Ken Mehlman has been a behind-the-scenes player lobbying for marriage equality in California and New York. But does that mean George W. Bush's former campaign manager and head of the Republican Party deserves to be named among the 100 most inspiring LGBT figures of 2011?
Mehlman was named today to the Out 100, a list from Out magazine of those who represented "the extraordinary power of the individual to inspire and motivate by example." Mehlman came out during an interview with The Atlantic in 2010 so he could more openly fundraise for overturning Proposition 8 in California.
The Advocate's sister magazine praised Mehlman as a "the stealth activist" who was "quietly instrumental" in passing marriage equality in New York. And it's true, Mehlman traveled to Albany to persuade Republicans to stand on the side of marriage equality, arguing that they should acknowledge the reality of where voters are moving.
But critics such as Joe Jervis, the blogger who runs JoeMyGod, say it's not right to honor Mehlman on the list because his most recent lobbying doesn't outweigh the damage caused during his time working for Bush's Republican Party.
"For all those millions of people made miserable by Ken Mehlman? Forgiven," Jervis wrote. "The kids who killed themselves because of relentlessly vicious campaigns spawned by Ken Mehlman? Forgotten. The antigay politicians funded last year by Ken Mehlman? Ignored."
In 2004, 11 states held votes on constitutional amendments to ban same-sex marriage in their state, which many political pundits say was a political ploy to help turnout the conservative vote in Bush's favor. The president had also vocally supported a constitutional amendment at the federal level that went nowhere.
So Mehlman's activism now for same-sex marriage hasn't always been welcomed. Even at a celebration for passing marriage equality in New York, Mehlman was confronted by gay rights activist Jon Winkleman, who asked whether he was responsible for what happened politically during the Bush term. "You set marriage back, you really screwed everybody," Winkleman told him in a video of the back-and-forth. Mehlman said he's "focused on other stuff now."
Out magazine editor in chief Aaron Hicklin defended the selection of Mehlman as part of the Out 100, which is being announced this week and next.
"I can understand why some readers will feel it’s inappropriate to acknowledge someone who worked to elect a president whose electoral success was achieved in some measure by exploiting homophobic sentiment in the Republican base, but Ken Mehlman has undergone a personal and political journey since he came out as a gay man in 2010," Hicklin said. "I think that’s worth acknowledging, particularly given his role in working for cross-party support for marriage equality in New York , as well as in California as board member for the American Foundation for Equal Rights which is working to overturn Proposition 8. His work to repeal 'don’t ask, don’t tell,' and raising millions for the cause aren’t minor achievements either."
More importantly, Hicklin contends that Mehlman, and people like him, are necessary to advance marriage equality nationwide.
"He is a savvy political operator, and we need people with his experience and influence to help our fight," Hicklin said. "I expected his inclusion to elicit some protests, but ultimately it’s up to readers themselves to decide how they feel about his record. The media’s role is to provoke conversation, and in this we clearly succeeded."
What do you think? Should Mehlman be honored for his fight for marriage equality? Respond in the comments below.