Will GOP Official's Self-Outing Help Gay Rights?

Former Bush campaign manager Ken Mehlman comes out

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Ken Mehlman, a former Republican National Committee chairman and the manager of George W. Bush's 2004 campaign, has announced that he is gay. The news, reported by The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder, has provoked strong reaction in gossip-hungry Washington and especially among liberals who are wondering why Mehlman worked so hard for a campaign and political party that have been less than receptive to gay-rights issues. Many observers write that Mehlman's sexuality was long an open secret. Here's what people have to say.

  • Why Mehlman Came Out The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder explains, "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."
  • He Headed Staunchly Anti-Gay GOP  The Guardian's Richard Adams calls Mehlman "the most senior Republican figure to publicly acknowledge his homosexuality, at a time when the Republican party remains deeply opposed to same-sex marriage and the abolition of the 'Don't ask, don't tell' policy that bars homosexuals from serving in the US military." He says Mehlman headed "a Republican party that was openly hostile to the civil rights of gay and lesbian Americans. ... During that period Republican strategists resorted to devices such as state referendums banning gay marriage as wedge issues designed to motivate Republican voters."
  • Conservative Gay Groups Welcome News  CNN's Evan Glass reports, "Mehlman's announcement is being welcomed in the gay community. 'Poll after poll shows the most powerful thing we can do to change hearts and minds about gay issues is to come out. I applaud Ken for having the courage to take this important step. I think everyone should remember that each of us has our own personal journey as it relates to coming to terms with our own sexuality and coming out," conservative gay organization GOProud's Christopher Barron told CNN.'"
  • Liberal Gay Bloggers Far More Skeptical  Conservative GayPatriot blogger Daniel Blatt predicts, "In coming out, Ken Mehlman will find more support on the right than on the left." That appears to be so far true. Joe Jervis fumes, "Gee thanks, shitbag. That's like offering to help rebuild a house when YOU were the fucker that helped BURN IT DOWN." Mike Rogers writes, "So, how can Ken Mehlman redeem himself? I want to hear from Ken that he is sorry for being the architect of the 2004 Bush reelection campaign."
  • But Is He Uniquely Suited for Gay Rights Advocacy to Conservative America? Gay rights activist Dustin Lance Black, the screenwriter of the film Milk, posts on Facebook, "Ken is a coup for [the American Foundation for Equal Rights]. Our mission is one that should resonate with every American. Ken has the proven experience and expertise to help us reach out to people across each of the 50 states regardless of party or politics. Happy to have you, Ken. Look forward to your hard work."
  • Should He Have Come Out Sooner? The Washington Post's Felicia Sonmez writes, "Mehlman acknowledged to Ambinder that had he been open about his sexuality earlier, he might have tried to push back against parts of the national Republican agenda, including efforts by former Bush adviser Karl Rove in 2004 and 2006 to put same-sex marriage initiatives on the ballot in states across the country." Salon's Glenn Greenwald sighs, "better late than never, but hard to not think of the opportunity for good he squandered."
  • Will This Backfire on Mehman? Conservative blogger Allahpundit writes, "He's doing this now, it seems, because he wants to drum up publicity for the cause of gay marriage and figures that 'Republican whom everyone thought was gay actually is gay' headlines will do the trick. Could be, although Ambinder's careful to remind readers of the sort of social con initiatives that the GOP pushed during Mehlman's RNC tenure. That won't endear him to gay activists, and his newly public identity won't endear him to social cons. Maybe he should have just worked for gay marriage like Ted Olson and kept his orientation private?"
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.