Ex-GOP Strategist Ken Mehlman In OUT 100. Did They Run Out Of Straight Celebrities?

Out magazine has been teasing the names on the 2011 OUT 100 and today announced that Ken Mehlman was among the honorees. That’s kind of surprising considering he was one of the architects of Bush/Cheney’s 2004 election campaign, was chairman of the Republican National Committee and generally spent years as a closet case helping to strangle LGBT rights.


Even Mehlman realizes he’s pissed off a lot of people. Peep this passage from his coming-out feature in The Atlantic:

Mehlman acknowledges that if he had publicly declared his sexuality sooner, he might have played a role in keeping the party from pushing an anti-gay agenda.

“It’s a legitimate question and one I understand,” Mehlman said. “I can’t change the fact that I wasn’t in this place personally when I was in politics, and I genuinely regret that. It was very hard, personally.” He asks of those who doubt his sincerity: “If they can’t offer support, at least offer understanding.”

“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.”

After Mehlman came out (a revelation that shocked no one in DC) in 2010, he tried to atone for his past transgression by lobbying and fundraising for marriage equality in New York. To his credit, Mehlman’s GOP connections enabled him to bend the ears of conservative politicians others couldn’t reach.

Of course,  Mehlman wasn’t too modest to take some of the credit when the Empire State got marriage equality this year. “For a state as big and iconic as New York to be able to have accomplished marriage equality with a bipartisan approach was a momentous event,” he says in his profile, “and one I was honored to play a small part in.”

Is this like Time‘s “Man of the Year,” where it’s not necessarily a good person, just someone influential? Judging from the magazine’s explanation that the list is “our annual salute to the year’s most inspiring people,” we’d have to say no.

Look, we appreciate that Mehlman is on the side of the angels now, but that doesn’t even begin to make up for his working for the Devil just a few years ago.

We’re not saying the guy should be strung up, but do we have to give him a friggin’ award?

We have friends who drove vans of activists to lobby Albany for same-sex marriage—more than once. Can we assume they’ll be on next year’s list?


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  • christopher di spirito

    Ken Mehlman looks like the elevator doors closed on his head.

  • JH

    Can you avoid using the phrase “strung up” please? It’s very loaded wording.


    Ken Mehlman definitely deserves an award. After leaving a high-profile position in the Republican party, he’s managed to work tirelessly behind the scenes very closely with Republicans not only in New York State but across the country to advance pro-gay causes. The only way that equality for gays will become a reality is with Republican support and continuing this theme of Republican-bashing in the gay community (where 1/3 identifies as Republican) is counterproductive and doesn’t help our cause. Ken isn’t tooting his horn – activists in the gay community know very well about his contribution and how influential he has been not only with Republican politicians but also important donors in advancing gay rights. You don’t have to personally like Ken to appreciate and acknowledge his efforts and contributions in this area.

  • Mike

    @CNYER: So I guess the fact that he is one of the people largely responsible for the number of anti-gay marriage amendments to state constitutions nationwide is something we should just ignore? And we should just look the other way at the fact that he continues to contribute money to Republican candidates that oppose gay equality? He got marriage equality for NY (which, strangely enough, is his state of residence) and now it’s time to roll out the red carpet? From where I sit, he was a self-serving political manipulator then and he continues to be so now.


    The coming out process is complicated and different for each person. We don’t know the internal emotional conflict Ken was dealing with in the past and its wrong for us to make kneejerk assumptions. Ken is focusing on nation-wide efforts towards marriage equality and is constantly beating the drum of marriage equality behind the scenes with Republicans. If you don’t engage those who disagree with you in a respectful manner, they will find it hard to see your point of view and we won’t see change.

  • Jasun Mark

    Ken Mehlman will have to work for 5 lifetimes to atone for even half of the harm he’s personally engineered on the gay community. Don’t forget that it was HIS idea to push for all those anti-gay constitutional amendments. He was the one who came up with Phrases like “Anti-Family” and “Death Style.” He was the one who showed Republicans that the easiest way to getting votes was to spurn homophobic witch hunts.

    It’s his personal fault that thousands of children sit parentless in orphanages because of his anti-gay adoption bills that he got on ballots where the race was close.

    And let’s not even start with the countless gay teenagers who’ve killed themselves because of his legacy of hate.

    Yes, he’s come slithering to us now that he’s persona non grata in Washington. Kick him into the on-coming traffic… we don’t need his kind… and we all know that the SECOND that it suits him, he’ll stab us all in the back. Look for his “Ex-Gay Conversion” in about 3 years. Because we all know that he’ll make a few more million dollars when he does that… and he’s shown that when it comes to making money, there is no depth to which he won’t dig.

  • Say what?

    @CNYER: “After leaving a high-profile position in the Republican party, he’s managed to work tirelessly behind the scenes very closely with Republicans not only in New York State but across the country to advance pro-gay causes.”

    Prove it.

    He has done some fundraising for the American Foundation for Equal Rights and the marriage battle in New York. What else you got?

  • B

    No. 4 · Mike wrote, “@CNYER: So I guess the fact that he is one of the people largely responsible for the number of anti-gay marriage amendments to state constitutions nationwide is something we should just ignore?”

    Except that it was Karl Rove’s idea – Rove probably had more clout and Mehlman simply decided not to “fall on his sword” by trying to oppose Rove. He was more like a witness to a rape who did nothing to try to stop it, not even making a cell phone call to the police. He probably spent most of his time with the Republican National Committee either managing the operation or fund-raising. Meanwhile the Bush administration would go into anti-gay mode just before the elections and get back to business (seeing that that the richest of the rich got even richer) afterwards, dropping the anti-gay stuff as a distraction once the votes were in.

    People are claiming that Mehlman was actively working against LGBT equality, but I’ve yet to see any hard evidence – documents – proving that. Rather, he simply turned a blind eye to what was going on.

  • Mike

    @B: With all do respect B, I have not seen any hard evidence supporting your supposition either. My criticism is not about whether or not Ken Mehlman should be allowed to work for gay causes. It is the very least he can do given his past associations (at best) or collusion and active involvement (at worst) in one of the most vehement anti-gay presidential political campaigns ever. My criticism is about how the gay establishment is being so overly laudatory about this man. When Mehlman is instrumental in the defeat of DOMA and vehemently repudiates the anti-gay tactics of the Republican Party in doing so, then maybe we can talk about recognition like the OUT 100 (and yes I’m aware that a Democratic President signed DOMA into law and likewise I’m not interested in seeing President Clinton recognized as a gay ally by the OUT 100 anytime soon either). As I stated before, Mehlman’s support of marriage equality is as much (if not more) about working for his own self-interest as it is for supporting the rights of gays and lesbians. I see nothing exceptional about this man or his work to date that deserves this kind of recognition.

  • Mike

    and obviously that should be “due respect.” I really need to proofread my posts.

  • Jim Hlavac

    There are those of us gays who work within the Democratic Party, and those of us gays who work within the Republican Party — we got two anti-gay parties – and gays in each — working for something that has nothing to do with either Party – gayness has nothing to do with either party. And in both parties there are astoundingly anti-gay folks. And within both parties there are friends. Let us never lose sight of the fact that gayness has nothing to do with politics. We need exactly 100% of the people on our side — not just Democrats, and not just Republicans. Gayness has nothing to do with anything else going on in this nation. Be for one party or the other; but on gayness we are 100% allied. There is no “Democratic” or “Republican” side on gayness -we are not the tax code or paving bridges — but something else again. Let us work within the parties we might like, and accept when people change and come to our side as gays, even as gays who went astray for a while – none of us gays are perfect – but all of us are gay, which is the only thing we agree on. All else is open for debate.

  • Say what?

    @B: “People are claiming that Mehlman was actively working against LGBT equality, but I’ve yet to see any hard evidence – documents – proving that. Rather, he simply turned a blind eye to what was going on.”

    Bush’s 2004 campaign manager — Ken Mehlman — was just going along to get along? You don’t know much about electoral politics. The campaign manager is responsible for developing and overseeing the execution of the campaign strategy. Did Mehlman develop and execute this strategy of using 11 anti-gay ballot initiatives to draw more social conservatives to the polls on his own? No, of course not. Was he fully committed to it? Of course. Any campaign manager would be. I don’t know how old you are B, but those of us who paid attention during the 2004 election know that Mehlman worked very hard to reelect Bush.

    And that you don’t know something only proves that you don’t know that something. It doesn’t mean that that something did not occur. Go to Google News and search on the 2004 campaign.

  • Mike in Asheville

    Certainly Mehlman should be included; like him or not (I don’t like him one bit), he is having major league influence in promoting marriage-equity.

    NOTWITHSTANDING, it should NEVER be forgotten that he WAS, for many years, a Kapo, responsible for damaging the emerging civil rights for LGBTs.

    The same goes to Richard Socarides, Clinton’s gay community liaison, who worked so hard behind the scenes advocating for DOMA and DADT. Socarides never seems to remember that the policies he is now working against were policies that he himself labored into law.

    Remember JFK’s remark: “Forgive your enemies; but never forget their names.”

  • TJ

    This is a despicable publicity ploy. Of course Mehlman managed the 2004 campaign and of course it went after social conservatives by engineering useless amendments banning marriage equality that was already banned.
    For this man to get an award is a slap in the face for those of us who fought against this piece of hatred. I will never be buying another out magazine.

  • Steve

    Ken Mehlman spent most of a career working very effectively to harm gay people. He has directly caused the deaths of thousands of people.

    He has a couple of decades of work to do, to try to undo the harm that he has personally done. Even then, even if he fully succeeds, he will have imposed decades of suffering upon millions of people, and caused thousands to die.

    I cannot find it in my heart to forgive him. May God have mercy upon his soul.

  • tjr101

    Ken Mehlman needs to write a personal letter of apology to every single gay American that was affected and is still affected by the campaign of bigotry the GOP waged to win elections. The guy is a self-serving political hack that still contributes money to anti-gay candidates. He’s two-faced.

  • Wes

    Wow you all need to take a step back. Lots of anger and hatred here. Fine. He fucked up. But I for one believe that until we’ve won every battle, we should take all the help we can get. You really think left wing gays can credibly talk to Republicans who we need on our side?

    I don’t like what he did in 2004. But I fortunately live in 2011, and I’m happy he’s helping fight for my civil rights.

  • Matthew Rettenmund

    @CYNER: Give it a rest. The coming-out process has ZERO to do with what this guy’s life and career were about. He came out after doing everything he could to make sure marriage equality was unconstitutional in a slew of states and did it for money and power. Now that he’s out of power, he’s feebly on the side of marriage equality. Your comment that his coming out had anything to do with his psyche or if he was ready disqualifies anything else you’d care to say on this subject it’s so deliberately or haplessly blind to reality.

    And OUT and Here Media can get fucked.


    Well, Matthew, not everyone can replicate your tireless and important work of posting pictures of dudes on the street (without their permission) and obsessing over every single thing Madonna does.

    Seriously, we can’t demand rights and then be insufferable and unforgiving when people change their minds and try to create change. Doing so would make us a bunch of politically stupid bitches.

  • Mike

    @Wes: the question I have Wes is why does his work need to be publicly acknowledged and lauded? There are many, many people who work for marriage equality in gracious anonymity. I would think some sense of self-awareness would make Mehlman recognize that if it is the work itself and not his own aggrandizement that is important, that would be the route he should have taken.

  • Say what?

    @GUUURL: Seems to be a degree of coordination among the Mehlman boosters that has them asserting that Ken has worked “tirelessly” to advance the gay community’s interests. And this adjective is applied to Mehlman’s critics when asserting that they have been tireless in other pursuits that are deemed to be less noble that Ken’s contributions, which, as far as I know, are limited to fundraising for AFER and the marriage fight here in New York.

    Matthew Rettenmund doesn’t have to explain himself or his contributions to our community to anyone. Ken Mehlman, well, he has a lot of splaining to do.

  • Interesting

    @GUUURL: < writes false equivalencies: Either one must be a martyr or one must not denounce Kapos like Ken Mehlman.

  • B

    No. 12 · “Say what?” wrote, “@B: “People are claiming that Mehlman was actively working against LGBT equality, but I’ve yet to see any hard evidence – documents – proving that. Rather, he simply turned a blind eye to what was going on.” Bush’s 2004 campaign manager — Ken Mehlman — was just going along to get along?”

    As I said, either produce the documents are admit that you have no evidence. Also, I clearly stated that Karl Rove was behind the policy. This may surprise you, but Rove had a lot more clout than Mehlman and Rove got what Rove wanted.

    It’s not like Mehlman didn’t have enough else to do – lining up endorsements, fundraising, making sure they purchased enough advertising space, test-marketing various issues, etc. If there’s evidence that he was directly involved in pushing for anti-gay ballot measures, or even that he delegated the task to someone else, then simply produce documentation showing that. My guess is that he had enough else on his plate that he could simply ignore that and let Rove handle it – after all, it was Rove’s baby.

    It’s not like I’m not criticizing him. I just think he’s more like a guy who watched a crime and did nothing, not even so much as calling the police, rather than being the actual perpetrator. I.e., he was more like Al Capone’s accountant than his “enforcer.”

  • Say what?

    @B: “As I said, either produce the documents are admit that you have no evidence.”

    What am I? Your history teacher? Go to Google News or the library and do some searching. And, let me note, you haven’t produced a shred of evidence, other than what you imagine and what you don’t know, to support your defense of Ken Mehlman. Your defense is based on your ignorance. You seem to think that because you don’t know something proves that that something does not exist.

    I don’t participate in blog discussions to change the minds of people whose minds cannot be changed — that would be you, B. I participate in such discussions to talk to people who can be convinced or who have compelling arguments to the contrary.

    And are you the same B who was recently defending Robert George on this site? So you’re what? A young Republican/conservative?

  • cminca

    How about we all acknowledge–with appropriate seriousness–the UNBELIEVABLE pain and suffering he caused by creating and using anti-gay rhetoric as part of an election strategy to get the worst president ever, elected?

    How about we start counting up the kids kicked to the curb because of the vicious anti-gay rhetoric by him and his party?

    How about we start acknowledging his direct responsiblity for the issues of bullying and suicide?

    Do you expect Doctor’s to honor Mengele for his “contributions” to “research”?

  • FunMe

    Because of Melhman, the GLBT now has to be fighting to get marriage equality in the US. Because of Melhman, gays and lesbians cannot marry in over 50 states. He is responsible for this, and yet to this day I don’t see him do anything to undo the damage HE has done.

    It is so despicable to see Out magazine go downhill with the selection of Mehlman in the top 100.

    This is the same as selecting Jews who hid their identity and helped kill their own in the oven back in the Hitler days.


  • disco lives

    The Out 100 has always been a rather dubious honor. Ten years ago, they named Lynne Cheney as on of the “Out 100.”

  • B

    No. 24 · “Say what?” ‘@B: “As I said, either produce the documents are admit that you have no evidence.” What am I? Your history teacher? Go to Google News or the library and do some searching.’

    Hey, *you* claimed he actually did something beyond simply not opposing Rove. If you can’t produce documents backing up that claim, then obviously you have no business making it.

    If you check out http://voices.washingtonpost.com/44/2010/08/former-rnc-chairman-ken-mehlma.html you’ll see a statement that “Mehlman acknowledged to Ambinder that had he been open about his sexuality earlier, he might have tried to push back against parts of the national Republican agenda, including efforts by former Bush adviser Karl Rove in 2004 and 2006 to put same-sex marriage initiatives on the ballot in states across the country…” That fits just what I said – Rove was behind the Republican’s attempts to get anti-gay initiatives on the ballot, and Mehlman failed to oppose Rove (given Rove’s clout, whether he could have successfully opposed Rove or even reduced the damage Rove was causing is not clear). If you want to claim that Mehlman or people following his directions were behind anti-gay initiatives, then there should be a document trail (whether on paper or not). Where is it?

    Childish rhetoric about “history lessons” and “do some searching” is just that: the sort of silly ploy you might hear in a high-school debate. If there is nothing there backing up what you claim, no amount of searching will turn anything up.

    Oh, and BTW, don’t try the equally childish ploy of throwing out a bunch of links to various blogs – they are not credible as they tend to copy from each other with no attribution.

    Then you wrote, “And are you the same B who was recently defending Robert George on this site? So you’re what? A young Republican/conservative?” LOL. First, I’m neither a Republican nor a conservative. I did comment on Robert George, did not defend him, but did provide links stating what he actually said, not what people said he said, and had the temerity to suggest that people actually look at the original source material to form an opinion of him rather than parroting what some mindless blogger might have said in his rant of the day. It’s not like I agreed with George – I don’t – but I won’t reduce myself to lying about what he actually said or did.

  • LukeM

    To hell with him! His big regret is not selling Republicanism to enough gays? Seriously, to hell with him. I don’t think gay seniors who are worse off financially than their straight peers from years of oppression and who now face even more drastic cuts to social security and medicare need outreach from the GOP. They don’t need to be sold the GOP message, they need the GOP to stop shilling for the 1%, start backing the 99%, raise taxes on wealthy-freeloaders and protect the social programs like medicare, social security, medicaid, pell grants, public universities et al from the likes of dick heads like Ken Mehlman! And if you’re some hot little fag fucking Ken Mehlman for his money, to hell with you too!

  • B

    No. 9 · Mike wrote, “@B: With all do respect B, I have not seen any hard evidence supporting your supposition either.”

    Try http://topics.nytimes.com/topics/reference/timestopics/people/m/ken_mehlman/index.html (A New York Times article from last year): “Mr. Mehlman was in Mr. Bush’s inner circle in both presidential campaigns and ran his campaign in 2004, when the party courted Christian conservatives who oppose same-sex marriage. But Mr. Mehlman, in his work as chairman of the Republican National Committee and as head of Mr. Bush’s campaign, tended to personally avoid social issues.”

    If you check respectable news sources (e.g., the N.Y. Times article quoted above) it appears that Mehlman simply ducked for cover (the phrase, “tended to personally avoid social issues”) and said nothing while he saw others pushing an anti-LGBT agenda in order to get out the bigot vote. My disagreement with some of the others is simply what Mehlman should be blamed for – he should be blamed for doing nothing when he could have helped stop it, but he didn’t actively try to help it along. You can legitimately criticize him for “cowardice”, but not for actively participating in “war crimes”. I.e., he was more like the guy living next to a concentration camp who said, “I see nothing, absolutely nothing,” than like the guy actually ordering the executions.

    Rather than what he did, he could have acted like Kurogane in Akira Kurosawa’s film “Ran”: when ordered to deliver the head of a woman (Sue), he arrives with a head-sized bundle. As he opens it, sitting before Jiro and his consort Kaede, out falls the head of a fox, and not a real fox but a statue of a fox. He then tells a funny, mythical story about a trouble-causing fox and suggests that Kaede is in fact that fox! She’s humiliated and outraged as Jiro sits there not really knowing what to do about the situation. http://www.gotterdammerung.org/film/kurosawa-akira/ran.html has some still shots from the film including the three of them sitting next to the bundle (yet to be opened).

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