As usual, when a prominent Democratic politician or public figure makes headlines, LGBT advocacy groups develop a case of amnesia about that person’s record.
Today’s example: Sen. Barbara Mikulski, the iconic Maryland Democrat who has indisputably blazed a trail for women in the U.S. Congress.
But her record on LGBT issues is far from heroic, though you wouldn’t know it from the barrage of press releases today hailing her supposedly long record of support.
“Sen. Mikulski’s work has improved virtually every facet of life for LGBT Americans,” HRC trumpeted. “… the LGBT community will miss working with her.”
For a more complete, rounded view of her legacy, consider that she voted for the Defense of Marriage Act. She spent her entire life hiding in the closet and refusing to answer questions about her sexual orientation, even as she was casting horribly anti-gay votes. And the tales from her staffers about the abusive environment she cultivated in the office would make Anna Wintour blush.
The rumors about Mikulski’s sexual orientation go back to the 1980s, when Linda Chavez described her as a “San Francisco-style Democrat” while running against her for the Senate. Mikulski’s relationship with congressional aide Teresa Mary Brennan — the two briefly lived together — also raised eyebrows. After her vote for DOMA, Mikulski was ambushed in New York while on a book tour by LGBT activists who rightly demanded to know how she, as a closeted lesbian, could support DOMA and come to the heart of the city’s LGBT community to plug a book. She refused to answer their questions about her sexual orientation. She was similarly targeted by activists in other cities and always ran for cover, refusing to engage.
In 2004, as Congress prepared to vote on the Federal Marriage Amendment, which would have barred same-sex marriage, Mikulski’s position was unclear. It was a stressful time and bloggers and LGBT media outlets, including the Blade, were working to out hypocrites on Capitol Hill.
I confronted Mikulski at a Baltimore event in 2004 and asked her directly about her intent with regard to the FMA vote and whether or not she’s gay. Per usual, she ducked the questions and scurried to a waiting car.
The FMA failed and Mikulski ultimately did the right thing and voted against another marriage ban effort in 2006. She finally came around on LGBT issues and co-sponsored the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, ENDA and a repeal of DOMA.
All of that is good and appreciated but truly supportive and courageous politicians stand up before it’s safe and popular, as some of her colleagues did in opposing DOMA in 1996.
The mindless praise of politicians like Mikulski by HRC and others ignores history and does a disservice to LGBT people. Now that she’s freed from having to run another campaign for re-election, perhaps Mikulski will sit down and finally answer all the questions about her long career and not just the self-serving ones. No one disputes Mikulski’s great achievements, especially the work she’s done on behalf of her Baltimore constituents and her role as the “Dean of the Senate Women.” But there’s more to the story and so far it’s not being told.