Ron Hill is a Republican who blogs extensively about the religious right hijacking of his party at republicans4freedom.net. It’s painful to see that newly out gay man Ken Mehlman — the former chair of RNC who presided over some of the most anti-gay rhetoric imaginable in the party during his tenure — has done yeoman’s work in the recent marriage equality fights. But he continues to support and fundraise for anti-LGBT politicians. Needless to say, Ron is appalled. — Pam
Former RNC chairman Ken Mehlman served as campaign manager of George W. Bush’s 2004 re-election. The campaign was notorious not only because it included an anti-gay platform and rhetoric, but because it relied on state campaigns to write legal discrimination against gays and lesbians into various state constitutions as a way to increase conservative voter turnout.
So when Ken Mehlman publicly acknowledged in 2010 that he is a gay man, it was hardly surprising that he was widely criticized by pro-equality activists. Mr. Mehlman was rightly condemned as someone who personally profited by running an anti-gay campaign. Only after he accumulated wealth and success – in part by helping others oppose freedom and equality – did he come out of the closet. Nevertheless, I gave him a pass and didn’t criticize him, hoping that his pledge to fight to undo the harm he helped create would make up for his past. At the time I wrote that we should give him a chance to prove with his actions that he could reliably work to promote equal rights for gay Americans. I felt that his GOP contacts and knowledge would be useful – if he followed through on his pledge to work for equal rights.
Mr. Mehlman has helped some. He raised money for the American Foundation for Equal Rights – the organization fighting for equality in California. He was involved in successfully persuading GOP legislators in New York to vote in favor of gay marriage – without whose vote the act would have failed. Mr. Mehlman was also involved in lobbying GOP politicians to support repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
This is a good start on making up for his past wrongs. But gay Americans – and especially gay conservatives – must continue to hold Mr. Mehlman accountable to his pledge to work for equality. Until 2010, Mr. Mehlman was essentially a modern-day Roy Cohn – a closeted gay man who personally profited from demonizing people who were just like him. He went along with those who worked to oppress and discriminate against us. He said and did nothing.
I’m grateful for what he has been doing so far – I want to believe that people can change. I want to believe that his pledge to make amends for his failure to speak out, for his failure to oppose those who sought to discriminate in the name of conservatism – was not just cheap words. So I was somewhat disappointed when I saw that Mr. Mehlman – along with R. Clark Cooper, head of the Log Cabin Republicans – are listed as co-chairs for a fund-raiser to help re-elect the current Speaker of the House, John Boehner. The Speaker has been a staunch supporter of legal discrimination against gay Americans.
My view is that gay conservatives should refuse to endorse or raise money for any conservative who opposes equality. Freedom and equal justice under the law are basic conservative values. Instead of raising money for anti-gay Republicans, we should have our own “super pac” to raise money to support and elect conservatives who are pro-equality. I can understand why blogger Joe Jervis refers to Mr. Mehlman and Mr. Cooper as “out gay alleged activist”. We also need to be working to get pro-equality conservatives into leadership positions within the party and into positions to help influence the public debate. We don’t need to be working to elect anti-gay rights politicians of any political party.
Mr. Mehlman has a lot of work to do before he can claim to have made up for his past actions. Supporting a staunch anti-gay politician like Mr. Boehner does little to make amends. When he came out, Mr. Mehlman seemed to ask for sympathy in a MSNBC interview. I do not have sympathy for Mr. Mehlman anymore than I have sympathy for Roy Cohn. Actions speak louder than words, and it will take more than two years of advocating for equality to make up for a career opposing it. I want to like Ken Mehlman; he is probably a nice guy. But I want to see results and a long-term commitment to equality from him.
Mr. Mehlman is welcome to respond to this column. I will run his response unedited and in full. It’s been two years since he came out and gay Americans – liberal and conservative – deserve to hear from him. He has an opportunity to make a difference in the fight to save our party from extremist – and to help inspire young gay conservatives to work within the GOP – and build a more inclusive party. His party and his country need him in this struggle now more than ever. We need to hear from you Mr. Mehlman.
For the rational wing of the republican party,