Thursday night in New York, Out magazine welcomed A-listers (and a few lowly bloggers) to celebrate the honorees on the OUT 100. While the red carpet was abuzz over celebrity attendees like Miss Piggy, Kathy Griffin, Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Adam Lambert, inside there was plenty of chatter about a particularly controversial honoree, former GOP strategist Ken Mehlman.
The longtime Bush advisor and former chairman of the Republican National Committee came out in August 2010 (to the surprise of no one) and then started doing his part to sway Republican support for marriage equality.
More than a few folks were irked by the fact that a closet case who worked to keep gays disenfranchised was being honored by a prominent LGBT magazine. Gawker’s Brian Moylan went so far as to demand that gay men promise not to have sex with Mehlman as a form of retribution for his past acts.
We weren’t really planning on it, Brian—money and influence aside, he’s not much of a looker.
At the party, we hit up Mehlman for a comment about making the list: “I’m not doing press right now,” he blurted out. We put our voice recorder away and tried for the casual chat-up approach. Didn’t work either—a nearby lad exclaimed, “This is sounding like an interview,” and hustled Mehlman out of the room.
Other guests were a bit quicker to offer their opinion: “I’m not a forgive-and-forget kind of a person, so I’m not delighted he was included. It’s sort of like, how do you feel about Hitler being Time Man of the Year?” said Sirius XM radio host Derek Hartley, who made the list last year. “I don’t want to compare Ken Mehlman to Hitler,” he clarified. “I’ll leave that to Ann Coulter. But if you want to talk about influential, he’s certainly influential. It’s not my kind of influence.”
Assemblyman Daniel O’Donnell, a honoree this year, was unsurprisingly more diplomatic: “I don’t like all the things he’s done,” said O’Donnell, who also worked tirelessly for gay marriage in the Empire State. “I don’t even have a private opinion on that matter. I’ve met him once, and he was pleasant enough. I don’t know the right thing to do when people have a conversion or a change of heart—do you laud them for the change or do you attack them for the previous behavior?”
Out editor-in-chief Aaron Hicklin said he was happy Mehlman came, even if the room wasn’t exactly cheering him on. “I understand the reservations about his inclusion… [but] I think Mehlman played a valuable role in getting marriage equality passed in New York, as well as fund-raising for AFER in California,” he told us.
“I think he’s traveled a long way in a short time and I for one am very happy to see him now using his political talents and fund-raising skills to promote our civil rights,” Hicklin continued. “I wish other closeted politicians would follow his lead.”
Since both men were at the party, we asked Moylan if he was going to throw Mehlman into a nearby fountain, Dynasty-style. “Out is welcome to invite anyone they’d like to their party—and I’m glad they invited me,” he told us. “But I think people also have the right to ignore or praise or cuss out Ken Mehlman at such a party. I think they should feel free to express their opinions about him, no matter what they are, while being polite and respectful. That’s what I did, and I’m glad I had the chance to do so.”
So did Moylan tell Mehlman to go fuck himself (politely, of course)? When we pressed the matter, Moylan simply said: “It was a lovely evening.”
Seems like diplomacy is suddenly contagious.
Images via Nick Denton, Gavin Bond