Ken Mehlman, former aide to President George W. Bush and onetime chairman of the Republican National Committee, came out publicly this week in an interview with the Atlantic. His confession has provoked a mixed reaction from LGBT Americans.
Some LGBT rights activists have greeted Mr Mehlman’s coming out as a positive move, given his seniority as a Republican figure, while others claim he missed the chance to further equality for gay people while the party was in power, and that he must atone for the anti-gay marriage initiatives that the Republicans undertook while he was running the party.
Hilary Rosen, a prominent Democratic consultant who is openly lesbian, said that although she was willing to give Mr Mehlman the benefit of the doubt, she believed that “He perpetrated some real harm on LGBT Americans and I think he must atone for those sins. Is that a double standard for him than for someone else coming out? You bet. But his powerful position and homophobic activities (or acquiescence when others acted) in the Republican Party raises the bar pretty high for how he goes forward in his new life.”
However, Michael Cole, spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement: “What’s important is that Ken has joined the fight and is willing to lend his considerable talent and influence to advance equality. While the past cannot be overlooked, our future is far more important and with more and more people like Ken joining our movement, that future holds great promise.”
A Harvard Law School graduate and former classmate of Barack Obama, Mr Mehlman joined George W. Bush’s presidential campaign back in 2000. When Mr Bush became president, Mr Mehlman followed him to the White House as political director and later ran the re-election campaign which used the device of citing state ballot initiatives against same-sex marriage to help galvanise conservative voters.
Asked by the Huffington Post on Wednesday about negative responses from the LGBT community, Mr Mehlman said: “I’m one person. I’m not in politics anymore. I’m a private citizen.”
However, Mr Mehlman also reportedly said that he plans to take part in a September fundraiser for the American Foundation for Equal Rights, which fully supports legalising same-sex marriage.