Dr. Jillian T. Weiss

Should We Forgive Ken Mehlman?

Filed By Dr. Jillian T. Weiss | June 29, 2011 8:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, The Movement
Tags: Ken Mehlman, Michelangelo Signorile, OutQ, Signorile, SiriusXM

Yesterday, radio host Michelangelo Signorile of SiriusXM OutQ hosted a segment in which he discussed a piece in The Daily Beast entitled "Gay Marriage's Unlikely Hero." That piece discussed the role of Ken Mehlman, former head of the RNC, now openly gay, in helping to pass marriage equality in New York. As the piece notes, however, Mehlman managed President George W. Bush's re-election drive in 2004. "Courting the evangelical Christian voting bloc so crucial to the Republican Party, Mehlman's boss campaigned on a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage."

Signorile made the point that Mehlman was responsible in important ways for a Republican strategy across the country that used gay people and anti-gay rhetoric as a stalking horse to bring out Republican votes, resulting in many state constitutional amendments across the country banning marriage equality. He also played a clip of a confrontation between Mehlman and a gay activist on the night of the New York marriage vote at the Stonewall Inn, where many people gathered to celebrate the victory. In the clip, the activist can be heard asking Mehlman whether he was the one responsible for much anti-gay legislation, to which Mehlman responds: "I've moved on to other things," and then, curtly, "good night."

The segment of Signorile's show opened the show to callers, focusing on the question of whether we should forgive Mehlman for his previous anti-gay activities in light of his recent assistance for marriage equality, and his attempts to get Republicans to support it across the country.

The callers were 10 to 1 against forgiving Mehlman for his past sins. They were very angry not only for his anti-gay acts, but, more significantly, for the anxiety they felt about their ability to be accepted in their local communities, and the angst they felt about the country itself. It was an engaging and interesting segment that sheds some light on the anger that gay people are feeling about their human rights being up for debate.

But I say we should forgive Ken Mehlman. He has turned over a new leaf. Now that he's ready to help us, we should forget the past.

As a transsexual woman, if I were to be angry at every gay activist who has, in the past, worked against transgender rights, then I would have to be angry at an awful lot of people. An awful lot of you. Transgender rights have been traded in like casino chips when it stood to help gay people get their rights. But gay people often wonder why some trans people are so angry, when they "ought" to understand that these issues take time, and people have to evolve into an understanding of trans issues.

Gay people, you have got to get over your anger issues. Ken Mehlman made a mistake. He wasn't out at the time that he did these things, and only recently reconciled himself with being gay. He didn't understand himself, and he didn't understand the stakes. Now that he has evolved to a point that he is ready to help a little with marriage equality, you ought to embrace him and welcome him into the fold.

Or do you say we ought to be angry at everyone who worked against our interests in the past, even when they later realize that was wrong, and then work for us? Should we cherish our anger and accept only the help of the ideologically pure?

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Not because he asked or said "sorry".

Because he apparently worked very hard recently to get the NY Legislature to let the vote on marriage happen, and to turn pivotal NY senators.

It's not just words, he's making amends.

Agreed. Forgive, but don't forget. He's making amends slowly but surely. Now if he'll just keep that momentum going forward for other LGBT issues and not just marriage equality.

It will take decades of political work and millions of dollars to get states to change their Constitutional amendments back, to remove the religious and bible based statements, that "marriage is between one woman and one man". He might have helped New York, but he can't help those who live elsewhere, where the damage is done. This helped destroy a lot peoples civil rights by blocking accessibility to the courts to challenge marriage equality in those states before changing their constitutions. Since the constitutional amendments were put to public vote, as in Louisiana,(like they did with Prop 8 in CA) it's not so easy to challenge and it will taken years and lots of money to try to change states constitutions again. Had the maneuver to change states constitutions not taken place we could have used the courts to prove unconstitutionality. Now in those states it will take a majority to change this back and it won't happen unless the constitutionality is brought before the SCOTUS. This is why I also do not agree with leaving it up to states to determine who can marry. Remember separate but equal in the deep south? It took the federal government to enforce civil rights when small black children wanted to enter school in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Yes, if he works to right his wrongs and helps to undo the harm he helped implement when the domino effect took place and states began changing their constitutions for the sole purpose to block equal rights to LGBT peoples. I knew when this vote took place in Louisiana, that it was equivalent to the government in my bedroom window and I told my mother, "we have to go vote against this" and we did, alas, to no avail.

Absolutely forgive the man. Forgiveness is good for the soul! But keep him feeling guilty enough to keep on working hard for whst's right!

howardbayless | June 29, 2011 8:32 AM

I think there is a major difference between forgiveness and moving on. While I agree he should be forgiven I hardly think that one effort undoes what he helped do to our communnity. Since he is so great at political strategy I would love to hear his 50 state plan for undoing all the constitutional ammendments, state laws and local ordinances that came to pass during his previous campaign. I for one would love to work with him to accomplish that for ALL of us.

You said everything I wanted to.

Forgiveness requires repentance and restitution. He's done one, and is doing the other. He did great harm, so it will take him a while to do great good.

In the meantime, if we don't forgive, that doesn't reflect poorly on him - it reflects poorly on us.

And yes, what was said about LGB sacrificing T as well. Just stop doing it and work with us, and we won't bear past wrongs against you. For one thing, we have a lot to be forgiven for too, though that was 50 years ago.

This is a hard one. Ken Mehlman is a good example of what the pressure and hate against the LGBT population does to a person. He hid from himself and took his fear and frustration out on those like him. We have seen this happen many times by people in positions of power.
He did not run and hide after coming out and I have to give him credit for that. He continued to work as he turned his goals toward making things better for us.
Forgivness comes with understanding the whole picture and that he is sorry for the damage he has done in the past. I do believe he has begun to right the wrongs and is an asset to the community and forgivness will come in time.
While I can understand why and forgive, I will not forget his part in making life harder for us.
As for the transgender issue...It sucks that the T in LGBT "rights have been traded in like casino chips". This is a good example of the discrimination within our own ranks. Because we can't pull together as one force under the rainbow, transgender rights are used as pawns.
Please know that some of us LGB's are fighting for the T as well.

Many are. Most are at least ambivalent, if not actually supportive.

Anyone who thinks that some LGB people haven't worked their guts out to help Ts, often with little thanks, hasn't been paying attention.

The minority of LGBs who don't just use us as expendable tokens, but actively work against us under all circumstances is relatively small. But not insignificant; they have influence, especially in the UK and parts of Canada.

Pseudo, you’re right — they’re the ones who kept taking about violence and murder. But really, they should be careful about giving some angry women those ideas. I can’t imagine that every one of them hasn’t raped or molested a female at some point. ... They expect we’ll be shocked to see statistics about them being killed, and don’t realize, some of us wish they would ALL be dead. ... oh my god, Margaret and Fab — I can just imagine their gloating if they can get female body parts and reproduce (not to mention how reproduction is destroying the earth and the likelihood of birth defects and bad health from babies coming from such a place.) There are no words to describe them. There are tiny parasitic wasps who paralyse small animals (spiders, caterpillars, etc.) and lay their eggs on them, so the animal is alive while being slowing eaten by the growing baby. But the wasps aren’t deliberately cruel. These men remind me of a deliberately female-hating version of that. They’ve prove what I’ve been saying for decades — they are more female-hating than even many het men. The character in Silence of the Lambs who skinned women to wear really seems more accurate all the time.
That from the author of Trans Women are merely Castrated Men and other works of similar ilk published in lesbian magazines.

Now most LGB people I'm sure have no idea that such people exist, nor that they're not a "tiny minority". That they've managed to influence UK laws today, and US government policy too in the Carter Era.

Focus on the Family and kindred organisations wish to keep us in the gutter where we belong; but these people want us to be subject to a "Final Solution" and to be "morally mandated out of existence", to quote textbooks of two other lesbian authors, texts in use today in many Women's Studies departments.

Most T's don't hold the existence of this fringe against the LGB movement as a whole. The sane ones don't, anyway. But the next time someone speaks about "angry trannies" - remember what others like you are saying, whole we, in general, remain silent about that.

We prefer to think on the many LGB heroes and heroines who have worked for us.

We have to move on. We have way too many for real enemies out there to ponder whether we should be happy about a particular ally.

This is a guy that can bring a lot to the political table. He knows many of these legislators and knows how to work them, something that activists have yet yo effectively figure out. If he has turned a leaf and is now willing to work for the cause, then I say we take him in with open arms and hug it out.

This seems to me to be an argument about cleaning house when we have wolves at the door. There are simply more important battles to fight than making someone feel guilty about their prior sins. The guilt and the effort should be atonement enough. We should be focusing our efforts on other tasks and issues now.

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Elloreigh | June 29, 2011 9:42 AM

Forgive Ken Mehlman? No. When my state rescinds its marriage amendment that also effectively voided by certified domestic partnership, I'll reconsider the matter. And I don't think that's going to happen - my state will likely have to be dragged kicking and screaming into equality - thanks in no small part to Ken Mehlman and the like, whose use of us as political pawns helped create a poisonous atmosphere in my state that will take decades to dissipate.

Trust me when I say I'm being kind. If I were to really say what I think of Ken Mehlman, I'd probably be banned from the site.

Forgiving is not the same thing as forgetting and it's only natural that people whose lives his actions have damaged are going to be suspicious. Mehlman's help in New York is a welcome reversal, but it sounds as though he himself is yet to come to terms with his sordid past. An apology and explanation of why he should be taken seriously today are in order.

The question of forgiveness misses the point. Whenever a public figure does something bad, then tries to make amends, the forgiveness question always come up. But, who cares about forgiveness? The real question is whether we can turn the situation into an opportunity, and here the answer is unequivocally "yes" -- he brings money, political power, connections, and brains to the movement.

I think many on here are missing the big picture here on Mehlman. First to truly be forgiven he should come out and explain what was done in 2004 in great detail. What strategies were used and more importantly how they should be countered. He should be naming names and telling all. That is all that Michaelanglo asked for and invited him on the show to talk about it.
You need to remember that Mehlman is a citizen of NY. I still believe he pushed in NY for selfish reasons. It was a way for him to go to Fire Island, or Stonewall and hopefully be accepted. He may also of done it so he can personally get married. Until he shows that he is committed to undo the harm he has done in other states and at the federal level we should not be giving him such an easy pass. This guy has always been about himself so pardon me for not fawning over what he did in NY.

I have difficulty about the forgiving. His plan was to get out the votes by the vilification gays. His planned worked. However, in process marriage equality was set back for who knows how long. Now because he is rich and throws his money around, we are asked to forgive him? No, I do not believe so. Maybe when what he wrought is gone, we can talk about it.

The question isn't, do we forgive him. It should be, do we forgive him yet. If the context were debits and credits, his account would still be seriously overdrawn. Welcome him and give him every opportunity to make good on his account. Then forgive. Also, to forget is to pretend what he did -- didn't happen. That's dangerous. Forgive and move on, yes. Just not so soon.

Brian Gaither | June 29, 2011 11:41 AM

So, because Ken Mehlman couldn't accept that he was gay we should forgive him all the damage he did to our community?? That's a load of crap. No one is forced to be closeted. And denying rights to those who refuse to live in the closet was never gonna purge his gay urges. If he wants forgiveness, he needs to demonstrate more contrition. He needs to say he's sorry. He needs to stop hiding behind this miserable excuse about not being out at the time he engaged in open political warfare on us. He's a collaborator, pure and simple. He deserves all the scorn he receives. If I had been on the Street in NY and seen him in the crowds outside Stonewall that night, there would have been no end to the cursing and yelling. He should be shunned like a rabid dog.

Yeah, I think that about covers how I feel.

UPDATE: You can see a video of the confrontation discussed in the post between Mehlman and Jon Winkleman at Joe.My.God.

For those of you who say don't forgive (or don't forget, or whatever formulation you care to use): Should trans people forgive Matt Foreman and Joe Solmonese and other LGBT activists for what they did in creating a strategy of removing trans protections from non-discrimination legislation?

Brian Gaither | June 29, 2011 12:28 PM

I don't support what has happened with regards to the trans community at the hands of some LGBT leaders. But you are equating neglect with open political war? For those things to be parallel, Joe Solmonese would have had to craft a strategy of direct scapegoating of trans people and working to mobilize voters, as well as a national political party, in support of the effort to specifically deny trans people their rights.

By your specific criteria, trans people should be angry at NY's and NH's LGB then. So, should we be, or no? I'm also not convinced that your criteria would be applicable to many LGBT groups and leaders and media personalities.

Brian, what Matt Foreman and Joe Solmonese and others did was not simply neglect, it involved actively campaigning to stop transgender protections. True, it wasn't the equivalent of Mehlman's anti-gay campaign, but a lot of transgender people are still very angry.

Dr. Jillian: I am not transgender and i would like to answer your question with this: The moment HRC took out transgender people out of the equation, I canceled my subscription and vowed never to give one cent to those bastards. NO ONE should be used as a pawn.

As far as I am concerned, HRC is now part of the establishment they so want to appear they are fighting and needs to be disbanded and a new Organization needs to be created.

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | June 29, 2011 12:52 PM

It's not necessary or in any way important to forgive Mehlman, Bill Clinton, Laura Bush, Quisling Frank and especially Obama if he switches sides and backs SSM of our agenda in his own mincing, cowardly way.

It is necessary and very important to recognize them for what they are and what they are not. They are political prostitutes and they are not our friends.

As American hero George Carlin was fond of reminding us about politicians and the Democratic (sic) and Republican parties "It's a big fucking club... and you ain't in it!"

tinagrrl1 | June 29, 2011 3:07 PM

No! As others have said, there is a huge difference between dismissal/disdain (Foreman, Solmonese) and actively working against an entire community. Mehlman helped develop a strategy that further marginalized ALL LGBT, etc. people.

He helped ramp up the "culture wars", instead of simply saying we are ALL CITIZENS, and are EQUAL under The Constitution.

That's a major reason I support COURT ORDERED EQUALITY -- the rights of a minority must NEVER be put up to a majority vote.

Try to remember -- majority rule, minority rights. Mehlman and Co. were complicit in further destruction of our Constitutional RIGHTS in ways that Foreman, Solmonese, etc. never were.

Foreman and ESPA actively lobbied against reintroducing trans protections in 2002 SONDA via amendment by Ton Duane. I believe the phrasing was "Poison Pill". Perhaps it is a matter of scale... but are the results different?

There is also plenty of suspicion about the HRC's role in pretty much every "win" for the LGB that happened by trading in trans protections.

Dr. Jillian:

I get it, you make some very valid points and I think we should move in that direction. BUT:

Mehlman has been responsible for the suffering of many gay people for decades and I do not think he should be trusted. You would not trust a robber to go inside your house, even if that person only robbed your neighbor while sparing your home and I believe we should use the same policy with him.

Mehlman has used his money and influence to "buy" his status as now a gay icon after spending decades and causing suffering to millions of people; I just do not think it is fair that all of a sudden he gets a pass. the moment he spends of his personal fortune to undo the damage that his campaigns cause, that will be the day i believe his contrition. In the meantime, he will remain s privileged fag who caused a lot of pain and one day expected his money to buy him a pass.

Andrea B. | June 29, 2011 6:55 PM

If he actively campaigns for gay marriage or any improvement in any rights of any description, he is not just dropping his previous position, he is more than making up for his previous mistakes.

If he has learned from his mistakes and is actively doing something about it, we should support him.

Learnring from one's past mistakes is a sign of a good person. We all make mistakes.

Most politicians who claim they support rights are conveniently not around at votes or lobbying time.

If he has been available when lobbying has occurred and voted in a positive manner, then he should be supported and thanked.

Just my opinion.

I think the real question is should we just forget about the innocent glbt lives that were snuffed out by Ken's murderous anti-gay RNC direct mail. During Ken's tenure, the RNC aggressively whipped up intense rage against glbt citizens and surely many were bashed and even mutilated and murdered because of that violence. Innocent glbt families were also torn apart by the anti-gay legislation Ken oversaw. I'm not sure how we can just conveniently sweep all those bodies under the rug.

Om Kalthoum | June 29, 2011 9:13 PM

Why do we have to forgive someone or forget past wrongs in order to work with someone or utilize his skills and knowledge to further our objectives? You don't have to invite him home for dinner.

Forgive yes, but require "restitution". He should put in as much effort to correct the pain he caused, as he put in causing that pain.
He should expose any others, he knows of, like himself that are "sleeping with the enemy".

Now forgetting... That is another thing.

Don Sherfick Don Sherfick | July 2, 2011 12:24 PM

It seems to me that if our movement is supposed to be about "changing hearts and minds" (and I realize there are folks who disagree with that, simply saying "get over it and live with our existance", not at all a bad notion), then we can't have it both ways. We can't demand that those working against us, some of them closeted themselves, cease the hypocrisy and come to the other side of the river.....and then once they do, endlessly bicker over their worthiness for "forgiveness". The distinction raised between "forgive" and "forget" may seem difficult to some, but failure to make the distinction will, if nothing else, perpetuate a self-defeating rage in many that does nothing but inhibit moving on to better things.

The perfect storm, I say. If so many people honestly believe that marriage equality is a given, than the people who wrecked havoc on LGBT Americans will surely be the ones to undo the mess they created! Mr. Mehlman should take over the leadership of the HRC! It's going to be the conservatives that are going to need persuading from one of their own, just like he did in the New York marriage debate. Remember, our fierce advocate Obama needed a lame duck session of congress to repeal DADT, and our dear leader Obama is soooooo "evolving" on on our right to marry. With Mehlman, maybe "G-d is in the mix".