When I first heard that former RNC chair and Bush campaign manager Ken Mehlman came out of the closet in an interview with The Atlantic, I was shocked. I had never really heard too much about the guy, but I knew that he held a lot of clout within the ranks of the GOP – something that the LGBT community could definitely use in our battle for equality.
And after reading about his involvement with the American Foundation for Equal Rights (AFER) and his work on the case against Prop 8, my shock turned into excitement. Could we finally have an advocate for LGBT equality that could bring about change where we need it the most – from within the Republican Party?
Finally, I thought to myself.
I logged onto Twitter a few minutes later to find out what people were saying about the news – and that’s when my excitement turned into frustration. The attacks on Mehlman – for waiting so long to come out, his work with Bush’s campaign and being a closeted member of the Republican Party – have been merciless.
They may not be baseless, but they are just as hateful and counterproductive as the attacks on gay people coming from the right.
It wouldn’t surprise me if the fear of being ripped apart by the gay community was part of Mehlman’s motivation for staying in the closet for so long. (Not the other way around, like most people would assume.)
And I’m sure that any closeted gay conservative who googles Mehlman’s name after this week would think twice about coming out after reading certain blogs.
This is equally unfortunate for the LGBT community, as some members have decided that playing the blame game is more important than moving forward – together.
The reaction to Mehlman’s coming out makes it clear that we need to be more consistent with the messages that we send out as a community.
We cannot preach NOH8 unless we are willing to make it our M.O.
Nor can we overlook how difficult it is for someone – especially a conservative – to come out of the closet. Coming out of the closet takes faith, courage and an insatiable desire for change.
The fact that Mehlman was part of the anti-gay machine during the Bush years is something that he’s going to have to live with his entire life. Attacking him for his past will not change it. It will, however, deter others from having the same courage to come out publicly.
People learn from experience. Nobody comes out of the womb an advocate, but advocates can very quickly become elitists when they fail to remember how difficult it is to come out.
The LGBT community has the opportunity – and responsibility – to make coming out of the closet a positive experience for everyone, including Ken Mehlman.
We must promote unity and understanding within our community and without. The more that people feel comfortable about coming out and joining the fight, the more likely we are to achieve equality.
But first, we have to lead by example and remove hate from the debate.