Ken Mehlman “is the most powerful Republican in history to identify as gay,” Marc Ambinder boldly asserts in his lengthy outing of George W. Bush’s campaign manager and the onetime head of the Republican National Committee.
But will the new convert be welcomed with open arms in the streets of Chelsea? If Joe My God’s headline on the topic is any indication (“Repulsive Anti-Gay Quisling Homophobic Scumbag Asshat Closeted Former RNC Chair Ken Mehlman Has Come Out”), it’s not likely a universal bear hug will be forthcoming.
“He’s a gay Kapo,” write one commenter at the Advocate, and a quick read of responses of LGBT blogs finds many similar comments.
Ambinder’s piece is part of a self-described coming out/roll-out by Mehlman, who says he wants to maximize the PR to help the cause of gay marriage. But it also shows a tortured, closeted soul in his 40s who only recently came to terms with his sexuality. He’s planning to help raise money for American Foundation for Equal Rights next month, one of the main organizations behind defeating Prop 8 in federal court.
As a GOP bigshot and now an exec at legendary leverage-buyout mastodon KKR, he obviously has a huge Rolodex with which to raise funds.
Gay rights organizations seem to be taking a measured tone, balancing the personal journey every person must go through to go out, against the (really ginormous) record Mehlman has of thwarting their causes, against the (potentially even bigger) support for gay rights he could stir up going forward.
“Ken represents an incredible coup for the American Foundation for Equal Rights,” Ambinder quotes Dustin Lance Black, the screenwriter of Milk and opponent of Prop 8, as saying. “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.”
Plenty of people on the left and right had wondered aloud for years about the life-long Republican bachelor’s sexuality. More recently, more than a few eyebrows were raised when Mehlman bought a $4 million dollar loft in Chelsea.
Ambinder portrays a man who, though off the record, supported gay rights for years yet still publicly toed the party line.
But Mehlman was no underling. He was the chairman of the Republican Party during the years that he, Karl Rove, President Bush, and the whole party used gay-bashing to whip up votes. The issue of gay marriage — which Mehlman now seems to be wholeheartedly embracing — in particular was used as a wedge issue during the elections under Mehlman’s watch.
Mehlman readily admits to Ambinder that he feels a certain failing in not being ready to come out earlier, and that he regrets not being able to make his gay self of now go back in time to help his closeted self stave off such measures as the Federal Marriage Ammendment. That proposed amendment never went anywhere itself but it had a big impact. It helped stir uop anti-gay Ohioans and others into such a frenzy that they came to the polls and helped Mehlman’s guy win another election.