Because of a job interview and weekend-long family wedding, I haven’t yet had the opportunity to comment on the coming out of former RNC chair and Bush campaign strategist, Ken Mehlman. I’ve been very proud of my friends and blog colleagues like Joe Jervis, Michelangelo Signorile, and of course, the infallible Mike Rogers, for making sure that this story was not sugar-coated in the way Mehlman wanted it to be.
On Facebook, I shared a blog post from indiemcemopants on Firedoglake called “The Closet is a Poison,” highlighting a passage I thought summed up the situation well:
In spite of the terror his philosophies inflicted on LGBT citizens and in spite of the decades long scare-fest of anti-gay hatred, gay-baiting and discriminatory laws foisted on us, Ken Mehlman wants us to know that his coming out experience has been just peachy. No apology for all the suicides his party’s stances inevitably brought on. No apology for hate crimes. No apology for the election campaign involving some of the worst anti-gay hatred anyone has ever witnessed. No apology for the terror LGB military people have had to endure. No apology for the forced rapes female soldiers went through to “prove” they are straight.
He just wants us to know that he’s been through a whole, whole lot and that he’s a very happy and well-adjusted person. Well Ken, fuck you.
An acquaintance of mine (who has been the covert long-term partner of a still-practicing gay Catholic military chaplain) implored me that this reaction was harsh, and had I no compassion for Mehlman’s struggle?
Do I have compassion for the struggle of coming out? Of course. That’s why I’ve committed my life to education and support for the LGBTQ community. But have I sympathy for Mehlman? Not really.
Why?, I was pushed. Is his struggle so different from anyone else’s? Why would you begrudge him? I could tell my acquaintance was speaking from a very personal place, given the decades of compassionate hiding he has done to make sure his partner is not outed to Church leadership. I explained to him that, much as for his partner who enables and promotes the Catholic Church’s messages of hate through his own self-hatred, I do have compassion, but it is not sympathy; it is pity.
I then asked my acquaintance whether he fully understood that Ken Mehlman was instrumental in coordinating Bush’s 2004 reelection campaign, in which same-sex marriage was used as a threatening wedge issue through a federal constitutional amendment as well as 11 state constitutional ballot initiatives. He did, but tried to repeat Mehlman’s own spin that he hadn’t figured out that part of his life by then.
So then I asked whether he was aware that Ken Melhman knew he was gay back in 2004? This was news to him. I said, oh yes! Mike Rogers started reporting it that year of that election, and Eric Resnick was writing about it the following year in 2005, and Bill Maher was even talking about it on CNN in 2006.
Shocked, my acquaintance demanded: Well why haven’t I heard about it until now? Because, I said, the mainstream media doesn’t want you to. They very much protect the closeted opponents of gay rights. That Bill Maher interview? After Maher talked about Mehlman on the live show, they censored it out of the rebroadcast. Here’s a clip from the movie Outrage showing just that (with much thanks to Mike Rogers for it!):
Let’s not forget that Fox News hasn’t mentioned Ken Mehlman’s Coming Out at all.
My acquaintance clung on: But that was then, now he is supporting marriage equality! Can’t you forgive him and move on?
I will forgive him when he apologizes and also stops funding anti-gay candidates. He hasn’t apologized for his past destruction, nor ceased all his present anti-gay support. If you read his interview with The Atlantic, he chooses his words very carefully. He does not use word “apologize” or “sorry.” He speaks of regret, but not about any of the harm he did. In fact, he continues to downplay the role same-sex marriage played in 2004’s elections. He speaks of regret very selfishly, that he is sad that he wasn’t further along in his journey:
“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 that he “really 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.”
That’s not an apology and it certainly doesn’t speak of responsibility or accountability. It’s political maneuvering. All of this, as ever before, is about what’s good for Ken Mehlman. He wants credit for coming out and supporting AFER. He wants pity for the tough position he was in. But in his mind—or at least in his words—he did no wrong. He’s a victim.
Well, it’s been said elsewhere, but it’s worth saying here again: that’s bullshit. And when I say that’s bullshit, I’m not coming from some super emotional, angry place. Frankly, I’m rather unfazed by this whole newsbreak because it wasn’t news to me. What does concern me is individuals like my acquaintance who had no clue what was going on while his life and his rights were being hit around like a fraying political shuttlecock.
There are a lot of LGBTQ people who have found “good enough.” They’ve got porridge they can eat and they’ve got just enough privilege that their lives aren’t too bad. So you know what they do? They turn a blind eye to LGBTQ issues. They aren’t in the closet; they’re in the dressing room. They’re going about their business like their fellow queers aren’t still fighting for their lives. Remember the lesbians whose kids were refused from the Catholic preschool? They got all upset that their super-comfortable we-have-everything-we-need, we-vote-and-that’s-as-political-as-we-need-to-get lives got upset, which was their own fault for subscribing to the Catholic Church to begin with.
What our LGBTQ community doesn’t know hurts us—is hurting us. I don’t know where my acquaintance now stands in regards to Ken Mehlman, but he definitely wasn’t in an informed place when he talked to me. We’ve conflated “pride” with “activism,” such that all the people who don’t want to be out and proud also choose to let others fight their fight for them. Some go so far as to say they don’t care; when faced with opportunities to learn what is happening in regards to LGBTQ issues, they actively reject that information. This privileged ignorance is one of the most destructive forces for our movement, because it gives everyone the impression that we’ve all found “good enough,” so there’s nothing left to work for.
We haven’t. Right now, in my home Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, I can be denied housing, employment, and civil security for my relationship and family just because I’m gay. There is still bullying that goes uninterrupted. There are still hate crimes that go unprosecuted. In many ways, the LGBTQ community is just as unequal as it ever was, with the TQs even a few steps further back than where the LGBs have gotten.
But there is no outrage. Everything’s golden! Ken Mehlman’s helping us out now? Swell. I don’t know who he is, anyway. Let’s just keep everything peachy. After all, I don’t know any better anyway.
As Jon Stewart said at the end of his short segment last week:
It’s like that old poem: “First they came for the gays, but I didn’t know I was gay, so who gives a shit?”
We all have to care. We have to applaud the efforts of activists like Mike Rogers, even if they sometimes make us cringe. It’s our lives that continue to suffer from the spread of untruths and the manipulation of fear. Whether it’s quislings like Mehlman or just our most crass and vicious opponents, we have to know what’s going on, and we have to stand up for ourselves. If we don’t, we have only ourselves to blame.
By the way, Charlie Crist is up next. If you’re hearing it here first, you’re way behind.