Houdini Melman and His Political Acts

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Houdini Melman and His Political Acts

Seven years ago this winter, I drove down to Washington, D.C. to start my first job out of Columbia Journalism School as a staff writer for the now-defunct Washington Blade, the oldest LGBT newspaper in the country. I hadn’t yet permanently moved from New York, but already had started attending editorial meetings in DC to prep for the year ahead of me: It was set to be a big one, with gay marriage cases primed for the court dockets in Massachusetts and California, an election campaign in full swing and talk of a Federal Marriage Amendment in Congress to stem the undulating tide of social change.

But Chris Crain, the former executive editor, and Kevin Naff, the former managing editor of the Blade had an even bigger story on the horizon: Outing Ken Mehlman. At the time, his was the dirtiest little secret in the LGBT community – the savvy, obfuscating Harvard lawyer who was running George W. Bush’s re-election campaign on a strong anti-gay platform was gay. Crain, also a Harvard-trained lawyer, had it on good information from many a Harvard colleague that Mehlman was so deep in the closet he was buried under a pile of Brooks Brothers suits.

So we were going to drag him out. Crain and Naff wanted the story as soon as any reporter could get it. Trouble was, we couldn’t. I set about the story first, emailing and calling friends of friends of Crain who knew Mehlman at Harvard. All said, yes, he way gay, and then no, they would not go on deep background, let alone on the record, about it. After exhausting all my leads, I tried to track down ways to get to Mehlman at Bush Campaign Headquarters in Arlington. When I figured out how untouchable Mehlman was, I ditched that plan and went for a phone call: The weekly campaign roundtable for key Bush campaign staffers. In the middle of a talk on Ohio, I straight up asked Mehlman the question: “Mr. Mehlman, with gay marriage being enacted in many states across the country, are you concerned that will be an issue with Ohio swing voters? And oh, are you gay?” My heart pounded. But Mehlman gave it no weight. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said, and moved on.

Before long, so did I, but not before writing the first story about the outing campaign taken on by a pair of gay activists John Aravosis and Mike Rogers, who, literally, outed no fewer than 13 gay Republican legislators and Capitol Hill staffers who supported, or worked for those who supported, the Federal Marriage Amendment. “I’m pretty uninterested in whether a gay staffer’s name appears in a newspaper, or on a website. I am more interested in a reader approaching someone at a bar and asking, ‘What the hell are you doing, working for someone who doesn’t support our issues?’” said Aravosis, a former staff attorney for the late Sen. Ted Stevens, at the time. “An acquaintance of mine, a Southern Republican, worked for a member who was not anti-gay personally, but he signed on to the amendment (banning gay marriage). My friend quit. I’m basically saying, ‘You know what, you have a choice. It’s 2004. You can work for pro-gay Democrats, and now you can work for pro-gay Republicans.”

Comments [6]

SMBrown's picture

Can anyone think of any women

Can anyone think of any women who have engaged in such blatant hypocrisy?  It seems like it's always men, 'buried under a pile of Brooks Brothers suits' (ha! love it) who seem to have no conscience about this kind of duplicity.  And clearly it's other men who condone it and thereby aid and abet it.  Perhaps it's just a manifestation of power, and, since there aren't as many women in powerful positions... But still...

I'm also struck by how scrupulous the gay press was in attempting to out Mehlman, i.e. only using sources that would go on record, rather than simply rumor-mongering.  I'm not in favor of outing public figures EXCEPT when they push anti-gay initiatives/rhetoric, in which case I say they become fair game because as far as I'm concerned they're perpetrating fraud on the public.  

Grace Moon's picture

What about

Mary Cheney?

i think the fierce advocacy against gay hypocrisy stems from the AIDS crisis -- when it was a matter of life and death -- and being in the closet was being complicit in anti-gay policy, sentiments, and perpetuation of discrimination -- leading to death.

tweet tweet @gracemoon

SMBrown's picture

Mmm...yeah, thought of her.

Mmm...yeah, thought of her.  But was she ever really deep in the closet?  Not sure...

Meffle's picture

Sometimes it's not so, you should excuse the expression...

Sometimes it's not so, you should excuse the expression, straight-forward. Sometimes you have to choose your battles. 

Personally, I don't find any battle on the republican side worth fighting, let alone one worth denying my selfhood for, but suppose I did.  Suppose I was a black lesbian who had the choice of working for an administration that was making great strides in the black community, but was totally homophobic? I would then be forced to choose one cause over the other. Not because the causes are diametrically opposed one against the other, but because the soldiers in the battle are.

So he didn't come out when perhaps he could have done the most good for the gay community. He chose his battle, as was his right (as well as what he HAD to do).  It's the past.  Let's move on.  The real question is, what is his involvement in the battle now? His position in the Bush administration virtually guarantees he is a mover and shaker in D.C. now, if he so chooses.

But you know what, even if he chooses not to be, it is still, on some levels at least, his choice.  Yes, it is SCANDALOUS for gays to work against gay rights, but it's still an American's right to do so.

There's a thin line...still...

Grace Moon's picture


agree on your last sentence. When he could have made a difference he totally sold out.

tweet tweet @gracemoon

Conlite's picture

Well, between this chappie

Well, between this chappie and the conservative Tory MP Crispin Blunt, it has been conservative-coming-out week!  Not terribly impressed with either of their track records,  but the upshot is that it is becoming harder for conservatives to ignore homosexuality and gay rights as being innately liberal.