U.S. Rep. Michael Michaud (D-Maine), who’s running for governor in the 2014 election, surprised his state’s political establishment on Monday by announcing he’s gay in an op-ed column released to three news outlets.
Michaud, 58, who’s serving his sixth term in Congress, is considered the favorite to win the Democratic nomination for governor next spring. He’s also considered to have a good chance of winning the general election against incumbent Gov. Paul LePage, a Republican who opposes same-sex marriage.
In the op-ed column he submitted to the Associated Press, the Bangor Daily News and the Portland Press Herald, Michaud said he decided to come out in response to questions raised about his personal life through “whisper campaigns, insinuations and push-polls” orchestrated by people opposed to his candidacy.
“They want people to question whether I’m gay,” he wrote in his column.
“Allow me to save them the trouble with a simple, honest answer: ‘Yes, I am. But why should it matter?’” he said in the column.
“That may seem like a big announcement to some people,” he continued. “For me, it’s just a part of who I am, as much as being a third-generation millworker or a lifelong Mainer. One thing I do know is that it has nothing to do with my ability to lead the state of Maine.”
The Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, a national advocacy group that helps elect openly LGBT candidates for public office, said Michaud is the first sitting member of Congress to come out as gay in 17 years. The group said he now becomes the eighth openly LGBT member of Congress.
“We applaud Congressman Michaud and look forward to working with him in the future,” said Chuck Wolfe, Victory Fund’s executive director. “As the eighth authentic LGBT voice in Congress, his example will promote understanding and show the importance of being open and honest about who you are.”
Fred Sainz, vice president of communications for the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT advocacy group, called Michaud a “tireless fighter for Maine” over a period of decades.
“He has a tremendous story to tell,” Sainz said. “What he made clear today is that being gay is just one part of it. It’s a measure of our success that his sexual orientation going forward will be a non-issue.”
Ali Vander Zanden, interim executive director of the statewide LGBT rights group Equality Maine, said Michaud has been a longtime supporter of LGBT rights, including same-sex marriage, during his career as a congressman and a member of the Maine legislature.
“The reaction that I’ve seen from LGBT people in Maine has been overwhelmingly positive and supportive,” said Vander Zanden.
“People are delighted that we now have an openly gay congressman,” she said. “I think any openly gay elected official or candidate is good for Maine and good for the LGBT community.”
She said Michaud would be a strong contender for Equality Maine’s endorsement when the group begins its candidate endorsement process later this year and early next year.
So far, no other candidate has emerged to oppose Michaud in the Democratic primary for governor scheduled for next June. Political observers say the popular congressman would be the odds-on favorite to win his party’s primary.
The AP reported that a poll released in October showed that Michaud and LePage were running about even in the general election in November 2014. But observers note that LePage won his race for governor in 2010 after running against a Democrat and an independent candidate, Eliot Cutler, who’s running again this time. Some observers say LePage could win the race if two or more candidates divide the opposition vote.
Vander Zanden said Cutler has expressed strong support for LGBT rights, including support for marriage equality in a state whose voters approved a ballot measure last year legalizing same-sex marriage.
She said LePage, while expressing opposition to same-sex marriage, has not voiced an opinion on other LGBT issues in recent years.
“Growing up in a large Franco-American Catholic family, it’s never been in my nature to talk about myself,” Michaud [pronounced ‘me-show’] said in his op-ed column.
“I write this now merely to let my opponents and the outside interests who fund them know that I am not ashamed of who I am,” he said. “And if seeing someone from my background, in my position, openly acknowledge the fact that he’s gay makes it a little bit easier for future generations to live their lives openly and without fear, all the better.”
Michaud added, “I don’t plan to make my personal life or my opponents’ personal lives an issue in this campaign. We’ve had enough negativity in our politics and too many personal attacks over the last few years. We owe it to the people of Maine to focus on how we get our state back on track.”