Ken Mehlman inspiring? Not to me

Hardy Haberman
Flagging Left

Why honor a man who spent years not just hiding in the closet, but working with those who oppressed his LGBT brothers and sisters?

In a move that has stunned a lot of folks, Out Magazine has named Ken Mehlman one of its 100 most inspiring people of the year. I was stunned not just by Mehlman’s inclusion in the Out 100 list, but the use of the word “inspiring” to describe him.

Let me explain.

Ken Mehlman was campaign manager for the 2004 re-election of George W. Bush. You remember him?

He was the president who threatened to veto the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act, which added sexual orientation to the list of protected classes in existing hate crimes laws. And he was the president who supported the federal Marriage Protection Amendment, a heinous law that — luckily — failed to pass.

Then, from 2005 to 2007, Mr. Mehlman served as the chairman of the Republican National Committee. During that time, he supported the Republican Platform, which included opposition to same-sex marriage.

Well, maybe that’s water under the bridge. But I have to say, I do not find Mr. Mehlman in any way inspiring.

What is inspirational about a man hiding in the closet, actively working against LGBT rights on perhaps the largest scale imaginable?

What is inspirational about a man who served as the guiding force of a Republican Party that stepped up its use of anti-gay rhetoric and propaganda to motivate the most conservative of its members?

What is inspirational about a man who, when he finally decided to come out at 43, assembled a team of strategists to make his coming out as painless as possible?

Now to be fair, since he has opened his closet door, Mehlman has gone on record as supporting many LGBT causes. He even lent his support to the American Foundation for Equal Rights.
Good for him. But Out Magazine’s criteria for their selection is “the extraordinary power of the individual to inspire and motivate by example.”

What kind of example has Mehlman set?

From what I can tell, his example is this:

• Stay in the closet as long as you can, and do anything necessary, even if it means supporting people who actively work to discriminate and inflict suffering on the LGBT community.
• Do anything necessary to gain power and wealth and influence for your own gain, then once you are well situated, carefully come out while offering support to the same people you helped oppress.

• Come out once there is little danger of your actions hurting your own personal wealth or celebrity status.

• Lastly, make a grand show of your compassion and support for LGBT causes with sufficient effort and cash to buy your way into prominence as a gay icon.
Harsh words? You betcha.

Here is the deal: I understand just how difficult it is to come out, every LGBT person does. We have not reached a time when coming out is simple and non-traumatic.

I also understand how everyone comes out at their own pace. For me it was a process that took several years, starting when I was 18 and continuing until I was 20.

During that time I was conflicted and confused and sometimes hid my orientation. But I never actively tried to oppress my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.

Still, giving Ken the benefit of the doubt, maybe he didn’t realize he was gay until 2010. Whatever his story, I have sympathy for him in his personal struggle, but absolutely no sympathy for his active participation in the oppression of LGBT people and the encouragement of homophobic smear campaigns which stepped up the level of hatred and discrimination in our country.

Maybe I need to take a page from the fundamentalists’ creed, and “love the sinner, hate the sin?” The problem with that is I would still be “hating,” and that’s not going to help anyone.
I don’t hate Ken Mehlman; I just find him a very sad person who may or may not be trying to atone for his past behaviors. That is a very human struggle and one we all face at one time or another. To do that with grace and humility might be something truly inspiring.

For that, I will wait and see.

Hardy Haberman is a longtime local LGBT activist and a board member of the Woodhull Freedom Alliance. His blog is at DungeonDiary.blogspot.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November, 11, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

References to sexual orientation, gender identity to be removed from TX anti-bullying bills

Chuck-Smith
Chuck Smith

Specific references to LGBT youth will be removed from two anti-bullying bills backed by Equality Texas to improve their chances of passage and de-politicize the issue, Instant Tea has learned.

One of the bills, House Bill 224 by State Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, is scheduled for a committee hearing Tuesday.

Chuck Smith, deputy director of Equality Texas, said Monday that a substitute for HB 224 will be introduced during the hearing that removes all enumerated categories — including sexual orientation — from a provision requiring school districts to report incidents of bullying to the state.

Instead, the substitute bill will direct the Texas education commissioner to specify what types of bullying must be reported. Smith said enumerated categories will also be removed from a companion bill in the Senate, SB 242 by Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth. Davis’ bill as originally drafted included both sexual orientation and gender identity/expression.

“If they were all there it likely wouldn’t pass,” Smith said, referring to the enumerated categories. “At the end of the day, the reporting part is not important compared to the rest of the guts of the bill.”

HB 224 and SB 242 would establish uniform definitions for bullying and cyberbullying in the state education code, and require districts to create training programs for students, parents, staff and volunteers. The bills would also allow officials to transfer bullies to different classes or campuses than their victims.

Strama’s HB 224 is scheduled for a hearing at 2 p.m. Tuesday in the House public education committee. It’s one of three bills backed by Equality Texas scheduled for committee hearings Tuesday.

HB 172, by Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, would launch a study on the effectiveness of the James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act. HB 172 is scheduled for a hearing at 10:30 a.m. in the House criminal jurisprudence committee.

HB 130, by Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, would incorporate an anti-bullying hotline into the state’s existing Texas Abuse/Neglect Hotline. HB 130 is scheduled for a hearing at 2 p.m. in the House human services committee. 

Smith said it’s unlikely that any of the bills will be voted on Tuesday. You can watch committee hearings live on the Legislature’s website. For more information on Equality Texas’ legislative agenda, go here. To register for the group’s lobby day on Monday, March 7, go here.

UPDATE: The full text of the substitute bill is here. Smith also had this to say on Facebook:

“I would have preferred a headline like, ‘House Public Ed Committee to hear landmark anti-bullying bill that will protect every child based upon any actual or perceived personal characteristics, behavior, or belief.’ That’s what’s IN the bill and EVERY child will be protected. The enumerated references were removed from reporting guidelines, not who is covered by the bill.”

—  John Wright

Texas House committees and pro-LGBT bills

DANIEL WILLIAMS  |  Legislative Queery

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus has finally announced the committee assignments for the 82nd Texas House. As I predicted last month the partisan breakdown of the committee chairs roughly reflects the distribution of party control in the House with 11 Democratic chairs and 25 Republicans (not including the four select and joint committee chairs, all Republicans).

House committees that queer Texans will want to watch very carefully:

Public Education — Will get the anti-bullying bills. Chairman Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands, scheduled the hearing for HB 1323 (last session’s anti-bullying bill) very late last session, but he did schedule a hearing and the committee eventually voted to send the bill to the floor for a vote of the whole House. Unfortunately, time ran out last session (more info on HB 1323 is here). Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, whose HB 224 is expected to be the water bearer for anti-bullying bills, is on the committee this session.

Public Health – Will get HB 405, which would allow same-sex parents to get accurate birth certificates for their children. Chairwoman Lois Kolkhorst, R-Austin, was visibly moved by testimony last session on this bill. Let’s hope that causes her to schedule it for an early hearing.

Criminal Jurisprudence – Will get HB 604, the repeal of Texas’s unconstitutional sodomy law and HB 172, the study of the effectiveness of the Texas Hate Crimes Act. Chairman Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, has a solid record of voting in the best interest of queer Texans, but repealing the unconstitutional sodomy law, however common-sense, is going to be a hard sell. Plus, with virulent homophobes Wayne Christian, Bill Zedler and Will Hartnett on the committee, it seems unlikely that common sense will beat out bigotry. The Hate Crimes study has a better chance. It made it out of committee last session, but it’s hard to predict what will happen this session.

Insurance – Will get HB 208 prohibiting insurance companies from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. Chairman John Smithee, R-Amarillo, hasn’t let this bill through in past sessions, and I’d be shocked if he lets it through this session. Smithee takes every chance he can get to hurt queer Texans. He’s not likely to pass this chance up, either.

State Affairs – Will get HB 665, which would prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. This bill, or a version of it, has been filed every session for over a decade, and it never gets a hearing. While new Chairman Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, is an immense improvement over old Chairman Burt Solomons, it’s unlikely that this bill will go anywhere.

Now that we have committees, bills are going to start moving left and right. The 82nd regular session of the Texas Legislature is finally getting going!

—  admin

Rep. Marc Veasey again files bill seeking study of hate crimes act but says it’s ‘not going anywhere’

For the third consecutive legislative session, State Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, filed legislation last week calling for a study on the implementation of Texas’ hate crimes statute.

Veasey wants to know why, despite thousands of hate crimes reported to law enforcement since the statute was passed in 2001, only about a dozen cases have been prosecuted in court as hate crimes. If you’ll remember, the statute covers “sexual preference” but not gender identity.

In an interview the other day with KXAN (video above), Veasey cited homophobia as one of the reasons why the statute isn’t being used:

While Veasey understands that it’s hard to prosecute hate crimes he believes there’s another, underlying reason why prosecutors are rarely using the law.

“You have some people on the right that have said that it is a bill that protects gays and so they are against it for that reason,” Veasey said.

And Veasey told The Star-Telegram that the outcome of this year’s elections means the bill is likely doomed again in next year’s session, which begins in January.

“I’m going to try it, but quite frankly it’s not going anywhere,” Veasey said. “A lot of these folks that got elected were elected on opposition to the president and probably feel that being for anything pro-civil rights would hurt them in their political careers.”

Wait a second, is Veasey suggesting they’re going to completely ignore this memo?

—  John Wright

Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert: Homosexuality is adultery in the Ten Commandments

Discussing “don’t ask don’t tell” on the Family Research Council’s Washington Watch Weekly radio program on Friday, Congressman Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, offered his response to those who point out that the Bible — if you read it closely and all — doesn’t really appear to condemn homosexuality per se:

“Some people say, ‘Where is homosexuality in violation of the Ten Commandments?’ Well, it’s adultery. It’s sexual relations outside of marriage, a man and a woman. Of course there are other verses that reference these specific acts, men lusting after men, etc., but specifically for the military, when anyone, whether they’re homosexual or heterosexual, cannot control their hormones to the point that they are a distraction to the good order and discipline of the military, then they need to be removed from the military.”

Gohmert goes on to agree that if DADT is repealed, the military would have to change its policies to allow “heterosexual immorality.”

“Well of course it would,” he says. “Well, I say of course it would. You would think that. But of course we’ve already shown through Congress that homosexuality deserves a more precious and privileged position just by some of the laws that we’ve passed.”

Gohmert is likely referring to the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act, which he suggested last year could lead to the legalization of things like pedophilia, necrophilia and bestiality.

—  John Wright