September 8, 2010 | by Chris Johnson
Former Log Cabin leader assails Mehlman

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.”

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

11 Comments
  • My respect for Rich Tafel has increased exponentially. I too, have tremendous problems with what Mehlman did and can’t just dismiss it as his “process of coming out.” Rich as you so well state, the damage that Mehlman did, not just to our community but to the nation, is incalculable. But, in life there is a natural balance. Mehlman was hired in 2008 as Managing Director and Head of Global Public Affairs at Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. in Manhattan. Of course, KKR hired him to provide access to his cronies at the GOP for KKR clients (of course, never assuming he was “gay”). Now that his same-sex attractions have been revealed, Kenny-boy will be a dwindling asset. Just how many of his homophobic cronies are going to pick up the phone when he calls or do favors for him when he needs them? Watch him loose his job at KKR in a few months (they’ll have an “air kisses” departure). Turnaround is a bite.

  • Bill I like your opinion on this one. And I for one will enjoy the schadenfreude of seeing the door hit him in the ass.

  • I wonder which Circle of Hell is reserved for Mehlman.

  • “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.” So says R. Clarke Cooper. But then Mehlman couldn’t be the media whore/power broker he’s addicted to being. He’s merely swapped being part of the Republican power elite for the gay power elite. i see absolutely no real contrition on his part.

  • I hope the distinction that Tafel makes between helpful people in the closet versus obstructionist in the closet is education for other people who are still coming to terms with who they are. Indecision is no excuse for inhumanity.

  • Mehlman got what he wanted, money. He doesn’t care one iota for the gay community.

  • What’s more pathetic than Mr. Mehlman’s shameless intellectual dishonesty? People like Cooper defending it.

  • I have known Rich Tafel for many years and I have always respected the fight he fought in the Republican Party at the same time I didn’t respect the Republican party and its leaders. Today I respect Rich Tafel even more for his honesty in dealing with Mehlman. I have also known R. Clarke Cooper for most likely over twenty years. I like him and hope he has the success and respect that Rich had when he ran Log Cabin. I think Clarke would do better not to defend people like Mehlman in anyway. I don’t personally wish Mehlman ill but Mehlman should do what he wants as far as I am concerned, I really don’t want to hear about it, and it will take him more than the years he has left to atone for what he did to the LGBT community. We and he will never know how many young boys and girls may have taken their own lives or been damaged for life because of the policies that Mehlman espoused. I know what it means to come out late. I spent years coming to grips with being gay, but I never worked for a candidate who spread hate against the LGBT community. Mehlman not only did work for one but he helped develop the policies of hate.

  • I have always seen most gay Republicans as opportunistic shills. They are usually the first in line to take advantage of rights won by the ‘militant liberals’ they so despise. I have new found respect for Rich Tafel. His remarks really expose Mehlman’s deceit.

  • I’m sorry but I do not think that this guy can be forgiven very easily. As someone who was a teenager in the 2000s, Republican attacks on gays were something I watched. And i knew that society did not want me around, or so I thought. I was raised in very conservative circles. I heard how gays were harmful to society. The message was that I was not wanted and did not deserve to have the same chances that others did. I hated myself, and became suicidal. I’m grateful I decided to come out and live as a gay man instead of killing myself, but many teenagers and others do not do this, and they end their lives. Mr. Melhman had a choice to speak out for us. He chose not to, and even made millions of dollars helping to hurt our community. People like Mr. Melhman, due to his anti-gay campaigning in the 2000s, have blood on their hands of people who killed themselves as far as I’m concerned, and I will never accept people like him as a part of our community.

  • I can tell you for certain that Mehlman did absolutely nothing to help the Republican staffers who were being outed a couple of years ago and in fact had them ostracized in order to deflect attention to himself. In many ways his actions then were worse on those people than merely being outed. Hope the million$ he’s raked in using those folks were worth it, but I agree it sounds as though he’s trying to salve what little conscience he has.

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