In Defense of Ken Mehlman: Former GOP Chair Is No Roy Cohn

I'm no apologist for Ken Mehlman, who headed the Republic National Committee during George W. Bush's presidency and was the architect of much of the anti-gay rhetoric and policies during that time. But Mehlman, who's only been out for less than 24 hours at the time of this writing, is being viciously tarred by bloggers from the left and the right. One of them, Joe Jervis (Joe.My.God.), has even bestowed the Roy Cohn Award to Mehlman for his "horridly homophobic" actions. Jervis goes on to argue that "if you live in any of the 21 states [where civil unions and same-sex marriage are unconstitutional] ..., you can credit your second class citizenship ... to fellow homosexual Ken Mehlman."

No matter how anti-gay Mehlman's previous positions have been -- and there's no argument here about the veracity of that record nor how much he was rightfully despised by the LGBT community -- the former GOP chair must be acknowledged for finally coming out. Unlike, Roy Cohn [the closeted McCarthyite who never in his lifetime spoke openly about his homosexuality], the 43-year old Mehlman found the courage to be honest about his identity with "family, friends, former colleagues and current colleagues [who have] been wonderful and supportive."

It's hardly ever easy for any of us to take those steps, especially because of the contributions of people like Mehlman to the anti-gay chorus of the previous decade. But Mehlman had to know that his coming out would be front page news and fuel the cable news cycle for what I'm sure will be days. To say that his coming out is harder than most is not true, but it certainly is more public and he is certainly being more vilified than any other gay person who has come out in recent times.

What disturbs me most thought is the rage being unleashed by some members of the LGBT community against him. One blogger called him "a piece of human garbage." Another says he is "so digging [the] rage over this vile POS. Keep it up!" he implores. For a community that well knows the power and danger of hate and its connection to violence, how can we condone this kind of "discourse"? We can't. We don't need to support him. We don't need to forgive him. But we do need to have some empathy and understanding of the closet he has just left. It's a closet every LGBT person knows all too well.

Steven Petrow is a former president of the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association.