just a nod to former RNC chairman

iVillage Member
Registered: 03-01-2010
just a nod to former RNC chairman
Wed, 08-25-2010 - 10:33pm

I'm glad that he's going to be an advocate.

Bush Campaign Chief and Former RNC Chair Ken Mehlman: I'm Gay

AUG 25 2010

Ken Mehlman, President Bush's campaign manager in 2004 and a former chairman of the Republican National Committee, has told family and associates that he is gay.

Mehlman arrived at this conclusion about his identity fairly recently, he said in an interview. He agreed to answer a reporter's questions, he said, because, now in private life, he wants to become an advocate for gay marriage and anticipated that questions would arise about his participation in a late-September fundraiser for the American Foundation for Equal Rights (AFER), the group that supported the legal challenge to California's ballot initiative against gay marriage, Proposition 8.

"It's taken me 43 years to get comfortable with this part of my life," said Mehlman, now an executive vice-president with the New York City-based private equity firm, KKR. "Everybody has their own path to travel, their own journey, and for me, over the past few months, I've told my family, friends, former colleagues, and current colleagues, and they've been wonderful and supportive. The process has been something that's made me a happier and better person. It's something I wish I had done years ago."

Privately, in off-the-record conversations with this reporter over the years, Mehlman voiced support for civil unions and told of how, in private discussions with senior Republican officials, he beat back efforts to attack same-sex marriage. He insisted, too, that President Bush "was no homophobe." He often wondered why gay voters never formed common cause with Republican opponents of Islamic jihad, which he called "the greatest anti-gay force in the world right now."

Mehlman's leadership positions in the GOP came at a time when the party was stepping up its anti-gay activities -- such as the distribution in West Virginia in 2006 of literature linking homosexuality to atheism, or the less-than-subtle, coded language in the party's platform ("Attempts to redefine marriage in a single state or city could have serious consequences throughout the country..."). Mehlman said at the time that he could not, as an individual Republican, go against the party consensus. He was aware that Karl Rove, President Bush's chief strategic adviser, had been working with Republicans to make sure that anti-gay initiatives and referenda would appear on November ballots in 2004 and 2006 to help Republicans.

Mehlman acknowledges 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.

"It's a legitimate question and one I understand," Mehlman said. "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." He asks of those who doubt his sincerity: "If they can't offer support, at least offer understanding."

"What I do regret, and think a lot about, is that one of the things I talked a lot about in politics was how I tried to expand the party into neighborhoods where the message wasn't always heard. I didn't do this in the gay community at all."

He said that he "really wished" he had come to terms with his sexual orientation earlier, "so I could have worked against " and "reached out to the gay community in the way I reached out to African Americans."

Mehlman is aware that his attempts to justify his past silence will not be adequate for many people. He and his friends say that he is aware that he will no longer control the story about his identity -- which will simultaneously expose old wounds, invite Schadenfruede, and legitimize anger among gay rights activists in both parties who did not hide their sexual orientations.

Mehlman, who has never married, long found his sexuality subject to rumor and innuendo. He was the subject of an outing campaign by gay rights activist Mike Rogers, starting when Mehlman was Bush's campaign manager. Rogers's crusades against closeted gay Republicans split the organized gay lobby in Washington but were undoubtedly effective: he drove several elected officials, including Virginia Rep. Ed Shrock, from office, pushed out a would-be presidential campaign manager for George Allen well before Allen was set to run, slung rumors about Sen. Larry Craig's sexual orientation well before Craig's incident in a Minneapolis airport bathroom, and even managed to make homosexuality a wedge issue within the party's activist circles.

In 2006, Rogers caught up to Mehlman and asked him why he gave "so many confusing answers to social conservatives about your homosexuality," and followed up by asking whether Mehlman knew of a man who Rogers had claimed was Mehlman's secret partner. Mehlman denied to Rogers that he had given conflicting answers and said that the man in question was a law school classmate.

In several discussions I've had with Mehlman since he stepped down from the Republican National Committee in 2007, he never volunteered information about his sexual orientation, although charges that he presided over a resurgence in anti-gay sentiment were clearly an ongoing burden to him.

The disclosure at this stage of Mehlman's life strikes one close friend as being like a decision to jump off of a high diving board: Mehlman knows that there is plenty of water below, but it is still very scary to look down and make the leap. Mehlman likes order and certainty, and he knows that the reaction to his public confirmation cannot be predicted or contained.

Mehlman is the most powerful Republican in history to identify as gay.

Because his tenure as RNC chairman and his time at the center of the Bush political machine coincided with the Republican Party's attempts to exploit anti-gay prejudices and cement the allegiance of social conservatives, his declaration to the world is at once a personal act and an act of political speech.

"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," he said.

During the Rogers crusades, many news organizations made attempts to confirm rumors and stories about Mehlman's sexuality. Republicans close to Mehlman either said they did not know, or that it did not matter, or that the question was offensive.

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.

He said that he plans to be an advocate for gay rights within the GOP, that he remains proud to be a Republican, and that his political identity is not defined by any one issue.

"What I will try to do is to persuade people, when I have conversations with them, that it is consistent with our party's philosophy, whether it's the principle of individual freedom, or limited government, or encouraging adults who love each other and who want to make a lifelong committment to each other to get married."

"I hope that we, as a party, would welcome gay and lesbian supporters. I also think there needs to be, in the gay community, robust and bipartisan support marriage rights."

Ed Gillespie, a former RNC chairman and long-time friend of Mehlman, said that "it is significant that a former chairman of the Republiucan National Committe is openly gay and that he is supportive of gay marriage." Although Gillespie himself opposes gay marriage, he pointed to party stalwarts like former Vice President Dick Cheney and strategist Mary Matalin as open advocates for gay rights who had not been drummed out of the party. He acknowledged "big generational differences in perception when it comes to gay marriage and gay rights as an agenda, and I think that is true on the Republican side."

But, Gillespie said, he does not envision the party platform changing anytime soon.

"There are a lot of Republicans who are gay, there are a lot of Republicans who support government sanction of gay marriage, a lot of Republicans who support abortion on demand, a lot of Republicans who support cap-and-trade provisions. They're not single-issue voters." Gillespie acknowledged that the party had been inhospitable to gays in the past, and said that he hopes Mehlman's decision to come out leads the party to be "more respectful and civil in our discourse" when it comes to gays.

Mehlman said that his formal coming-out process began earlier this year. Over the past several weeks, he has notified former colleagues, including former President Bush. Once he realized that the news would probably leak, he assembled a team of former advisers to help him figure out the best way to harness the publicity generated by the disclosure for the cause of marriage rights. He is worried that some will see his decision to go public as opportunistic. Mehlman recently moved to Chelsea, a gay mecca in New York City. He refused to discuss his personal life with me, and he plans to give only a few print interviews on the subject.

Chad Griffin, the California-based political strategist who organized opposition to Proposition 8, said that Mehlman's quiet contributions to the American Foundation for Equal Rights are "tremendous," adding that "when we achieve equal equality, he will be one of the people to thank for it." Mehlman has become a de facto strategist for the group, and he has opened up his rolodex -- recruiting, as co-hosts for the AFER fundraiser: Paul Singer, a major Republican donor, hedge fund executive, and the president of the Manhattan Institute; Benjamin Ginsberg, one of the GOP's top lawyers; Michael Toner, a former chairman of the Federal Election Commission; and two former GOP governors, William Weld of Massachusetts and Christie Todd Whitman of New Jersey.

Dustin Lance Black, the Academy Award winning writer of "Milk," said, "Ken represents an incredible coup for the American Foundation for Equal Rights. We believe that our mission of equal rights under the law is one that should resonate with every American. As a victorious former presidential campaign manager and head of the Republican Party, Ken has the proven experience and expertise to help us communicate with people across each of the 50 states."



iVillage Member
Registered: 03-10-2010
Wed, 08-25-2010 - 11:18pm
On another board that I used to frequent, there was a thread about why the RNC was hostile to the issue of gay marriage. This was when Mehlman was head of the RNC. Somehow it came up that Mehlman was a not-very-well closeted gay. So now, he finally comes out - good for him. Why the heck was he once against gays having the right to marry? Oh well...better late than never.


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iVillage Member
Registered: 02-28-2010
Thu, 08-26-2010 - 12:20am

Must be sad, living

iVillage Member
Registered: 03-01-2010
Thu, 08-26-2010 - 12:21am

This was interesting to me:

Mehlman Draws Fire, Praise
By Kerry Eleveld and Andrew Harmon

While some gay advocates joked that one of the worst kept secrets in Washington was out, others welcomed the news with open arms – on both sides of the aisle.

Ken Mehlman, former campaign manager for President George W. Bush in 2004 and chair of the Republican National Committee, came out as gay in an interview with The Atlantic posted Wednesday afternoon.

Though many bloggers seethed with anger at the fact that Mehlman presided over a campaign that strategically pushed anti-gay marriage amendments in 11 states in 2004 (Joe.My.God’s Joe Jervis called Mehlman a “Quisling Homophobic Scumbag” among other choice adjectives) one of the movement’s most prominent marriage equality advocates sung his praises.

“I have spent no time thinking about where Ken was four-to-five-to-six years ago. I’m just thankful that he’s with us today,” said Chad Griffin, co-founder of the American Foundation for Equal Rights (AFER), the organization that’s solely funding the legal challenge to California’s Proposition 8 in federal court brought by former Bush solicitor general Ted Oslon and progressive legal eagle David Boies.

“He is one of the most brilliant political strategists from the Republican side of the aisle,” said Griffin, “and he is also a master fundraiser and brings contacts and relationships to bear that are comparable to almost no one.”

Indeed, Mehlman’s first act as an out gay man will be hosting an AFER fundraiser next month to help support the case, which likely carries a price tag in the millions of dollars (the group has declined to disclose exactly how much).

Although the invitations have yet to be mailed, Mehlman told The Advocate Wednesday evening that just through pre-selling the event, they had already helped to raise about $750,000.

The line up of heavy conservative hitters hosting the event includes people such as Christine Todd Whitman, the former New Jersey governor and administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency; Lew Eisenberg, former Republican National Committee finance chairman and national finance chairman for Sen. John McCain; and Mark and Nicole Wallace, former United Nations ambassador and White House communications director under Bush, respectively.

“A lot of different people have come together to make this a success, but the one who has been the most generous and who is hosting it is Paul Singer,” Mehlman said, referring to the wealthy GOP donor and hedge fund executive. But Mehlman added that he and his colleagues were merely building upon the efforts of "a lot of people who have worked hard on these issues for a number of years."

he tony, high-profile conservative fundraiser may indeed mark a shift in the political winds for marriage equality in much the same way the Prop. 8 case has.

As Steve Elmendorf, a Washington Democratic political operative, observed, “Ted Olson brought incredible credibility to the legal case, Ken can bring incredible credibility to our political case and send the massage that being on the right side of this issue is not going to cost you politically.”

Mehlman himself is well aware that a number of LGBT people still harbor ill feelings toward him for his role in targeting the gay community in order to whip up conservative support for George W. Bush in '04. In Ohio, for instance, the RNC sent out voter registration pamphlets attached to fliers featuring an image of a bride and groom and the words “One Man One Woman ... One Vote Could Make a Difference in Making Sure It Stays that Way.”

Mehlman readily admits that he has regrets about the strategy and that the emphasis on the amendments made him uncomfortable at the time.

“I understand that folks are angry, I don’t know that you can change the past,” he said. “One thing I regret a lot is the fact that I wasn’t in the position I am today where I was comfortable with this part of my life, where I was able to be an advocate against that and able to be someone who argued against it. I can’t change that – it is something I wish I could and I can only try to be helpful in the future.”

Despite Mehlman's past positions, Winnie Stachelberg, a senior vice president at the progressive think tank the Center for American Progress, said she was not necessarily surprised by the news that Mehlman is gay and she welcomed him into the fold.

“It is exactly what marriage equality advocates have been saying, it’s not a Democratic or a Republican issue, it’s not a conservative or a liberal issue,” she said. “It’s an issue of the freedom and equality that this country was founded on.”

Stachelberg expected that many LGBT activists might be bitter about Mehlman’s history, but said she hoped people could move past that.

“What we ought to focus on is ensuring that we have as many people as possible -- whether they’re gay or trans or straight -- helping us achieve equality,” Stachelberg said. “I think it adds significant fuel to the effort to of securing marriage equality for gays and lesbians.”

(continued next post)


iVillage Member
Registered: 03-01-2010
Thu, 08-26-2010 - 12:23am

(continuation of article in post above)

While Mehlman’s Wednesday confessional with The Atlantic certainly wasn’t cause for
celebration among prominent anti-gay marriage forces, nor was it seen as further evidence of a conservative party shifting toward a pro-marriage equality position, however slowly.

Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, told The Advocate that Mehlman was “abdicating core Republican beliefs” in his support for AFER’s legal effort in challenging Prop. 8. “But it’s never been about the leaders. It’s always been about the people, based on an overwhelming majority of Republican voters -- 85, 86 percent -- who support marriage as a union between a man and a woman,” he said. “That a few folks within the Republican Party are questioning a party platform and have personal positions on same-sex marriage is a reality of political parties. is no longer a major party leader, so I don’t know how influential he is, to be honest with you.”

Marriage equality advocates, Brown said, are using high-profile conservatives now supporting marriage equality -- from Ted Olson to vice president Dick Cheney -- in order to “create an impression that there is an inevitability to same-sex marriage. The facts strongly go against that idea.”

Brown asserted that the RNC played a limited role in rallying the anti-gay marriage vote during the 2004 presidential elections, when Mehlman served as Bush-Cheney campaign manager. Eleven states passed constitutional amendments banning marriage rights for same-sex couples that year, including Ohio, which gave Bush a margin of victory over Democratic Sen. John Kerry.

“These were pushed by people on the state level,” Brown said. “The whole notion that it was some top-down, Machiavellian ploy by the Republican Party is a farce.”

But Clarke Cooper, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, saw Mehlman’s revelation as an opportunity to move the Republican Party forward on LGBT issues.

“Being gay and being conservative are not mutually exclusive,” Cooper said. “As a fellow Bush alumnus, I also look forward to Ken helping me and our colleagues build a stronger more inclusive Republican Party.”


iVillage Member
Registered: 02-28-2010
Thu, 08-26-2010 - 12:31am

Unfortunately Cooper is in LA-LA land.

iVillage Member
Registered: 04-09-2007
Thu, 08-26-2010 - 12:32am

It's frustrating, because it is the continued silence of the key party members that propels the party into these polarizing positions.

iVillage Member
Registered: 03-10-2010
Thu, 08-26-2010 - 12:36am

I think that the party had to pander to the religious right which is against gay marriage. It was a matter of numbers. There were likely more religious voters than gays. The larger constituency wins.


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iVillage Member
Registered: 03-01-2010
Thu, 08-26-2010 - 12:40am

While I have some sympathy for him, I also understand what you mean.

Just to add, some clips from Queerty:

"Mehlman, who headed the RNC from 2005-07 after the Bush campaign, and who previously served as White House political director during Bush's first term, is arguably the highest profile Republican to ever come out. He is also arguably America's most heinous homosexual, actively participating in and driving the demonetization of his own community in exchange for political applause and cold hard cash."

"This is a man who actively participated in ruining the lives of LGBT Americans. That he didn't know (or so he says) he was gay at the time is of absolutely no importance. It doesn't excuse his behavior. It does not bring him closer to deserving forgiveness. Mehlman's attempt at salvation would be akin to a racist white man who railed against blacks only to find out his grandmother is East Africa, or a neo-Nazi who spread filth about Jews only to learn his mother is one — and had a change of heart about their hatred."


iVillage Member
Registered: 04-09-2007
Thu, 08-26-2010 - 12:52am


Only when he realized that his words and actions had negative consequences that limited his OWN choices did he seem to be interested in making amends.

I think there is a difference between someone being genuinely well-intended, but

iVillage Member
Registered: 03-01-2010
Thu, 08-26-2010 - 1:18am


I thought you might find the following reactions interesting.

Stonewall Democrats:

“The coming out process is a very personal and sacred one, regardless of one’s party, class or position of power and we’re glad that Mehlman has taken the opportunity to live his life openly and authentically. It is a stark illustration, however, of how damaging the closet can be when one puts ideology over personal integrity. Mehlman presided over the Republican Party at a time when the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans were used to ill ends – marriage amendments in dozens of states, vitriolic attacks on our families, our soldiers, our very lives – all for political expediency, votes at the ballot box, and power.

"Imagine what a different America it would be if Mehlman had drawn a line in the sand and said, 'No. The lives of fellow Americans – an American like me – should not be used in this bigoted way.' Ultimately, Mehlman’s story is a cautionary tale of the damage that can be visited on literally millions of people at the intersection of power and the closet. We recognize that this might have been a difficult decision for Mehlman. It’s ironic that he had to make this decision in an environment that is even more difficult and painful because of the policies and politics overseen and sanctioned by him. The next chapter of Mehlman’s life could be about the good that someone can accomplish when authenticity and integrity wins out. We look forward to working with Mr. Mehlman now on issues that many of us have been working on for decades.”

Victory Fund:

“Coming out is a personal decision, and it can have a profound impact on families, friends, colleagues and constituents. We hope the fact that Ken Mehlman has reached this level of honesty will now encourage other political leaders to reject divisive anti-gay campaign tactics which, as Mr. Mehlman now admits, are purely cynical attempts to manipulate the American public,” Wolfe said. ”We look forward to the day when all political leaders, regardless of party, are able to be honest about themselves and their families, and still rise to positions where they can lead by example.”

Geoffrey Kors (Equality California):

"I'm glad he finally came out and glad he's raising money and working to undo the tremendous damage he did to LGBT people. He needs to acknowledge the damage he caused and apologize for the lives he's ruined, raise millions of dollars to overturn every one of the state constitutional amendments (banning same-sex marriage that) he helped pass, and spend the rest of his life working to achieve equality and justice for the community he is part of that he used for selfish political purposes."