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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, August 27, 2010 - Volume 38 Issue 35
Former RNC chair Ken Mehlman: 'I'm Gay'
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Former RNC chair Ken Mehlman: 'I'm Gay'

by Shaun Knittel - SGN Associate Editor

Ken Mehlman, George Bush's 2004 presidential campaign manager - the campaign that backed state initiatives to ban same-sex marriage - and former chairman of the Republican National Committee, has disclosed to family and associates the he is Gay. Mehlman is arguably the most powerful Republican in history to identify as Gay.

In recent years, Mehlman, 43, had denied reports that he was Gay.

'It's taken me 43 years to get comfortable with this part of my life," said Mehlman, now an executive with a New York City investment house. "Everybody has their own path to travel, their own journey, and for me, over the past few months, I've told my family, friends, former colleagues, and current colleagues, and they've been wonderful and supportive. The process has been something that's made me a happier and better person.'

Mehlman is the latest of a number of high-profile conservatives - most, like Mehlman, involved in campaigns against Gay rights - who have come out or been outed in recent years.

According to an online newszine report at The Atlantic, Mehlman had voiced support, off the record, for civil unions for years. The reporter, who broke the news on August 25, said that Mehlman told of how, in private discussions with senior Republican officials, he beat back efforts to attack same-sex marriage. He insisted, too, that President Bush was "no homophobe." In addition, Mehlman was said to have often wondered why Gay voters never found common ground with Republican opponents of Islamic jihad, which he called "the greatest anti-Gay force in the world right now."

"I wish I was where I am today 20 years ago. The process of not being able to say who I am in public life was very difficult," Mehlman admitted to the Atlantic reporter. "No one else knew this except me. My family didn't know. My friends didn't know. Anyone who watched me knew I was a guy who was clearly uncomfortable with the topic."

Mehlman's rise to leadership of the Republican party came at a time when the party was ramping up its anti-Gay rhetoric - linking homosexuality to atheism and attempting to redefine marriage in a single state or city - but he maintains that at the time he "could not, as an individual Republican, go against the party consensus."

He admitted, as well, that he knew that Karl Rove, President Bush's chief strategic advisor, had been working with Republicans to make sure that anti-Gay initiatives and referenda would appear on voter ballots in 2004 and 2006.

"I can't change the fact that I wasn't in this place personally when I was in politics, and I genuinely regret that. It was very hard personally," said Mehlman, asking that those who doubt his change could "offer support" or "at least offer understanding."

"What I do regret, and think a lot about, is that one of the things I talked a lot about in politics was how I tried to expand the party into neighborhoods where the message wasn't always heard. I didn't do this in the Gay community at all," he said.

He told The Atlantic that he wished he had come to terms with his sexual orientation earlier, "so I could have worked against the Federal Marriage Amendment and reached out to the Gay community in the way I reached out to African Americans."

THE PSYCHOLOGICAL COST OF BEING CLOSETED
So, Ken Mehlman has finally said he's Gay. For many, he has some answering to do. How could a Gay man, closeted or not, lead a political party that openly advocated against LGBT equality? How could anyone manage the inner turmoil?

According to Mehlman, he has raised money for the American Foundation of Equal Rights, which is backing the legal challenge to California's Proposition 8, the ban on same-sex marriage passed by voter in 2008. That's a start, but will that be enough?

His recent actions and sentiments are common among people who come out relatively late in life, says Dr. Matthew Weissman, a Washington D.C. psychotherapist who has treated many closeted politicians. "There is a lot of literature on the psychological cost of being closeted, including depression, anxiety, and a greater risk of drinking and substance abuse and unsafe sex," he said. "He may be burning some bridges, but he is taking a stance that is probably making him feel good about himself."

Mehlman is not currently being treated by Dr. Weissman.

"What I will try to do is to persuade people, when I have conversations with them, that [being Gay] is consistent with our party's philosophy - whether it's the principle of individual freedom, or limited government, or encouraging adults who love each other and who want to make a lifelong commitment to each other to get married," said Mehlman. "I hope that we, as a party, would welcome Gay and Lesbian supporters. I also think there needs to be, in the Gay community, robust and bipartisan support for marriage rights."

Mehlman has, however, continued to give money to Republican candidates who oppose same-sex marriage.

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