Republican Ploy for Redemption

by Mark Segal, Publisher
Reposted from PGN-The Philadelphia Gay News

Ken Mehlman, former chairman of the Republican National Committee and co-chair of President George W. Bush’s 2004 re-election campaign, who ran what was arguably the most hate-filled homophobic campaign in American political history, came out last week in a slick public-relations campaign-type interview served up by The Atlantic magazine. His actions as head of the Republican Party created antigay laws, including antigay-marriage constitutional amendments in numerous states, gay baiting, harassment, hate crimes and even LGBT youth suicides. We have not seen his type since Roy Cohn. This man has no shame. But that is not the end of the story.

Now Mehlman wants redemption and is organizing a fundraiser this month benefiting The American Foundation for Equal Rights, the same organization that is successfully challenging the legality of California’s anti-gay marriage ballot initiative Prop. 8. The benefit, according to both The Atlantic and AFER, has already raised close to a million dollars. So, does Mehlman expect to buy his way into our hearts? And are we to give him redemption and welcome him with open arms to our cause? Are we to forgive and forget that he is the reason we are fighting Proposition 8 in California?

There are two ways to look at AFER actions. First, are they selling out for $1 million to add to their campaign chest? Personally, I don’t believe so. These are sharp, pragmatic people who deserve our respect. Rob Rainer, Dustin Lance Black and lawyers David Boies and Ted Olson have run a brilliant campaign. Second, part of what this group stands for is reaching out to those who are conservative and saying, “Join us in fighting for equality. Equality is not a liberal or conservative issue: It’s an American issue.” Whether we want to admit it or not, Mehlman can accomplish that, but at what cost? While we respect the organization and its leadership, there is no respect for Mehlman in our community. It reviles us.

Rather than an apology to kick-start his road to redemption, we receive a slick PR campaign. Are we to be treated to a Jimmy Swaggart-type speech by Mehlman at his fundraiser, saying something to the tune of “I have sinned against you … ”? In tears, of course. (Someone please cue the guy who puts the glycerin in his eyes for the tears.)

Forty years ago, the Gay Youth Alliance was founded to help endangered youth. To this day, our endangered LGBT youth commit suicide more frequently than any other segment of society of that age group. To anyone who has received a call from someone on the verge, you’ve heard a line like, “Everyone hates us.” Mehlman contributed to that atmosphere of hate. Mr. Mehlman, you have the blood of our youth on your hands. Until you recompense for that, we cannot give you redemption — no matter how much money you raise or how many people you bring to the table. We need to know this is no gimmick and that you have come to terms with and understand the pain you personally have inflicted on this community. After all, this struggle is about education, and education brings redemption.

In his interview, Mehlman didn’t offer an apology, just a limp “I wish I would have spoken up.” Having him take a bow at this fundraiser is a picture that repulses me. I understand what the organization is attempting to do, but this is hard to swallow. And due to my respect for AFER, I feel almost helpless in how to express my anger. Yes, it is important to embrace the “converted.” And, as an old quote goes, you should choose your battles wisely. This is not a battle but a skirmish, and the truth is we need more soldiers. But a real apology would be a start. A million dollars is not.

Mark Segal, PGN publisher, is the nation’s most award-winning commentator in LGBT media, having just received the 2010 Columnist of the Year Award from the 2,000-member Suburban Newspapers of America. He can be reached at [email protected]

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