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

What does Ken Mehlman have to say about his former boss, anti-gay Texas Rep. Lamar Smith?

Congressman Lamar Smith, R-Texas

If we could ask Ken Mehlman only one question, it might just be something about his one-time boss Lamar Smith.

Mehlman, the formerly anti-gay former RNC chair who recently came out as gay, served as Smith’s legislative director in the 1990s. Smith, meanwhile, seems to be vying for the title of No. 1 homophobe in Congress.

• In August, Smith sponsored a resolution to condemn U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker’s decision declaring Proposition 8 unconstitutional.

• Also in August, Smith announced plans to introduce federal legislation that would define marriage as between one man and one woman.

• And now, Smith is asking a federal court to allow him to intervene in a case to help defend the Defense of Marriage Act, according to Keen News Service. The Alliance Defense Fund announced Tuesday it had filed motions on behalf of Smith asking to intervene in two cases in which a U.S. district judge in Massachusetts declared DOMA unconstitutional. The ADF argues on behalf of Smith that the Obama administration isn’t doing enough to defend the 1996 law, which some gay-rights activists don’t think the administration should be defending at all.

Interestingly, Smith’s Democratic opponent in November, Lainey Melnick, touts her opposition to DOMA prominently in the issues section of her website:

“It will be up to the [Supreme Court] to decide if the Defense of Marriage Act violates the Constitution by forcing the states to discriminate against same-sex couples,” Melnick writes. “This decision could uphold that federal encroachment over the areas where states have sovereign jurisdiction, such as with marriage, is unconstitutional and leaves marriage in the hands of the states. This question is to be answered by the courts, not the Congress. But I do believe that the US Constitution provides equal rights for all people, including same sex couples who want to get married, who want to own property, who want to make medical decisions, who want to share insurance expenses, who want to immigrate, who want to work, who want to serve in our military, and who deserve to live their lives free of discrimination.”

Unfortunately, Smith represents a pretty safe Republican district in Central Texas, and Melnick is facing some long odds. But who knows, maybe Smith’s one-time legislative director, Ken Mehlman, has something to tell us about him.

—  John Wright

Come out, if not for yourself, for youth

Living in the closet may be good for your pocketbook. But it can be hell on your mental state, the lives of those around you and the future of the LGBT youth who are watching you for clues on how to live

Ken Mehlman
Ken Mehlman

Seems like we have been hearing a lot about people coming out lately. The most notable so far was Ken Mehlman, former chairman of the Republican Party. His announcement was not very surprising since there had been rumors floating since he stepped down from his job with the GOP. But it did cause a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth on both sides of the political aisle.

The folks on the left were outraged that he sought forgiveness, and the folks on the right were outraged … in general.

What his media event makes clear is the value and hazards of being “out.”

For Mehlman, his closet existence gave him free reign to work with homophobic bigots with impunity. He could walk the halls of power in the GOP, aiding his party and candidates in their systematic oppression of LGBT Americans and still get to go home and have sex with men.

The down side of that is now that he has come out, he has absolutely no “street cred” in the LGBT political scene and even less with the right wing.

That brings me to the whole process of coming out.

For me, it happened at least three times. First when I was 18, and having sex with a couple of high school friends. I finally got the nerve to tell my family and pretty much got a

“That’s nice,” and a pat on the head.

My mother was going through a lot at that period in her life so she just might not have understood what I was telling her.

The second time I came out was with my girlfriend. That’s right, girlfriend.

She and I had been living together for a while and I told her that I really liked having sex with men. Hey, it was 1971! She didn’t like that kind of competition. So I moved out, but in true ’70s fashion, we remained friends.

Shortly after, I came out again to my mother — and this time it took. She was a bit upset that she would not have grandchildren, but being the good Jewish mother, she promptly started trying to hook me up with her gay friends. Not a pleasant experience!

From that point on, I was never really in the closet again. The good thing about that is I rarely had to worry about keeping stories straight (pardon the pun) and didn’t need a beard. I could participate in political activism and actually work to achieve my own freedom and equality.

Moreover, contrary to common wisdom at the time, being out never hurt my career; I managed to do that independent of my sexuality.

When I see stories like Mr. Mehlman’s, I have a certain amount of sympathy. I understand how scary life outside the closet can be, yet I also know the insidious damage that being closeted can cause.

Had I stayed in my closet any longer, I might have gotten married and had children. Coming out after starting a family really hurts everyone; I know this from the experience of friends.

Staying in the closet may seem like a good career move. But aside from money, how soul crushing is it to have to hide who you are every day with your peers? It can’t be easy, and because of that I find it hard to be completely unsympathetic to Mehlman’s plight.

But I do understand why he is not being welcomed with open arms by the LGBT community.

If anything, his story should serve as an example of how not to come out of the closet. Waiting so late in your career and life makes it more difficult. What’s worse, it sets a bad example for young people who might look up to you.

What? Bad example? I sound like my mother, and occasionally that is a good thing.

Whether we know it or not, every one of us is constantly influencing the younger people around us. When we act in a manner that is patently duplicitous and self-serving, they notice.

It sends a message that it’s OK to lie and cheat in pursuit of your career or whatever other goal you have in mind.

That means there will be a whole generation of LGBT Americans who decide the closet is OK so long as you profit from it.

Whether we like it or not, all of us in the LGBT community have kids. They might not be biological family, but when they come into the community they look for role models — and we are what they see.

You don’t have to be rich or connected or politically astute or in a position of authority; they will find you. They watch how people who are already out manage their lives, and they model their own behavior on that example.

If that makes you nervous, that’s a good thing. Being conscious of how we live our lives can often make us examine our choices and our behavior. We don’t all have to be paragons of correctness and we don’t have to be in-your-face activists. We just need to be authentic in our loves and that means being who we are. It means being out.

So if you are out already, I salute you. Coming out is scary, difficult, joyous and liberating. It is a rite of passage to wholeness.

If you are struggling with the closet door, there are plenty of folks who can help you. Your actions, your example, might just save someone from the despair of living a lie.
Set an example for someone. Let them know it’s OK to be LGBT — or whoever they are. If you don’t do it for yourself, at least do it for our kids.


Hardy Haberman is a longtime local LGBT activist and a member of Stonewall Democrats of Dallas. His blog is at http://dungeondiary.blogspot.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 17, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

Texas AG Greg Abbott: Judge in Prop 8 case ‘failed to do what a judge is supposed to do’

A few weeks back we wrote about how anti-gay leaders in Texas were deafeningly silent about U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker’s landmark decision declaring Proposition 8 unconstitutional. As we said at the time, this case has the potential to void gay marriage bans in all states including Texas that have passed them, so one might expect the folks who pushed through the 2005 state constitutional amendment to chime in. Our post was later picked up by Rachel Maddow. Anyhow, looks like Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who’s been fighting gay divorce tooth and nail, has finally said something about Walker’s ruling, in an interview last week with the Texas Tribune (which has seemingly become the only mainstream media outlet in the state that even pretends to care about LGBT issues). Below is a transcript of the full exchange between Abbott and the Tribune’s Evan Smith, taken directly from the first three minutes of the video. Smith asks legitimate questions but fails to follow them up and seems to let Abbott off the hook pretty darn easily. For example, Smith allows Abbott’s assertion that Baker v. Nelson is binding precedent — which is pretty far-fetched at this point — to go unchallenged. Likewise, Abbott fails to respond substantively about Ken Mehlman’s coming out or the issue of transgender marriage. Again, kudos to the Tribune for bringing up these topics, but ultimately that’s not enough — they need to do their homework and be prepared to hold people’s feet to the fire.

Smith: I want to start with a bit of news that broke yesterday afternoon, and that is about Ken Mehlman. Ken Mehlman is the former chair of the Republican National Committee. He was George W. Bush’s campaign manager in ’04, a close aide to George W. Bush over the years politically, who I think as you know announced yesterday that he’s gay, and that he intended to use that public position to campaign for gay marriage? What do you think about that?
Abbott: What do I think about Ken Mehlman?

Smith: What do you think about the Mehlman announcement and what do you think the larger significance of the Mehlman announcement is if there is any for the discourse about gay marriage in this county?
Abbott: Well it adds further discourse into the whole issue, but it doesn’t change the legal dynamics. What one person feels doesn’t change the law, doesn’t change the constitution, doesn’t change pre-existing Supreme Court precedent on the issue.

Smith: So there’s a legal issue that you addressed. Mehlman’s announcement doesn’t change that. But there’s also a political dynamic, surely you would agree, at work here?
Abbott: Well, there is a political dynamic. There’s a political dynamic that’s been in play for decades. But once again, the political dynamic is not going to rewrite the constitution. The constitution says what it says, and just because one person comes out and says, “Listen, I’m gay, I believe in same-sex marriage, doesn’t change the constitution.

Smith: And nor does necessarily the actions of a judge in California, as one did recently, holding the door open to the overturning of the proposition in California That as well is one judge’s decision and does not overall affect the issue?
Abbott: It doesn’t impact the issue. If you want to delve into the details, the reality is that that judge failed to do what a judge is supposed to do. Lower court judges are supposed to follow higher-court precedents. There is a precedent from the United States Supreme Court on this issue, in Baker v. Nelson, that is binding precedent on the lower courts unless and until the Supreme Court changes that opinion, and that binding opinion is one that doesn’t recognize same-sex marriages.

Smith: You had the opportunity recently in a case here in Texas involving a transgender individual to offer an attorney general’s opinion. This is a case where people say it may be kind of a small crack in the door, where gay marriage is actually in certain instances legal in Texas. Your office was asked to offer an opinion, and you declined to. Can you talk about that?
Abbott: First of all, we had three opportunities to weigh in legally in courts about whether or not gay marriage is legal in the state of Texas. The issue you’re talking about is the transgender issue, and that involved an issue where we got an opinion request from the county attorney in El Paso, and we rejected opining on that opinion because of current pending litigation. Now if I tell the county attorney from El Paso that I will not give them an opinion, Evan, I’m not going to give you an opinion either.

—  John Wright