On the same day marking Mother Teresa’s 100th birthday, news broke that the former chairman of the Republican National Committee Ken Mehlman is gay. Much to the chagrin of William Donohue, head of the Catholic League for Civil and Religious Rights, the Empire State Building was not bathed in Mother Teresa’s blue and white team colors to mark her centenary. So far no head of any LGBT League has complained that the Empire was unbathed in rainbow colors for Mehlman’s coming out. Actually the news was greeted with a giant ho-hum. And that is what is so maddening.
Let’s dissect that ho-hum.
First, the ho part. Under Mehlman’s leadership of the RNC during the George W. Bush re-election (or first non-selection) campaign, gay marriage was used as a cynical get-out-the-vote tactic. Morning after quarterbacks, can use any numbers they want to prove that the tactic didn’t really get out the conservative vote, but it does not ameliorate gay people’s visceral knowledge that we were the RNC campaign’s wedgie, the butt thong between the cheek of church and the cheek of state
Mehlman, in whatever phase of his own gay self-awareness, did nothing to stop it. He actually advocated a push for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. Under the Bush administration’s second term government-sanctioned homophobia anti-gay violence increased, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell continued unabated and many gay rights advances at the state level were rescinded.
Since I try to be fully pro-choice, and because I too struggled to come out, I have to hear Ken Mehlman when he says that only recently has he “become comfortable with this part of my life.” But as the bride-to-be Joan Cusack in the 1997 movie IN &OUT asks Kevin Klein after he tells her he’s gay at the altar, I also have to ask, “Could you possibly have picked a better time to tell me?"
Post-power position endorsements of gay rights – Laura Bush, Dick Cheney on gay marriage – are no consolation. While many remark that the non-reaction to Mehlman’s news is a sign of progress for gay rights, it is more a sign of progress in straight comfort. There is work to be done.
So now, for the hum part. I’m a moderate lesbian. I generally hold a grudge for six generations. But in the spirit of Mother Teresa’s b’day, I might make a conditioned exception for Mehlman. It is ironically fitting that Mehlman, the prodigious RNC fundraiser, has raised a million dollars for the Boies-Olsen efforts in over-turning CA anti-same sex marriage Prop 8. To fight anti-gay legislation, gay people still have to go door-to-door outing ourselves to anti-gay voters, neighbors and family as if trick or treating for our rights. For his penance, Mehlman needs to go door-to-door and speak to anti-gay legislators, former bosses, colleagues and friends to stop anti-gay nuisance propositions before they even begin. For extra-credit penance, he should go have tea and a talk with William Donohue. Wear a rainbow lapel pin.
If you liked this article by Kate Clinton, a columnist for The Progressive magazine, check out her piece “Feminist Classic Goosebumps.”