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Former RNC Head Comes Out, Will Others Follow?

By Joseph Erbentraut in News on Aug 27, 2010 5:20PM

Ken Mehlman, the orchestrator behind George W. Bush's 2004 re-election campaign and the former chair of the Republican National Committee, announced this week that he is gay, reportedly planning to counter a history of setting some of the most patently anti-LGBT rhetoric into motion with a newfound hobby: Raising thousands of dollars to support same-sex marriage.

"It's taken me 43 years to get comfortable with this part of my life," Mehlman told the Atlantic Wednesday. "Everybody has their own path to travel, their own journey, and for me, over the past few months, I've told my family, friends, former colleagues, and current colleagues, and they've been wonderful and supportive. The process has been something that's made me a happier and better person. It's something I wish I had done years ago."

Many LGBT activists applauded Mehlman's announcement but wish it could have come earlier, perhaps before what many describe as the most homophobic presidential campaign in history. Within two years of that campaign, Republicans had rallied enough socially conservative voters to pass constitutional amendments banning gay marriage at the ballot box in some 19 states. For this, others argue, Mehlman's penance is long overdue.

His announcement has raised the question of what other closeted gay Republicans could be inching toward outing as part of a seemingly changing party line on LGBT issues. The writers over at the Chicago-based, "gay moderate" HillBuzz blog hope Mark Kirk and Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Peoria) will follow his lead, though both have repeatedly denied gay rumors. They say Kirk and Shock's alleged secrecy, which they and original Mehlman outer Mike Rogers claim to have personally witnessed, presents a danger for the GOP.

"Sending Mark Kirk to Washington is sending a Larry Craig-grade scandal waiting to happen into the GOP’s future," the HillBuzz piece reads. "Republicans in Illinois can pretend that’s not true all they want, and they can continue to attack us for speaking the truth about this, but we’ve seen how this man checks out guys’ butts, and it’s like something out of Tex Avery cartoon. That is not going to end well."

Others describe Mehlman's outing as no bombshell. Rather, they see his announcement as yet another sign of a growing undercurrent of support for LGBT issues in the Republican Party. And, naturally, Americans For Truth's Peter LaBarbera is not too jazzed about the GOP's "growing 'gay' problem."

"It is slowly going pro-homosexual even as GOP leaders continue to advertise theirs as the party of 'family values,'" LaBarbera writes. "Just one more reason why so many grassroots conservatives who regularly vote Republican call the GOP 'The Stupid Party.'"