Ken Mehlman holds the honor of being the highest-ranking GOP official to eventually come out as gay, plain and simple. Top GOP officials have invited him into their lives, made emotional connections with him, and generally built a solid network with a guy who at one point was the linchpin of the Rove-run GOP strategy. Like him or not, he is an incredible asset for LGBTQ rights, and he's ready to step up and do his part to undo the mess he created in the 2000-2008 Bush era.
Even with all the bad blood I think we can agree that Mehlman has unique connections most LGBTQ folk can only dream of creating. He just happens to have been Republican at a time of anti-gay animus, and despite his stated desire to help the marriage equality movement people in the blogosphere are putting significant effort into slinging mud his way.
One thing I've noticed in the LGBTQ community is an almost religious fervor in its Democratic ties. Yes, the loyalty is sometimes warranted, and right now the GOP isn't a friendly place for LGBTQ people. However, as a former Republican myself I have to caution against slinging mud at the folks across the aisle just because of the "R" in front of someone's name. As far as I'm concerned, GOProud and the like are on the bleeding edge of increasing our acceptance, working behind enemy lines to create sympathizers and pro-equality agendas.
It's slow going, but they're having an impact. Remember GOProud and how we made fun of them for going to CPAC? Remember the impact they had on that convention, and how they left anti-gay PACs feeling like they received the cold shoulder? Remember how all those antigay groups languished shortly after the event? Anybody? I remember it pretty well. You don't have to like LGBTQ conservatives; however, you do have to understand that they have a role in advancing our rights across the board.
Sure, Mehlman did bad things in his day. I get it. But let me paint a fun picture for you. It's one that I think can come to fruition in the long-run, seeing all the outings and pro-equality conservative advocacy and general strategy-shifting taking place on the Right. It goes like this:
- The Republican party, realizing that despite its small demographic size LGBTQ people pack a serious political punch, decide to level with us on issues and take on a "liberty for all" stance that includes LGBTQ provisions, spearheaded by groups like GOProud.
- The Democratic party, now faced with actual competition for LGBTQ votes, can no longer hold possible LGBTQ-positive legislation hostage to lead LGBTQ voters along. The "vote for us or else!" rhetoric falls apart.
- Thanks to market competition for votes, bills get proposed. Actual progress is made in the name of campaign grandstanding.
Is that idealist? Yes. Very. I'll admit to being a political centrist and a mercenary. The Dems have my vote only because of their tepid support of LGBTQ people. If the Republicans were to step up their game and align their LGBTQ policies with their messaging of "individual liberty" and "freedom for all people," however, I'd consider voting for them. I started out this life as a Republican and still hold a lot of traditionally Republican ideals sacred: a free-market economy, consumer choice over government intervention, the power of small business in driving economic growth. My stint as a Democrat is rooted solely in LGBTQ politics. It is the only thing securing my vote.
Here's the simple truth of the matter: if the GOP gets their act together on our rights, we all win. Period. Ken Mehlman may have done some crappy things in the past, but as far as I'm concerned he and rest of the GOP-supporting LGBTQ community are the keys to the castle of equality. They are the ones turning our binary opposition into tepidly friendly voters, pushing the conversation from "are gays diseased/worthy of rights" to "gays should not/should have the same rights we do." To paraphrase Milk, we aren't going to win until people realize that they know an LGBTQ person, regardless of their social circle, political affiliation, or region.
Like it or not, our GOP friends are playing for our team. I understand being pissy at their past transgressions, but can we turn the friendly fire off long enough to welcome them to our side of the battle? I'd rather have more soldiers than burned bridges.