A former head of the Log Cabin Republicans is criticizing newly out Ken Mehlman for keeping his sexual orientation secret and for working against the LGBT community when he held leadership positions in the Republican Party.
Rich Tafel, who served as executive director of Log Cabin from 1993 to 2002, said in a Blade interview that he’s “a little less sympathetic” than others regarding Mehlman’s announcement.
“It pisses me off that people will put their ambition ahead of the truth, and then, when it’s convenient, play the gay card and hope that everybody [can] raise money and get money and then expect everybody to say, ‘Everything is great,’” Tafel said.
Mehlman came out in an article published online last month in The Atlantic after he reportedly told close friends he’s gay and that he recently came to terms with his sexual orientation. Mehlman reportedly has come out for same-sex marriage will take part in a fundraiser this month for the American Foundation for Equal Rights, the organization behind the federal lawsuit against Proposition 8 in California.
Before becoming chair of the Republican National Committee in 2005, Mehlman worked for the presidential campaigns for George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004. LGBT rights supporters denounced Bush’s 2004 campaign for endorsing the Federal Marriage Amendment, which would have banned same-sex marriage throughout the country.
Tafel said Mehlman’s decision to come out after working for campaigns that promoted anti-gay initiatives “sends a lousy message.”
“You do have to show moral courage in coming out when you work in politics,” Tafel said. “And if the message is stay ambitious, and stay in the closet, even work with anti-gay stuff, and then come out and everybody’s supposed to forgive him — I’m just not there.”
Tafel said Mehlman was unhelpful in those years, even as others who were closeted and held high-level positions within the Republican Party provided assistance to Log Cabin. Tafel counted Dan Gurley, a former field director for the Republican National Committee, as among those who were helpful even though he was closeted as a Republican Party operative.
“I would say there are two types of people in the closet,” Tafel said. “There’s one type of people in the closet who were extremely helpful to me, and then there were the other ones who weren’t. Ken was in the very small category of people who weren’t.”
Tafel said he first met Mehlman when he was about to go work on the Bush campaign in 2000 and that Mehlman “chastised” him for “not being supportive enough” of then-Gov. Bush.
“Most people actually tried to help … wherever they were in their life,” Tafel said. “They tried to help you, but he really never lifted a finger for us. Things got pretty hostile with myself and the Bush campaign. He was unhelpful. So, it was a pretty unhappy relationship. It was nothing positive.”
Tafel said the Bush campaign in 2000 was “coming after” him personally and threatening to create another gay organization while saying “get in line or we’re going to put you out of business.”
Recalling the 2004 presidential campaign and its endorsement of the Federal Marriage Amendment, Tafel criticized Mehlman for supporting anti-gay rhetoric and initiatives.
“What they did in 2004 was pretty historic in that they, for the first time as a party — the Republicans really, really cynically used gay issues to score points to win at the presidential election, even though they knew they couldn’t pass legislation,” Tafel said.
Tafel said he finds the notion that Mehlman is just now coming to terms with his sexual orientation at the age of 43 “really hard to believe.” The former Log Cabin head recalled Mehlman acted “overly anxious and nervous” when the two attended Republican events.
“There were people always coming up to me saying that he hit on me, or I know someone who knows someone — so I don’t know if it’s anything but gossip,” Tafel said. “But the whole thing strikes me as a little almost picture perfect PR timing to do it now when it’s probably going to affect his social life if he wants to live in New York and go out and date and so forth, so I’m a little suspicious.”
UPDATE: R. Clarke Cooper, current executive director for Log Cabin, responded to Tafel’s comments on Mehlman in a statement to the Blade:
“Ken Mehlman came out because he wanted to help the cause for marriage equality. While he could have easily just lived his life and kept his head down, Ken decided to come out and try to help the cause of marriage equality by raising money, offering strategy and providing sweat equity. He made a very sincere declaration of apology and regret for the impact of the 2004 campaign had on the gay community. The fact that it took Ken until later in life to come out is a reminder to us all that the coming out process remains a lengthy painful crucible for many people. Ken’s coming out is a welcome addition to our long fought campaign for civil rights. He is truly a force multiplier for us.”