Akron--“[You] have asked a question people shouldn’t have to answer,” said Republican National Committee chair Ken Mehlman to a reporter asking if he is gay.
Mehlman was interviewed after he spoke to the Summit County Republican Party’s annual Lincoln Day dinner March 19 at Quaker Station.
“I’m here to say thank you,” Mehlman told the gathering, “because Summit County increased its votes for George W. Bush from 2000 to 2004 more than any other county.”
Mehlman managed the Bush-Cheney 2004 campaign and, according to the campaign’s Ohio co-chair, Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, directed Ohio anti-gay activists to mount the campaign to put the Issue 1 marriage ban amendment on the ballot.
Internet bloggers have pointed out that if Mehlman, 38, unmarried and never with female companionship, is gay, he is a hypocrite.
Activist and blogger John Arovosis says Mehlman should be outed if he is gay because “Mehlman has already said publicly that the gay issue is fair game for politics. If it is fair game, then the same rules apply to him.”
Arovosis opines that in addition to Mehlman defending George W. Bush’s anti-gay policies, “the Republican National Committee makes no bones about using gaybashing to help Republican candidates.”
“The GOP has made it perfectly clear that gays and lesbians and their relationships are a threat to the fabric of American society. As American citizens and voters, we have the right to know if Ken Mehlman’s so-far-undisclosed relationships are posing such a threat or not,” wrote Arovosis.
As RNC chair, Mehlman organized a campaign to discredit Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada. Among the reasons he said Reid is unfit to hold the position is the senator’s longstanding positive relationship with the Human Rights Campaign and his 100 percent LGBT voting record. Also included was Reid’s opposition to a federal constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.
Doesn’t think amendment is anti-gay
During his Akron remarks, Mehlman put forth political and policy statements often viewed as anti-gay.
“Republicans are for government that stands on the side of marriage,” he said, “and on the side of strong families.”
After the dinner, he was asked by a reporter about the GOP’s support for the so-called Marriage Protection Amendment, introduced in the House last week by Rep. Dan Lundgren of California.
Mehlman made it clear that he supports the amendment.
“I don’t think it’s anti-gay,” said Mehlman. “I don’t think the intent is to be anti-anything.”
Mehlman also promoted the “culture of life,” which is seen as code for anti-choice, anti-sex and reproductive privacy laws.
“We have to appoint strict constructionists to the bench who know the difference between their job and [that of] legislators,” said Mehlman.
“Strict constructionists” generally hold to the literal meaning of the Constitution at the time of its writing. They are not likely to rule favorably on the side of plaintiffs who bring civil rights actions.
Mehlman told the party faithful that the way to achieve a “durable Republican majority” at all levels of government is “to make GOP stand for Grow Our Party.”
To do so, Mehlman said, “We must get more African-Americans and Latinos.” Both groups have significant elements of social conservatism opposed to LGBT equality on religious grounds.
“If you believe in government that respects your faith and your values, then our party is your party,” Mehlman said.
Asked if growing the GOP means embracing LGBT equality and including gays and lesbians, Mehlman avoided the question again, saying, “The Republican Party is based on ideas. Anyone who shares those ideas is welcome.”
Mehlman added that his sexual orientation, whatever it is, “changes nothing” as to how the party will operate under his leadership.
Steve Schmidt, a senior official of the Bush campaign, is the only person near Mehlman to answer a question about his sexuality.
“Ken Mehlman is not gay,” he flatly told reporter Jake Tapper for a story in this month’s GQ.
Local party chair was outed
The dinner’s sponsor, the Summit County Republican Party, is headed by Alex R. Arshinkoff, who was outed by the Cleveland weekly Scene in June, 2003.
The paper reported accounts of Arshinkoff’s presence at Cleveland area gay bars, including the Leather Stallion and the Grid.
Arshinkoff’s vanity license plate ARA‑1 has been seen in Akron gay bar parking lots and cruising areas for years.
According to a December 27, 2002 Akron police report, Arshinkoff picked up a 21-year-old male Kent State student who was stranded and needed to get home.
The report says Arshinkoff asked the student if he was gay or bi, then began rubbing his thigh and grabbing his crotch, asking the young man if he wanted to make some money.
An officer saw the student jump out of the car, but let Arshinkoff go and police never investigated further.
A second incident concerned a sexual harassment complaint reported to a deputy clerk of the Summit County Board of Elections by a former Municipal Court employee, also male. No charges were filed.
Arshinkoff, in addition to recruiting and promoting anti-gay candidates, some of them also believed to be closeted gays, authorized a letter to be sent on behalf of the Summit County Republican Party thanking voters who signed petitions to put Issue 1 on the ballot.
“We need voters like you,” the letter said.
Jim King, the owner of Angel Falls, a mostly gay coffee shop in Akron’s Highland Square neighborhood, said he sent a letter to Arshinkoff, who used to come in the store twice a day, asking if it was true that the party paid for that letter.
“I just wanted to know the truth,” said King, “and I never heard from him again.”
Arshnikoff, who is married, has never publicly come out.
Another county GOP chair, Franklin County’s Doug Preisse, came out quietly last year in a September 12 Columbus Dispatch story on the city's openly lesbian councilmember Mary Jo Hudson.
‘He almost said it’
Four members of the Cleveland Log Cabin Republican group attended the dinner to hear Mehlman.
“He almost said it,” said Parker Bosley, in reference to what he wished would have been Mehlman’s full embrace of LGBT Republicans.
“I think it was because he said reach out to everyone,” said Bosley. “But not including gays is not a reason not to join.”
Bosley said conservative gays and lesbians who don’t want to be “the lap dog of Democrats” can contribute to the Republican Party “just like black people.”
Fred Bachhuber said he expected not to hear a GLBT welcome from Mehlman.
“He just can’t do it yet,” said Bachhuber, “but as long as he’s sleeping with men behind the scenes, that’s all I care about.”
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