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.