocrisy is that the dominoes continue to fall, as more and more prominent Republicans take up the cause of gay rights and marriage equality. The party is headed for a reckoning in which it will need to address the hateful rhetoric about our families that has been a part of its national platform. How can party stalwarts like Mehlman, Cheney and Ted Olson advocate for marriage equality while their party stubbornly clings to its prejudice?

Indeed, it appears the country has reached a tipping point on the issue of gay rights. Too bad Mehlman arrived so late to the party.

Kevin Naff is the editor and a co-owner of the Washington Blade, the nation’s oldest and most acclaimed LGBT news publication, founded in 1969.

13 Comments
  • The tenor of this article is disappointing. Putting aside the obvious conflicts that arise when any gay person is coming out, let alone someone in politics and in the Republican party, I think this “too late” attitude is harmful to our cause. We will not win our opponents’ hearts and minds if we don’t leave open the possibility of reprieve for past words or actions against gay marriage. In fact, if Maggie Gallagher tomorrow came out as a lesbian or even just abandoned her campaign (not holding my breath), I would hope people would welcome her with open arms.

  • Better late than never, Kevin. There’s nothing new about being in the closet, sometimes for many years, before finally coming out. The fact that he will now advocate for gay rights and gay marriage within the Republican Party is a good thing, and he should be praised for it, as the officials at AFER are doing.

  • I agree there is nothing new about being in the closet. And coming out late is better than never mostly for the individual involved. As so many of us who came out late know- we missed so much of our life by hiding.

    That being said there is a difference between coming out late and working to hurt the LGBT community while you are in the closet. I agree with Naff that Mehlman will have to work for years to undue the harm he caused so many people by his actions when he was a major force in the Republican Party and had the ear of the President. I wonder how many young men and women around the nation grew up with a self hatred and being hated by others, because of the wounds inflicted by those who told them they were less than equal. Did Mehlman’s efforts on behalf of the people that demonized the LGBT community cause a young boy or girl to take their own lives? These are questions that may never be answered.

    I will never criticize Mehlman for taking so long to come out. But clearly he understands, as he is a smart person, that many will find what he did while he was closeted hard to forgive. So I won’t applaud him for what he is now doing but I will hope that he will eventually do enough that he will personally find some comfort.

    • I know even americanrepublicans are clinging on to their jobs for dear life right now, but for this guy who claimed to live by biblical morals, betraying your own kind is acceptable when it pays the bills? These are the guys that also had no problem to sell nuclear technology to Iranian homo murderers

  • DL, better late than never? Really? The man threw the gay community under the bus because of a job. A job! Do you not get that? I’m beginning to wonder if our community is so used to being treated like crap, that they’ll tolerate anything from anyone. Mr. Mehlman is a traitor and hypocrite… pure and simple. No amount of fundraisers is going to change that.

  • Roy Cohn is an appropriate metaphor for Ken Mehlman, except the number of citizens and families harmed and by Roy PALES in comparison to the destruction wrought by the work of Ken Mehlman. I don’t think there will ever be an equivalent figure in modern times who is so thoroughly, despicably, unredeemedly responsible for the legal disenfranchisment of so many, as well as the intentional foment and legitimization of hate thought, speech and action against the lgbt community. No amount of money, or prodigal whitewash can ever make up for the intentional calculus of “hate for LGBT = votes for GWB”.

    The lesson to be learned here is that closeted politicians, public officials, and their staffers who facilitate the harm and destruction of the community to which they belong in exchange for personal or political gain, need to be hauled by their short hairs into the scrutiny of the power structure that they serve.

  • Amen. Oh, and don’t forget the runaways and suicides, Mehlman. Pawns in your “game” (with Bush and Rove)… innocent families, kids, personal wellbeing disintegrated, thanks to you and your “Team”.

    Don’t tell us you are now a humanitarian without bringing this into the discussion too. Another thing there is absolutely no way to fully make amends for, that I can see. It’s beyond shame, and it’s beyond saying “I didn’t know!” It’s more like “I didn’t listen, because I didn’t care!”.

  • to compare him with roy cohn, who i found to be shallow, self absorbed, and perhaps mentally unbalanced, is not fair to cohn, though there is no forgiving his actions… mehlman worked with great energy and purpose to put in place, and keep in place, one of the most homophobic and restrictive regimes in american history, and gave credence to countless old wives tales, anti-science myths and propaganda in a desperate attempt to destroy democracy in the united states… all these crimes against humanity were caused by his uncontrolled self loathing… there is such a thing as verbal terrorism, and the bush administration was expert perpetrating this on the american people… Mehlman is a traitor not only to gays but all americans.

  • God, the tyranny of the self-righteous is just suffocating. Closeted people behave in strange, self-destructive ways, but we as a community should find it in our hearts to forgive. I’m sure that he struggled for many years with the agony of living a lie. I personally welcome him into the fold.

  • I have to agree with those who are willing to accept Mehlman into the community, but on probation status and he has to do a hell of a lot more than co-host a fund raiser from time to time and lend his name to other fund raisers. He has caused way to much harm, as Peter pointed out. All of those kids on the street who probably won’t live to be a community elder or have already used suicide to flee the hate Mehlman promoted.

  • Great op-ed Kevin. I definitely support those that compare Mehlman to Roy Cohn but join Lisa in acknowledging that the damage and evil that he wrought was far worse than that of Cohn. What he did was on the level of a systematic pogrom against our community – this wasn’t a one time “slip of the tongue.” His mea culpa is another in the long line from down-low outed gays men who have been caught living a life of hypocrisy.

    But for Mehlman, it’s worse. In his case, he was the mastermind of a campaign of hate for the very purpose of bringing out conservative wack-jobs in 2004 to vote for anti-gay referenda resulting in a vote for Bush. We know for certain that this tactic resulted in a Bush win in Ohio, which won the election. As charlie clark so well states, the damage of the Bush administration is untold.

    In no certain terms do I support his acceptance and incorporation into the community. It is not acceptable that he can now walk into the very community that he vilified and greatly hurt. I call for a national public shaming on the level of Hester Prynne in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. He should not be allowed at gay and lesbian public events. If present, he should be publicly humiliated and challenged. If he is seen at bars, he should be confronted and made so uncomfortable (maybe with taunts of “Shame, Shame, Shame”) that he leaves. The true evil of his actions cannot be tolerated and must haunt him for many years to come if not for the rest of his pathetic life.

  • What struck me about Mehlman’s disclosure was his regret for not being out while being the RNC Chair so he could have pushed back attacks against our community. Here’s a news flash, Mehlman: If you WERE out then, you would not have held the job as Chairman, Republican National Committee. No umbrella then, no umbrella now.

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