The GOP and the compartmentalization of dignity

There are historians (and I know some personally) who will argue that the “cause” of the U.S. Civil War was not slavery: It was economics.

“Oh, yes, there were some abolitionists who sincerely were opposed to slavery,” the line goes. “But they were the tools of the industrial North, which wanted to destroy cheap labor in the South.” The proof? After the war, the Northern carpetbaggers came and forever changed the face of the nation, especially in the South.

Some others will argue it wasn’t about slavery or economics — it was about states’ rights.

Let’s concede for a moment that true abolitionists were a small minority and were manipulated by Northern robber-barons for their own purposes. Even so, you know who the Civil War remained “about slavery” to? The slaves. Economy, states’ rights… Pfftt! Fact is, when the war ended, the Constitution was amended to give an entire class of Americans rights guaranteed to them that they had never been given, despite being human beings. Before the Civil War, one man could own another in this country; after, they could not. That’s a big deal.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

‘They got ugly in their bones’

Despite another gay teen suicide, right-wingers in Tennessee want to give kids a license to bully LGBT youth under guise of religious liberty

Phillip-Parker-Age-14

BULLIED TO DEATH | Phillip Parker, 14, who took his own life last week due to anti-gay bullying, was the second Tennessee teen to do so in as many months.

Habaerman.Hardy.NEW
Hardy Haberman  |  Flagging Left

 

My family tree’s roots spread in two directions. My father’s side of the tree spreads toward Eastern Europe and my mother’s side into the hills of Tennessee.

I mention this because having those Tennessee roots has given me a fondness for that state and its beautiful scenery and its people — most of them. Unfortunately, it also contains some of the ugliest people I’ve ever met. Not physically ugly, but deeper. As my hillbilly grandfather would say, “They got ugly in their bones.”

The people I am talking about are the strange citizens of the Volunteer State who feel it is their God-given right to verbally and physically abuse anyone they feel is worthy of their scorn. They are bullies, plain and simple, and they are doing it under the guise of religion.

As the Tennessee Legislature takes up a bill (HB 1153) to protect bullying as religious expression, comes the news of yet another teen suicide in the state. Phillip Parker, 14, of Gordonsville is the latest in a series of suicides directly related to being mercilessly bullied for being gay.

You would think the good lawmakers of Tennessee would have some sympathy for these poor children, but it seems more than one state representative sees it differently. Republican John Ragan noted the statistics showing higher suicide rates among LGBT youth and said that therefore, it had “more to do with his own proclivities and behavior than anything to do with schoolmate bullies….”
Blame the victim!

To be fair, some in the state are calling for a stop to the fatal bullying.  There is an opposing law (SB 1621) also being considered that is designed to eliminate bullying and provide “a safe and civil environment … for students to learn and achieve high academic standards.”

This law has powerful adversaries like the Family Action Council of Tennessee. This group, a branch of Focus on the Family, are the same folks who last spring tried to push through a “Don’t Say Gay” bill. These same kind folks also overturned a local ordinance in Nashville that protected LGBT workers from discrimination.

So what the heck is it with Tennessee? Well, they are not alone. Already another “license to bully” bill is moving through the Michigan Legislature. And of course here in Texas there are a whole bunch of ugly people who are incensed that we have moved a series of anti-bullying laws through the Legislature. Of course one of those groups is the Plano-based Liberty Institute, an affiliate of Focus on the Family. They are already screeching about free speech and how these laws impinge on their freedom of religion.

So my question is this. How the heck does bullying a teenager so mercilessly that he takes his own life rather than face the continued abuse constitute “religious expression”? The right wing talks about the slippery slope of offering protections to LGBT youth as “special rights,” but I seriously doubt if the shoe were on the other foot they would see it that way.

Imagine if my religion called for me to make animal sacrifices in the public square. Imagine if my religion said I should close all tattoo shops and barber shops. Imagine if my religion said the bank had to forgive all debts every 49 years. After all, those are all in the Bible along with a whole lot of other things that would seem even stranger.

No, the right wing is not worried about “special rights.” They are specifically concerned with denying rights to LGBT people. We have become the bogeymen for a generation of far-right fundamentalists who can’t seem to find anyone else to blame for their problems. These people must have someone to blame because of their warped view of religion and the “will of God.” When you try to take the Bible literally, you run into all kinds of problems, not the least of which is the need to find scapegoats. After all, why else would their lives be so difficult if it weren’t for someone standing in the way of getting their just rewards from God?

I have noted the anger of the religious right previously, and the bullying that manifests itself in our schools and playground is just the next generation of that anger acting out. Though I started by focusing on Tennessee, I assure you that the problem is everywhere and it won’t be stopped easily.

I am pretty sure nobody can change the warped attitudes some of these people have toward LGBT folk, but I do know that we can provide legal protections to assure that under the law, everyone has equal rights. If the right believes that their freedom of speech extends to bullying and abuse, then it’s time for some serious education in what it means to have a civil society. There is enough ugliness in the world without trying to create more.

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 January 27, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

At the barricade

A newly imagined ‘Les Miz’ is just as grand, less operatic

09.LesMiserables-US-Enjolras-CROP

OCCUPY PARIS | ‘Les Miz’s’ theme of proletarian revolt resonates as strongly as the thrilling score.

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

Chances are if you have ever seen Les Miserables, you think that it is either the greatest musical ever conceived, or precisely what’s wrong with musical theater since Mary Martin retired from playing a pre-pubescent boy. Of course, it’s possible both are true.

Detractors claim the musical — adapted from Victor Hugo’s massive novel about a thief, Jean Valjean (J. Mark McVey) pursued relentlessly by obsessive Inspector Javert (Andrew Varela)  — slogs through French history with bombastic pretension and repetitive musical motifs. Admirers — whom I happily number myself among, and have ever since I saw the original London production 25 years ago — fall sway to its sweep, its Big Themes, its thrilling score. And the ideas that right wingers can’t beat down the common man forever and get away with it resonate especially strongly even today. There’s no way you can see Les Miz and not think the distinction between musical and opera is all but irrelevant.

You might feel differently, though, with the current national tour, now at the Winspear. It reconceives the original with mind-blowing rear projection (Valjean’s escape through the sewers of Paris is as cinematic as anything I’ve seen on a stage; Javert’s suicide is a technical marvel) and a more intimate, almost claustrophobic staging. The show is still grand, though it feels less like grand opera.

That’s also a side effect of the singing, which has been modified from the rich, fluid style of the original to a more conversational, pop sensibility. It’s almost as if the creative team figured everyone already knew the songs and wanted to give them a more radio-friendly, Susan Boyle-ish treatment. That may be arresting only to nerds like me who can recite the score by heart, but I bet there are a lot of us out there.

Even so, the “money songs” — especially Valjean’s haunting “Bring Him Home,” that ravaged the house on opening night, and the Act 1 finale, though also Fantine’s “I Dreamed a Dream” and Eponine’s “On My Own” — are as stirring and flamboyant as they ever were, and the bawdy “Master of the House” remains a comic gem.

The latter is due in great part to Richard Vida and Shawna M. Hamic (looking like Edna Turnblad) as the Thenardiers, whose comic mugging steals scenes, and McVey’s Valjean grows in depth and power throughout the three hour run-time.

But the length is almost inconsequential. Les Miz, of necessity, rushes through great swaths of emotions, and it’s occasionally difficult to toggle through them; your heart can’t keep up with your head. But when it does? Well, that’s when Les Miz is as touching as a musical can be.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 23, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Is this what they mean by ‘traditional marriage’?

Actor Doug Hutchison, 51, and his new bride, 16-year-old Courtney Alexis Stodden.

While looking through headlines this morning, I found a story about actor Doug Hutchison announcing his marriage to aspiring country music singer Courtney Alexis Stodden. But here’s the catch: Hutchison is 51. His new bride is 16.

My first reaction was disgust, for two reasons. Reason No. 1: I am 50, going on 51. I have a son who is 14 going on 15. The idea of my son marrying someone my age makes my skin crawl and my stomach churn. That’s reason enough for me to want to slap Mr. Hutchison silly right there.

But then there’s Reason No. 2: I cannot legally marry the woman I love and with whom I have shared the last 10 years of my life because same-sex marriage is unnatural and against God’s law. The right-wingers in this country, like the National Organization for Marriage, insist that only “traditional marriages” between one man and one woman should be legally recognized. Some, I dare say, would go so far as to say gays and lesbians, especially those who want to marry their same-sex partners, should be thrown in jail. And yet, this 51-year-old man can legally marry this 16-year-old girl, and even her mama thinks that’s OK.

Is this the kind of “traditional marriage” they want to protect from me?!

And then my wife made the comment, “Do they think this is the 1800s or something?” and I realized that, well, yes, that IS a “traditional marriage,” with the tradition dating all the way back to biblical times.

All I can say is, somebody please protect me from tradition.

—  admin

Gov. Rick Perry won’t join anti-gay boycott of CPAC — in fact, he’ll be a keynote speaker

Gov. Rick Perry

As we’ve mentioned before, Texas Gov. Rick Perry has apparently opted not to join the growing anti-gay boycott of this year’s “Republican Woodstock” — the annual Conservative Political Action Conference next week.

In fact, according to the Dallas Morning News, Perry has landed a keynote speaking slot at CPAC, where he may be rubbing elbows with people like Lt. Dan Choi. (Note that the first and only comment below the DMN post is this: “Why no mention of the speakers not coming to CPAC this year because of the presence of Gay Republicans?”)

Lawmakers boycotting CPAC this year over the inclusion of the gay Republican group GOProud include Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., and Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio. And the boycott is being led by some of Perry’s favorite groups — such as the Family Research Council and the Heritage Foundation.

Alas, it appears politics and ego will always trump conviction and loyalty for Perry, who may have his sights set on the White House in 2012. But again, why no backlash from the right-wingers in Texas who’ve been so supportive of Perry?

Anyhow, we’re hoping Perry seeks the Republican presidential nomination next year. If nothing else, a national campaign will undoubtedly mean a much closer look at those pesky gay rumors.

UPDATE: Perry will make it to CPAC, but he won’t make it to the Super Bowl in his own state. Plus, he wasn’t around for Texas’ cold weather emergency this week. He’s in Southern California. What a douche.

—  John Wright

WATCH: Transgender woman arrested for entering women’s bathroom at Houston library

KTRK reports that a preoperative transgender woman in Houston was arrested last week for using the women’s restroom at the city’s main library.

The woman’s arrest appears to conflict with the city’s nondiscrimination policy, enacted by Mayor Annise Parker earlier this year, which permits people to use restrooms according to their gender identity, regardless of their biological sex.

Tyjnae Moore pleaded guilty to “knowingly entering a restroom of the opposite sex” and spent two nights in jail before being given credit for time served.

Tyjnae Moore

Right-wingers have long used the restroom issue to fight discrimination protections for transgender people. So it’s hardly surprising that the Houston Area Pastors Council is seizing upon this incident, even though there’s no indication that the woman was acting inappropriately. From KRTK:

Earlier this year, Houston Mayor Annise Parker expanded an anti-discrimination executive order that allowed city employees to use restrooms based on their gender identity. But it’s unclear if that order conflicts with existing city statute. It’s one reason why the conservative Houston Area Pastor Council has asked the attorney general for an opinion.

“It’s the sort of legal and moral confusion we fully expected to take place and shows why it’s a bad public policy. It needs to be reversed because there is no legal standard of what gender identity means,” said Dave Welch of the Houston Area Pastor Council. …

The mayor’s office issued a statement Monday evening saying, “There appears to be a misunderstanding regarding applicability of my executive order and we need to clarify that. This is a matter of providing practical solutions in a diverse city. It is not about behavior. Where there is inappropriate behavior, there will be enforcement.”

UPDATE: The Houston-based Transgender Foundation of America issued the below statement late Monday. Also, Darrell Steidley, who is lead counsel in the Nikki Araguz case and a partner in Phyllis Frye’s law firm, debates the issue with Dave Welch of the Houston Area Pastors Council in the video below.

Houston, TX – November 22, 2010 – A young male-to-female transgender library patron named Tyjnae Moore was arrested and taken to jail on November 17 because she, in accordance with the Houston City Ordinance, used the female bathroom at the Jesse H. Jones Library in downtown Houston.  A Houston Library security guard initiated the incident by informing an HPD officer that, “a man [sic] is in the restroom.” The arresting officer took the patron to jail for the alleged offense of violating a State of Texas law which states, “It is unlawful for any person to use a restroom of the opposite sex unless given permission…”

City of Houston Executive Order 1 – 8 and 1 – 20 ensures that all individuals regardless of race, gender identity, nationality or sexuality can have equal access to City restroom facilities. “The arrest should have never happened.” said Cristan Williams, Executive Director of the Transgender Foundation of America. “The City of Houston has given this victim explicit permission to use a restroom consistent with their gender.  This means that the library patron was acting in a manner consistent with both state and local law. Since she broke no law, this is a case of unlawful arrest and imprisonment.”

The victim, a native of Minnesota, states that she will be leaving Texas as soon as she can. She states that this is the second time she has been harassed by Houston police.

—  John Wright

Gilbert, Staples square off for ag commissioner

Democratic challenger supports gay civil unions; Republican incumbent sponsored Texas’ gay marriage ban

Tammye Nash  |  Senior Editor nash@dallasvoice.com

Todd Staples, left, and Hank Gilbert
Todd Staples, left, and Hank Gilbert

Many LGBT people in Texas may not see the race for agriculture commissioner as a top priority. It’s not an office usually associated with having much impact on LGBT issues.

But there are clear differences this year between the two candidates when it comes to LGBT issues.

Todd Staples, the Republican incumbent, is a former state senator who co-sponsored the state’s ban on same-sex marriages when he was in the Legislature.And earlier this year, the agriculture commissioner joined with State Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, to file a brief in the court case in which two gay men married in Massachusetts and had filed for divorce in Texas.

On the other hand, Hank Gilbert, the Democrat challenging Staples, has issued supportive statements on a wide range of LGBT issues, including full support for same-sex civil unions with all the rights and benefits marriage.

“Hank Gilbert has been a friend of our community for years,” said Dan Graney, president of the Texas Stonewall Democratic Caucus. “For somebody from Tyler, Texas, I am absolutely amazed at how open and supportive of our community he is.”

In a recent telephone interview, Gilbert himself said that he has never supported same-sex marriage, “but I would support it if it were put on the ballot as a constitutional amendment. I think it should be on the ballot.”

Gilbert also criticized Staples for “taking time away from the job he was hired by the people of this state to do [as agriculture commissioner] to file a brief on a case about two men who want to get divorced. That has nothing to do with his agency. He is just trying to get support from the right-wingers.”

Graney said that while the office of agriculture commissioner is “not particularly relevant to LGBT people … Hank could make a real difference in that office with his ability and willingness to hire people in his office who would be pro-equality. He is gone clearly on the record as being pro-equality himself.”

Gilbert confirmed that as ag commissioner, he would enact a nondiscrimination policy in hiring that would include LGBT people.

“Would I discriminate in hiring based on sexual orientation? Hell no! Two of my current staffers are openly gay,” Gilbert said. “I am going to hire people who are qualified and who I feel can do the job that I and the state require of them. I could care less what color or religion or political persuasion or sexual orientation you are.”

Gilbert did disagree with Graney, however, on the question of whether the agriculture commissioner’s office is important to LGBT people.

“This job is important to everyone in Texas. We are charged with making sure the food you put on your table is safe. [Staples] has been terrible at that. We have these constant outbreaks of e coli, and there was the incident in Plainview where that salmonella-tainted peanut butter got out and killed three people,” he said.

“This agency is also charged with making sure that all instruments in the state measure accurately — gas pumps, scales at the produce counter, scales at the pawn shop. This isn’t being done, either,” Gilbert added. “These are all important to consumers in Texas, no matter what your sexual orietation is, or your religion or your ethnic background.”

Neither Staples nor any spokesperson for his campaign returned calls seeking comment for this story.

Dallas County Republican Party Chair Jonathan Neerman and Log Cabin Republicans of Dallas President Rob Schlein also did not return calls seeking comment.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 01, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

Bill White to appear at Gay Pride in Dallas

Democratic gubernatorial nominee Bill White will appear in Dallas’ gay Pride parade on Sept. 19, according to an e-mail we received Monday night from Stonewall Democrats of Dallas. As mayor of Houston, White made a habit of appearing at Pride. And this is a smart move, because he’ll need a big turnout from the LGBT community all over the state to defeat Gov. Rick Perry. The right-wingers are going to vote for Perry anyway, and it’s doubtful that moderate Republicans and Independents will be turned off by this appearance. From Stonewall Democrats Vice President Jay Narey:

“It’s election season once again — and I have a very special announcement that I would like to make to all of you. We will have a very special guest walking with Stonewall Democrats in the Alan Ross Pride Parade on September 19th. Bill White, the Democratic Nominee for Governor of Texas will be joining us and walking with Stonewall in the Parade! We are thrilled and honored that he will join us and look forward to a very special day.”

According to White’s campaign, he’s also slated to appear at a press conference with Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez on Tuesday morning, Sept. 7. The press conference will be at 10:30 a.m. at the Hyatt Regency Dallas, 300 Reunion Blvd. The e-mail sent by White’s campaign Monday doesn’t say the reason for the press conference, but it’s possible that Valdez will be formally endorsing White.

—  John Wright

Mehlman’s out, but will the LGBT community forgive him his past?

Liberal activists still blame Mehlman for some of the GOP’s most anti-gay strategies, but gay Republicans criticize them for failing to ‘walk the talk’ of inclusion


Tammye Nash  |  Senior Editor nash@dallasvoice.com

ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL | Then-Republican National Committee Chair Ken Mehlman hits the campaign trail with U.S. Rep. Jean Schmidt, an Ohio Republican, in October 2006. Mehlman came out as a gay man last month, but many in the LGBT community have refused to welcome him into their ranks because of his past support of anti-gay politicians, like Schmidt who has consistently voted against LGBT-friendly legislation. (Nati Harnik/Associated Press)

On the surface, it would seem that having a former chair of the Republican National Committee, someone with close ties to a number of high-level Republican officeholders and party officials, come out as a gay man and a same-sex marriage supporter would be a real coup.

After all, who could be better at helping sway politicians and policymakers away from their anti-gay stances than a man who helped them reach their positions of power in the first place.
But when Ken Mehlman, former RNC chair and 2004 campaign manager for George W. Bush, announced last month that he is gay and intends now to be an advocate for marriage equality, he wasn’t exactly welcomed with open arms by the LGBT community overall.

It was during Mehlman’s tenure as Bush’s campaign manager that, LGBT activists say, the Republicans used LGBT issues, specifically same-sex marriage, as a tool to whip up fear among right-wing conservatives, driving them to the polls to give Bush a second term in the Oval Office.

Although Republican Karl Rove is widely seen as the architect of that strategy, liberal activists aren’t willing to give Mehlman a pass for the role he played in that election, when right-wingers in 11 states got constitutional amendments banning gay marriage on their ballots — and all 11 passed.

Mehlman has also previously worked as chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Kay Granger of Fort Worth and as legislative director for U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith of San Antonio. Both Texas congressmembers have consistently voted against LGBT-positive legislation, and Smith last month announced his intention to introduce legislation this fall to define marriage as between a man and a woman.

Mehlman himself acknowledged, in an interview with Marc Ambinder published Aug. 25 in The Atlantic, that if he had come out earlier he might have been able to fend off some of the GOP’s most anti-gay efforts and rhetoric. And Ambinder said Mehlman had told him previously, in private, off-the-record conversations, about working behind the scenes to “beat back efforts to attack same-sex marriage.”

Mehlman told Ambiner that he had only begun coming to terms with his sexual orientation earlier this year, and that he “really wished” he had reached this point earlier in his career so that he could have fought against the federal marriage amendment pushed by right-wing Republicans in 2004, and, as RNC chair, “reached out to the gay community in the way I reached out to African-Americans.”

Mehlman, through Ambinder’s interview, asked for, if not support, “at least … understanding” from the LGBT community. But some aren’t willing to give him that, either.

Erin Moore, president of Stonewall Democrats of Dallas, this week summed up the feelings of many on the left.

“He’s just another closeted gay Republican that came out. But more than that, he was a closeted gay Republican who worked against the community,” Moore said. “That’s my biggest issue. You can’t work against the community, and then come out and say, ‘Just kidding,’ and think that makes everything OK. When you have done a crime, you can’t erase it by doing community service.”

Moore said Mehlman’s new-found LGBT activism is “too little, too late.”

She said, “If there is a rosy side to this, then I’ll be happy to see it. But I don’t think it will happen. If he thought he could change hearts and minds, why didn’t he do it when he had the power to do it? When he was in a seat of power and was gay, he hid it and worked against our community. Now that he is outside that seat of power, I don’t think he will have the influence to make a real difference.”

Michael Mitchell, now president of the National Stonewall Democrats, was working with Equality Utah in 2004. The marriage amendment there, Mitchell said, “literally ripped families apart. It caused suicides. The Republican Party pushed those amendments in as many places as they could. There are people in Utah today who are still not talking to each other because of that, and I am sorry, but I implicate the Republican Party in that. And Ken Mehlman was part of it.”

Mitchell said that in his work with the GOP and the Bush campaign, Mehlman “spent a lot of time putting a stamp of approval on some really heinous policies, on pushing ways of thinking that have changed the way people treat LGBT people.”

Mitchell also noted, as have other liberal activists, that Mehlman has continued to donate to candidates and officeholders who are stridently anti-gay.

According to the website OpenSecrets.org, which tracks campaign contributions, Mehlman has donated a total of $20,200 to nine different political candidates, plus $5,000 to the Every Republican is Crucial political action committee, for a total of $25,200 over the past 12 months.

All nine candidates are Republicans, and of them, five are described as “hard-core conservatives” who have consistently voted against LGBT issues, by the nonprofit, non-partison website OnTheIssues.org. Granger is one of those five.

Two more of the nine were described as “centrists,” by OnTheIssues.org, and an eighth, Sen. John McCain of Arizon, is described as a “populist conservative.”

The ninth is Kelly Ayotte, candidate for the U.S. Senate from New Hampshire. Because Ayotte has not served in the Senate yet, she is not listed on OnTheIssues.org. However, in her former position as New Hampshire attorney general, she opposed efforts there to legalize same-sex marriage, and resigned her office when Gov. John Lynch signed the marriage equality legislation into law.

Mehlman made six of those 10 political contributions since Jan. 1 this year, including contributions  to Rep. Mark Kirk of Illinois, Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts, Rep. Michael Castle of Delware, McCain and Ayotte.

His most recent donation to Granger, for $2,400, was made Dec. 10, 2009. Records on OpenSecret.org do not show any donations to Smith.

Mitchell said, “Ken Mehlman continues to give money to conservatives who are working against the best interest of the LGBT community. How quickly can a tiger change his stripes, is my question.

“Yes, he’s come out. I applaud him for that. I am sure he has a bit of influence still in the Republican Party, and if that shifts the debate and takes gay rights off the target list for the Republicans, then that’s great,” Mitchell added. “If Ken Mehlman can help accomplish that, then bully for him. But I think there’s a lot of making up he has to do.”

The gay Republican view

But those on the opposite end of the LGBT political spectrum said this week that those who continue to condemn Mehlman and refuse to accept him into the LGBT activist community are, in effect, cutting off their noses to spite their faces.

“I say, let’s move forward and bring about reconciliation,” said R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of the national Log Cabin Republicans. “Yes there are a lot of folks within the broader LGBT community that are not happy [with Mehlman over his previous work with the GOP]. That’s understandable. But I say to them, remember where you were at certain stages of your own coming out process.

“I am not discounting the past. We shouldn’t ignore it. But I would offer a gentle reminder that we preach to people to come out … . Not every person in the LGBT community is a Democrat.”

Cooper said he sees “something cannibalistic” in the way LGBT liberals have been attacking Mehlman since he came out, and suggested that to “continuously vilify Ken could delay those conservative young gay Republicans in coming out themselves. … People are on record now saying stuff about Ken that could be used against our community, and this is coming from bloggers and advocates in the community who have a record of calling for tolerance and reconciliation. That stuff is out there now. You can’t just hit delete.”

Cooper also said LGBT liberals shouldn’t castigate Mehlman now for donations he made at a time when he wasn’t out as a gay man, either publicly or to himself. And, he added, Mehlman’s continuing donations to Republican candidates will help keep open doors of opportunity.

“Look where he’s going now,” Cooper said of Mehlman. “I know he has reached out to Log Cabin and to other entities to say, ‘This is what I want to do moving forward. Tell me where I can be the most helpful.’ We would be foolish to refuse that.”

Cooper compared Mehlman’s situation to his own experience. Cooper worked in the Bush administration, and has also worked for Republican legislators such as Rep. Iliana Ross-Lehtinen, a moderate Republican from Florida. Although he was not closeted during those years, Cooper said, “There were people I worked with who didn’t know I was gay because I didn’t lead with that. But I never hid that part of me.”

Now, because of the relationships he built with those lawmakers in the past, Cooper said he has a better chance of making headway toward swaying their positions on LGBT issues. As does Mehlman.

“Both of us has a certain amount of credibility with the conservatives. Since I took this job [with Log Cabin] three months ago, there have been people I have met with that I know the only reason I even got in the door is because I have that ‘R’ next to my name, or because they remember me from past working relationships. And getting in the door is the first step,” Cooper said.

He also said that activists who refuse to work with or support candidates who don’t vote with the LGBT community in every instance are making a mistake.

“There are Republicans who are supportive on [the Employment Non-Discrimination Act] but they are not going to vote with us on marriage. Are we supposed to throw away any chance of making progress on at least one issue because somebody isn’t with us on every issue,” he said. “People like [U.S. Rep.] Pete Sessions and [U.S. Sen.] John Cornyn [both of Texas] who have told us, ‘We’re not going to be 100 percent with Log Cabin. But let’s start talking about where we do concur, and move forward from there.’ That is a vast shift. And [Mehlman] helps push that it even further forward.”

Cooper recalled one visit to a member of the Texas delegation in Congress who asked him, “When did you become a gay?” That prompted, he said, “a serious conversation” about the fact that sexual orientation is not a choice.

“If [Mehlman] can do the same thing with the people he knows, even better. That’s why it is important to come out. That chips away at the argument that sexual orientation is a choice, that it’s deviant and only a small subset of society. The more people who come out, the more it shows how diverse the LGBT community is. And [Mehlman] being out and available to answer those kinds of questions can only help.”

Rob Schlein, president of Log Cabin Republicans of Dallas, was even more adamant.

“I think it’s great that [Mehlman] has figured out who he is and that we now have a high-profile advocate” in the Republican Party, Schlein said. “I am disappointed but not surprised that people in the gay community are giving him so much grief about what happened before. They blame him for things that happened when he was not out, even to himself, and things that he probably had no real say in. Sometimes even the RNC chairman just has to be a good soldier and execute the strategies that other people have laid out.”

And while Cooper offered “a gentle reminder” to those on the left to think about their own coming out process, Schlein was much less gentle.

“They yearn to talk about inclusion. They yearn for acceptance, and they yearn for grace. But when it’s time to show that acceptance and grace to someone else, they don’t walk the talk,” he declared.

“Anyone who would criticize [Mehlman] for what he did before he was out needs to remember what they did before they were out, what it was like for them. If you want acceptance and tolerance and inclusion, then you have to actually practice acceptance and tolerance and inclusion. I say there is a lot of hypocrisy coming from the left.”

Neither Granger nor Smith, nor any of the aides in their offices, returned calls from Dallas Voice seeking comments for this story.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 3, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens