Former RNC Head Ken Mehlman Outs Himself

Posted by Chris Geidner
August 25, 2010 10:31 PM |

"After having had several homosexual experiences, many people still deny that they are gay. They tell themselves that they are really heterosexual, they continue to live as heterosexuals, and they maintain that their homosexual incidents or thoughts don't and can't mean anything," Michelangelo Signorile wrote in his book, Outing Yourself.

Although he didn't talk about his personal life or detail what his experience while in the closet had been, Ken Mehlman -- the former head of the Republican National Committee who ran President Bush's 2004 re-election campaign -- came out as a gay man to The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder.

In a wide-ranging interview, Mehlman tells him, "I wish I was where I am today 20 years ago. The process of not being able to say who I am in public life was very difficult. No one else knew this except me. My family didn't know. My friends didn't know. Anyone who watched me knew I was a guy who was clearly uncomfortable with the topic."

Ambinder, who also is gay, writes tonight, "Mehlman once joked in public that although he was not gay, the rumors put a crimp on his social life. He admits to having misled several people who asked him directly."

Despite this, Ambinder writes, "Mehlman arrived at this conclusion about his identity fairly recently, he said in an interview."

As Singorile wrote, "[T]his first step of identifying oneself as gay or lesbian can take many years to complete." This process, for Mehlman, is particularly interesting in light of the extensive history, as detailed by Ambinder, of questions being raised (most often and loudest by BlogActive's Michael Rogers) during that time about Mehlman's sexual orientiation.

The public and personal ramifications of Mehlman's decision to come out now are plentiful.

One of the most quickly approaching is his decision to co-host a fund-raiser for the American Foundation for Equal Rights on the evening of September 22. Andy Towle reported earlier today at Towleroad that Mehlman is among the three leading hosts of the $5,000-a-head event. AFER board co-president Chad Griffin called Mehlman "an integral part of the team" at AFER and told Towleroad, "Our goal is to get as many people who aren't on the side of gay marriage on our side, and once they are here, to welcome them."

Of course, Mehlman's role as the head of Bush's re-election campaign in 2004, in which -- as USA Today put it the day after the election that year -- "[g]ay-marriage bans bulldozed to victory in all 11 states that voted on the measure: Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon and Utah," makes this coming-out less than celebrated by some.

"Mehlman acknowledges," Ambinder writes, "that if he had publicly declared his sexuality sooner, he might have played a role in keeping the party from pushing an anti-gay agenda."

Mehlman's response to Ambinder: "It's a legitimate question and one I understand. ... I can't change the fact that I wasn't in this place personally when I was in politics, and I genuinely regret that. It was very hard, personally."

Again, as Signorile wrote, "[T]he stress that the closet imposes on each of us as individuals cannot be overestimated. ... Put simply, the closet is dangerous, and staying inside can often lead to dire consequences."

So, too, for everyone -- let alone someone who has held the jobs that Mehlman has held -- is the difficulty of coming out, which is the reason why, in 1995, Signorile published an entire book about how to do it.

Mehlman already is confronting much anger from some LGBT activists for his work in advancing the GOP in 2004, not to mention -- as pointed out by Michael Jones at Change.org -- his continued support for Republicans opposed to LGBT equality. Gay blogger Joe Jervis, for example, headlined his post at Joe. My. God. about Mehlman coming out as, "Repulsive Anti-Gay Quisling Homophobic Scumbag Asshat Closeted Former RNC Chair Ken Mehlman Has Come Out." With slightly more nuance, Pam Spaulding wrote at Pam's House Blend, "While it's nice that Ken has finally come out of the closet as an advocate, it's really hard to forgive him for the damage he did to the community by working actively against it for pay for years."

But, Mehlman does have support from some corners. Academy Award-winning Milk screenwriter Dustin Lance Black -- a member of AFER's board -- called Mehlman's role with AFER an "incredible coup" and said in a statement that he was "[t]hrilled to finally have him with us."

Even from Black, though, there's that word: Finally.

For one of the most hopeful statements of what this could mean, however, it's best to step back from the specifics, and look back at Signorile's guide. In it, he wrote of the impact of living one's life without any self-loathing about an individual's homosexuality, "[O]nce you are filled with self-respect, no matter how insumountable your problems seem, you will never think about self-destruction again."

Although every one of the anti-marriage equality amendments passed in the 2004 election remain on the books, Mehlman now tells Ambinder that "he plans to be an advocate for gay rights within the GOP."

Only time will tell on that front. For tonight, though, there is one more person who once worked against LGBT equality and has now committed himself to helping to achieve it.


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