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Former Log Cabin leader assails Mehlman

Tafel says gay RNC chair ‘never lifted a finger for us’

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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.”

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11 Comments

11 Comments

  1. Bill

    September 8, 2010 at 4:53 pm

    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.

  2. Jerry

    September 8, 2010 at 10:28 pm

    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.

  3. Mark

    September 8, 2010 at 11:26 pm

    I wonder which Circle of Hell is reserved for Mehlman.

  4. Eli

    September 9, 2010 at 11:42 am

    “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.

  5. Troy

    September 9, 2010 at 12:00 pm

    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.

  6. DavidKCMO

    September 9, 2010 at 1:37 pm

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

  7. Peter

    September 9, 2010 at 2:43 pm

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

  8. Peter Rosenstein

    September 9, 2010 at 6:27 pm

    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.

  9. Bernie

    September 9, 2010 at 6:41 pm

    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.

  10. Michael

    September 9, 2010 at 9:21 pm

    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.

  11. Waldo

    September 10, 2010 at 1:46 pm

    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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National

In a historic first, Colorado now has a 1st gentleman as Gov. Polis marries

The governor and his now husband decided to hold their nuptials on the 18th anniversary of their first date

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Governor Jared Polis and 1st Gentleman Marlon Reis exchange vows (Screenshot via CBS News Denver)

DENVER – Colorado’s Democratic Governor Jared Polis married his longtime partner Marlon Reis in a ceremony that marked the first same-sex marriage of a sitting Out governor in the United States.

The couple was married Wednesday in a small traditional Jewish ceremony at the University of Colorado at Boulder, where Reis had matriculated and graduated from. The governor and his now husband decided to hold their nuptials on the 18th anniversary of their first date.

“We met online and went out on a date and we went to the Boulder bookstore and then went to dinner,” Polis told KCFR-FM, Colorado Public Radio (CPR).

In addition to family and close friends in attendance, the couple’s two children participated with their 7-year-old daughter serving as the flower girl and their 9-year-old son as the ring bearer.

The governor joked that their daughter was probably more thrilled than anyone about the wedding. “She was all in on being a flower girl. She’s been prancing around. She got a great dress. She’s terrific,” he said CPR reported.

Their son was also happy, but more ambivalent about it all according to Reis. “Kids are so modern that their responses to things are sometimes funny. Our son honestly asked us, ‘Why do people get married?”

Colorado’s chief executive, sworn in as the 43rd governor of Colorado in January 2019, over the course of nearly 20 years as a political activist and following in public service as an elected official has had several ‘firsts’ to his credit.

In 2008 Polis is one of the few people to be openly Out when first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives as well as being the first gay parent to serve in the Congress. Then on November 6, 2018, he was the first openly gay governor elected in Colorado and in the United States.

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Gov. Jared Polis And First Gentleman Marlon Reis Are Newlyweds

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U.S. Catholic theologians call for LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections

Joint statement says church teachings support equality

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More than 750 of the nation’s leading Catholic theologians, church leaders, scholars, educators, and writers released a joint statement on Sept. 14 expressing strong support for nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people.

The six-page theological statement, “A Home for All: A Catholic Call for LGBTQ Non-Discrimination,” was scheduled to be published along with the names of its 759 signatories as a four-page advertisement on Sept. 17 in the National Catholic Reporter, a newspaper widely read by Catholic clergy and laypeople.

The statement was initiated by New Ways Ministry, a Mount Rainier, Md., based Catholic group that advocates for equality for LGBTQ people within the church and society at large.

“As Catholic theologians, scholars, church leaders, writers, and ministers, we affirm that Catholic teaching presents a positive case for ending discrimination against LGBTQ people,” the statement says. “We affirm the Second Vatican Council’s demand that ‘any kind of social or cultural discrimination…must be curbed and eradicated,’” it says.

“We affirm that Catholic teaching should not be used to further oppress LGBTQ people by denying rights rooted in their inherent human dignity and in the church’s call for social equality,” the statement adds.

The statement notes that its signers recognize that a “great debate” is currently taking place within the Catholic Church about whether same-gender relationships and transgender identities should be condoned or supported.

“That is a vital discussion for the future of Catholicism, and one to which we are whole-heartedly committed,” the statement continues. “What we are saying in this statement, however, is relatively independent of that debate, and the endorsers of this statement may hold varied, and even opposing, opinions on sexual and gender matters,” it says.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministries executive director, said his organization and the signers of the statement feel the issue of nondiscrimination for LGBTQ people can and should be supported by Catholic leaders and the church itself even if some are not yet ready to support same-sex marriage and sexual and gender identity matters.

“LGBTQ non-discrimination is being debated at all levels in our society, and the Catholic perspective on this is often misrepresented, even by some church leaders,” DeBernardo said. “Catholics who have studied and reflected deeply on this topic agree that non-discrimination is the most authentic Catholic position,” he said. 

DeBernardo said those who helped draft the statement decided it would be best to limit it to a theological appeal and argument for LGBTQ equality and non-discrimination and not to call for passage of specific legislation such as the Equality Act, the national LGBTQ civil rights bill pending in the U.S. Congress.

The Equality Act calls for amending existing federal civil rights laws to add nondiscrimination language protecting LGBTQ people in areas such as employment, housing, and public accommodations. The U.S. House approved the legislation, but the Senate has yet to act on it.

“We wanted this to be a theological statement, not a political statement,” DeBernardo said.

He said organizers of the project to prepare the statement plan to send it, among other places, to the Vatican in Rome and to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which has expressed opposition to the Equality Act.

Among the key signers of the statement were 242 administrators, faculty, and staff from Sacred Heart University, a Catholic college in Bridgeport, Conn. New Ways Ministries says the statement was circulated by the school’s administration and eight of its top leaders, including President John Petillo, are among the signers.

Some of the prominent writers who signed the statement include Sister Helen Prejean, author of “Dead Man Walking;” Richard Rodriquez, author of “Hunger of Memory;” Gary Wills, author of “Lincoln at Gettysburg;” and Gregory Maguire, author of “Wicked.”

The full text of the statement and its list of signatories can be accessed at the New Ways Ministry website.

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Activists reflect on Black Trans Lives Matter movement resurgence

Blade speaks with Alex Santiago, Jasmyne Cannick

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An I Am Human Foundation billboard along Atlanta's Downtown Connector expressway on Feb. 22, 2021. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The world came to a standstill last year as a video surfaced online that showed then-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin murdering George Floyd. The video went viral and sparked numerous protests against racism and police brutality in the U.S. and around the world as many people felt it a potent time to relay their frustrations with and to their governments.

For the LGBTQ community, these protests brought to light the need for human rights for transgender individuals as the murders of people like Tony McDade in Florida and Nina Pop in Missouri reawakened the flame within the Black Trans Lives Matter movement.

A tribute to Tony McDade in downtown Asheville, N.C., in June 2020. McDade was a Black transgender man who was shot and killed by a white police officer in Tallahassee, Fla., on May 27, 2020. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The Washington Blade more than a year later spoke with Alex Santiago, executive director of the I Am Human Foundation in Atlanta, and Jasmyne Cannick, a Democratic political strategist and journalist in Los Angeles, to reflect on last year’s Black Trans Lives Matter movement, how far it has come, and what’s in store for the future. 

Uplifting voices often silenced

Participating in the Black Lives Matter protests was an easy decision for Santiago. He is a member of the Legendary House of Garcon, a ballroom house headquartered in D.C. 

Although the house is composed mostly of LGBTQ members, Santiago still felt the need to center trans voices and experiences by visually representing them during Black Lives Matter marches. 

“[I decided that] when I go I’m going to have signs that say ‘Black Trans Lives Matter.’ After talking to a couple of the people in the house, they said it was a great idea. So, they got these t-shirts made that incorporated the trans colors [baby blue, baby pink and white],” says Santiago.

Out of the 250 people in the Legendary House of Garcon, 175 showed up to D.C. from other states to march in solidarity with Black trans people. Santiago says that from what he was told, his was the largest group of activists representing Black trans lives at protests. 

“At first I thought people were going to look at us crazy, like, ‘Why are you separating yourselves or being exclusive?’. But, we got a great response from the general population that was there that day. It was a good day,” says Santiago.

Cannick, who was in Los Angeles during the protests, lent her efforts to platforming pertinent issues. She identifies herself as an ally and a “friend” to the LGBTQ community. 

“I’m active in the LA community and everybody knows me. So, whenever something happens, someone is hurt, someone is killed or someone needs to get the word out about something that’s going on particularly as it relates to the trans community, I’m always asked to get involved, and I do,” says Cannick. 

Over the past year, she reported on multiple LGBTQ issues including the trial of Ed Buck, a Democratic political fundraiser who was convicted in the deaths of two gay Black men who he injected with methamphetamine in exchange for sex.

What happened to the BTLM movement and what needs to change?

The nature of many social movements is that as the intense emotion surrounding them fades, people’s fervor for change wanes as well. This is especially true with allies who are not directly linked to the cause.

“Fatigue and frustration at the relatively slow pace of change to a growing backlash on the right against efforts to call out systemic racism and white privilege — has led to a decline in white support for the Black Lives Matter movement since last spring, when white support for social justice was at its peak,” US News reports about the Black Lives Matter movement.

Cannick believes this is the same for the Black Trans Lives Matter movement. She says Americans allow the media to dictate how it behaves and responds to issues. Thus, when stories “fall out of our media cycles … they fall out of our memories.”

“I think that’s not going to change, and that’s a psychological thing, until we learn how to not let the media necessarily dictate our issues,” says Cannick. 

She suggests that individuals remain plugged into their communities by “doing anything to make sure they keep up with an issue” including following the “right people” on social media and setting up Google alerts for any breaking news. 

Jasmyne Cannick (Photo courtesy of Jasmyne Cannick)

Santiago also echoes Cannick’s sentiments. 

“We wait until something happens before we do something. And, I don’t want to be retroactive; I want to be proactive. I want people to see me when things are going well [and when they’re not going well],” says Santiago. 

Upon returning to his home in Atlanta after the D.C. protests, Santiago contacted a billboard installation company and paid for a billboard labelled, “Black Trans Lives Matter” to be displayed on University Avenue near downtown Atlanta. He says that the billboards got attention and helped to spread much-needed awareness. Following this success, he is now in the process of installing a new billboard labelled, “Black, Trans and Visible. My life Matters.”

“Unless you’re in people’s faces or something drastic happens, people forget. Unless you’re living it, people forget,” says Santiago.

As time progresses, both Santiago and Cannick nest hope for the Black Trans Lives Matter movement. However, this hope can only persist when crucial steps are taken to ensure Black trans individuals around the country are protected, most importantly through legislation.

The New York Times reports there are close to 1,000 elected LGBTQ officials in the U.S., with at least one in each state except Mississippi. 

“We need to have more legislation. We need more voices in power like the council Biden has right now,” says Santiago. 

“You know that [Biden] has a lot of trans people and Black trans people [involved], and a part of that’s a positive step in the right direction, but we need that times 10,” says Santiago.

He believes that political representation should extend to local governance where ordinary Black trans individuals can be trained to assume leadership roles. 

Cannick’s focus is on the Black community. 

“[Trans women] are usually murdered by Black men. If we ever expect that to change, we need to start talking about that,” says Cannick.

She’s open to having conversations that put people, including her as a cis-identifying woman, in uncomfortable and awkward spaces. 

She hosts a podcast titled “Str8 No Chaser” and recently aired an episode, “Why Are Black Men Killing Trans Women,” where she discussed with three Black trans women about the gender and sexuality dynamics within the Black community and their perils. 

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