Franklin Countys First News

Politics & Other Mistakes: Where were you when I needed you?

Al Diamon

Al Diamon

The Bangor Daily News ran an editorial saying U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, the Democrats’ gubernatorial candidate, is “brave” to announce he’s gay.

He isn’t.

A civil-rights leader told the Bangor paper Michaud could serve as a role model for gay youth. He’ll “change people’s minds,” said Ian Grady of Equality Maine.

I doubt it.

Liberal political commentator Ethan Strimling said Michaud showed “remarkable courage.”

He didn’t.

But here’s who did.

In 1973, while Michaud was still deep in the closet, Steven Bull, John Frank and a few others founded the Wilde-Stein Club at the University of Maine in Orono. The state’s first organization for openly gay people drew threats from politicians to cut the school’s funding and threats from homophobes to do far worse. Unlike today, coming out 40 years ago didn’t elicit much sympathy from the public or the media.

In 1977, Portland state Rep. Larry Connolly introduced the state’s first gay rights bill. It got almost no support. Connolly passed away, but allies like Portland state Rep. Gerald Talbot carried on, until the measure was finally approved in a 2005 referendum. Michaud, first elected to the Maine House in 1980, voted against the bill at least five times, including in 1993, when it passed both chambers, only to be vetoed by Republican Gov. John McKernan. By that time, supporting civil rights wasn’t a tough call for most Democrats and even many moderate members of the GOP. But Michaud remained quietly in opposition.

Others who showed real courage: Frederic Berger became probably the first openly gay candidate for public office in Maine, when he ran for the Portland City Council in the mid-1980s; Barb Wood, the first successful gay candidate, when she won a Portland council seat in 1987; Dale McCormick, the first openly gay person to win a seat in the state Legislature in 1990; and that’s just a few of the politicians. Others, such as author John Preston and AIDS activist Frannie Peabody, dared to force a complacent public to confront the unpleasant realities of discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Meanwhile, Michaud was still silent when voters rejected gay rights bills in 1998 and 2000. As a legislator, he voted to ban same-sex marriage in Maine. He didn’t publicly acknowledge he’d changed his mind on that issue until just before last year’s successful referendum to allow gay men and lesbians to wed, by which time all the heavy lifting had been done.

Like former Republican U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, who endorsed same sex marriage only after she’d departed from office, Michaud stepped up after the war was mostly won. If he’s successful in becoming the first gay man to be elected governor of any state, it won’t be because he was brave. It’ll be because he sat silently on the sidelines for 30 years while real heroes fought to change public attitudes.

As for the honesty thing, check out Michaud’s answer to questions about whether he has or has had a partner. “No,” he told the Bangor Daily News last week after his carefully orchestrated coming out. That doesn’t differ too much from his reply to a question asked by a Portland Press Herald reporter back in 2000 about his social life. “I’m married to politics,” the then-closeted Michaud said. “I really put my heart and soul into it.”

The congressman’s claims that he’s not currently and never has been shacking up with anybody doesn’t pass the straight (oops) face test. In attempting to appear celibate, he seems to be trying to reassure his conservative base in Maine’s 2nd District that whatever his sexual orientation, he doesn’t actually engage in icky activities like gay sex. But unless the 57-year-old politician reveals he long ago pledged to remain a virgin until marriage, this prissiness comes off as residual shame at experiencing the same urges as any other human being.

Nor is Michaud being honest in claiming he had no political motives in making his announcement at this time. “It’s something that never crossed my mind,” he told the Press Herald. “I never judged whether it would be politically advantageous, detrimental, whatever.”

Michaud has been in politics for over three decades. During that time he’s earned a reputation for being cautious – some would say overly cautious – about his every public utterance. His timing was generally impeccable – and that was just when he was assembling his weekly list of church suppers and charity fundraisers he attended to shake hands with his constituents. For something of this magnitude, he would have calculated every factor, including forcing the press to agree not to seek reactions from anyone else until after his unedited op-ed had been published in the state’s two largest daily papers.

Honest? Brave? Those words describe a lot of gay men, lesbians and others who advanced the cause of civil rights. If Michaud appears to be displaying those traits, it’s only because he’s standing on their shoulders.

Courageous comments welcome at aldiamon@herniahill.net.

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28 Responses »

  1. WOW !!
    Newsflash folks,,,Pandering to the Libs got a black man voted as Prez,,,(forget his ability or lack of,,that's why many voted for him,,duh).
    Lets see if this tactic works again for the now gay Michaud..
    Hold your nose now and vote the right (I mean "Left") way...
    Watch em do this folks while calling the other candidates,,,unsensitive !!!
    You get what you get...remember that (I know you wont0.

  2. You mean the John McCain-Sarah Palin ticket was really the "better choice" in 2008?
    Mitt Romney-Paul Ryan in 2012? You're kidding, right?

    Guess they didn't "pander" enough....

  3. Thank you , Al, what an enlightening article!

  4. Would Mike Michaud be a viable candidate for governor now, if he had stood up for these issues sooner?
    Hard to say. We can praise those who stood up for a cause but were felled in the battle for it. Doesn't mean they were effective in the fight.
    A politician's purpose is to either maintain the status quo or to try and effect change.
    They can't do either very well if they are not elected, or if they get voted out.
    LePage had some good ideas. He has not been an astute politician. He has been ineffective at implementing his ideas. I don't think Elliot Cutler is an astute politician either. I very much doubt that he lead effectively. He has no political base.
    We don't need a radical governor; liberal, conservative or independent, that rants and raves and ultimately doesn't effect change. We need an astute politician who can man the helm and lead us on a steady course towards a better future.
    of the three candidates, I think Michaud is best able to do that.

  5. I have no issue with Michaud's sexuality but the timing of his admission concerns me. I don't believe he created an alternate lifestyle for the public eye to attempt to gain favoritism in light of recent events but unfortunately he has until now. If he could lie about his sexuality for political gain, what else will he lie about to further his career?

  6. Great take on this subject, Al. Doing what is politically expedient works, sadly. But this is exactly why we have such a hard time trusting our politicians. They rarely speak the truth.

  7. As someone who has never come out himself, maybe Al should have done a little homework before spouting off:http://www.pressherald.com/news/Taking_the_personal_public__Coming_out__Hard_at_middle_or_any_age_.html

  8. I too was thinking about his "courage" when he came out. Thank you for sharing his voting record as it confirms my suspicions that Michaud has no spine. And its not just equal rights he's waffling on. He takes money from the NRA and votes against even common sense improvements to gun control that most people support and he has been back and forth on choice so as to resemble a tennis ball. This is not a GREAT man who STANDS for THINGS. He's known for his work helping veterans, and that's good. But I think most people have no problem giving veterans anything. But you realize he can't be FIGHTING all that hard for veterans when on Veterans' Day, yesterday, you hear about how veterans are losing food assistance dollars due to recent cuts in SNAP. Or how more veterans of the Iraq war have committed suicide than died in combat. I mean, c'mon.
    BTW, did you know Eliot Cutler's father was on the Board at UMaine when the whole Wilde-Stein affair happened?

  9. Like E M E said,,
    Obama Won in '08 and '12 due to his "pandering",,,(ie "telling spoofer tales")..
    Exactly Right (he did do much more of this than the losers).

    Obamas legacy is water under the bridge now,,he's proven to be an excellent spoofer teller..
    The Libs are more than OK with this...(they're still working on their stragedy to keep blaming everything on Bush,,,lol)..

    They would rather hear Sweet Little Lies delicately delivered so as not to offend,,,,,,them.
    Straight talk annoys and confuses them...
    OMG,,,we cant have that.

  10. Great article - Well Done

  11. We need an astute politician who can man the helm and lead us on a steady course towards a better future.

    Michaud certainly is an astute politician. He's been in DC long enough collect a bunch of astuteness from his bosses. In the interest of gender neutrality, we also must ask: Can Mike woman the helm? Whatever, he puts us on a steady course toward .. what? Better than now? In what way? This one-line description of Michaud is as wishy-washy as "hope and change".

    Just to complete the nautical metaphor ... Maybe Mike's campaign song should be the Village People's "In the Navy!"

  12. Well, first thanks for the shout out to John Frank and myself. I won't give Michaud a total pass here. The voting record is horrific. At the same time I deeply understand the nature of gay oppression and know that folks come out when they are ready if they are not "outed" by some other source. There are still bastions of repression where even today, coming out is a courageous act. An active NFL player comes to mind. My hand was forced in November, 1973 when I was about to go on TV to be interviewed about the newly formed Wilde-Stein Club. I was very fortunate to have friends and family that supported me. I also had this core of committed activists around me, so I never felt alone. Politicians are no strangers to pandering to the lowest common denominator of their constituents. Louis Jalbert was one of our most reactionary opponents in 1973-74, representing a heavily Catholic working-class district in Lewiston. I recognize that Michaud comes from a similar background. I do applaud him for taking this belated stand nonetheless and hope to tell him so in person. This is a very timely and insightful article that you have written. While we have come a long way, there is no lack of anti-gay bigotry in the world. Steve Bull

  13. I guess we know how Frost Proof truly feels about gay rights. I hope he doesn't have any family members that are gay, although statistically he probably does.

    Throughout history, some of the most revered leaders have practiced deception. FDR did a good job of masking his inability to walk. Woodrow Wilson was stricken by a stroke and hid it from the citizens.

    Ronald Reagan, who is now so revered by the Republican party, did undeniably do a very underhanded, if not downright illegal act with the Iran-Contra deal.

    If I was to mention scandalous behavior, we all know there has been a lot of that, from conservatives as well as liberals.

    I wish there was another candidate for the governorship of Maine, someone upstanding, shining with wisdom, a leader, a person we all admired, a charismatic speaker who could motivate the legislature and the populace with lofty idealism that would move Maine towards a bright, prosperous future, a better life for all, reducing the debt, reducing taxes, reducing crime, reducing poverty, reducing welfare, improving the roads, cleaning the air and water, labeling GMO food, yet reducing government controls, protecting the citizens without interfering into their lives, letting everyone have a concealed weapon, yet eliminating any need for one....

    any ideas who that person might be?

  14. It's really easy to sit on the side lines and decide what other people should do in a conflict that doesn't concern you. Personally, I've known Mike Michaud for over a decade and I never felt his private life was any of my business or anyone else's business either. Now that he has chosen to announce his private orientation, I salute him as courageous and look forward to getting back to the important issues in this very important race.

  15. NO ONe has had anything negative to say about the candidate based on his preference,,,
    But his supporters keep bringing it up so they can call him a hero...over and over again...
    If it does not matter,,,why keep bringing it up?
    Tony kills 2 birds with one stone there,,,clever.

    (Did you guys actually read Al's article about his "voting record")???
    THAT'S WHAT MATTERS!!

    No One cares about the other thing,,,
    Get over that already and see if you can support him on his record.
    Can you? or do you even care about that?

    And Snowman...the person you describe does exist.
    His name is Paul Lepage.

  16. There is one and only reason Michaud came out now - because he thinks it will help him in the governor's race.

    He believes he will peel off from Cutler those on the left who otherwise might side with Cutler.

    His impeccably-timed, self-outing represents the height of cynicism.

  17. Ok Toni,,Snowman,,the Michaud supporters
    You wanna move on to the issues,,,then why dont you?

    YOU GUYS are the ones focusing on his "announcement"..

    After reading Al's article,,I guess it's easy to understand why you might want to stay away from his voting record..
    Sorry Toni but I would say his voting record "IS" an important issue (not the other thing..).

    You wanna get to the "real issues"??
    Lets Do.(Yes,,,that means YOU).

  18. Well Mr. Diamond, really easy for a straight man to say all the things you spewed above, BUT THAT'S RIGHT..... You never had to come out did you? So until you go through that pain, you have no place to slam anyone else!

  19. Maybe he's establishing his alibi for his upcoming loss! "Ooh, it wasn't ME they rejected, it was that I was GAY!"

  20. Well Mr Pinkham,,,really easy for you to assume things about Mr Diamond,,,based on what?
    The fact that he is older and white?? Because he's married??
    How do you know his sexual preference,,many are married and many are older white and bald...

    So you're saying only gays who have come out are qualified to report an Michauds hypocritical voting record?? Really??
    Well I'm sure there are many "truth seeking" gay men who will take issue with Mr Michaud for the facts that Mr Diamond brings out in his article.. (oh wait,,unless Al is openly gay he cant report on this,,,right?? UGH.)

    Dont let the facts get in your way here but,
    Gays do not have the market on having people not agree with them or having people say mean things about them or,,,,,,,anything else for that matter...
    There is a lot of "pain" in this world for a lot of different folks for a lot of different very unfair and ignorant reasons.
    I understand you think your gay pain is special and deserves special consideration.
    It's not and it doesn't.

    Liberty and Justice for All.

  21. I did not address, endorse, criticise, extol nor condemn Mr. Michaud in regard to his sexuality. Those who think I did have misread my remarks.
    The point I have been trying to make is that I believe he is the best of the three current candidates for governor.
    I like some of the stated policy positions of Mr. LePage. But he has been an infective governor and I find the man offensive. An elected official should not speak of the president as he has. In my opinion, it shows a disrespect for the very people of the country, the people who voted for the president. I feel that same way regardless of who the president is, what his party is or what he has or has not done.
    All Lepage has done is veto. He has not brought about any positive change. Our state lags behind. It did when he took office and it continues to. Nothing he has done has changed that. We have been forced to raise the sales tax to pay for his ineptitude.

    I do not think Elliot Cutler can win the governorship in a three way race, a vote for Cutler will be a vote for LePage.
    I do not believe Elliot Cutler would be an effective governor. He is an intelligent man with some good ideas and insights but that does not mean he can be an effective leader.
    The same was true of President Carter. I hold Carter in the highest regard, but his presidency was not one of the best.
    Of the three candidates, I believe Mike Michaud can do the best job. I am not completely happy with his voting record. If there was a better candidate, I wouldn't vote for him.
    BUT, there isn't. Politics is pragmatism. Something the far right should learn.

  22. Being a straight guy, I don't see how I can judge Mike or you, Mr. Diamond. I questioned my mother once about race issues and realized that the way she grew up in a small town in Georgia was beyond my understanding and beyond my questioning and judging. Some of us grow at different rates at different times in different ways. Some of us don't at all. I'll vote for Michaud.

  23. "I LIKE PAUL"

  24. snowman: I guess we know how Frost Proof truly feels about gay rights.

    I didn't say a word about gay rights, but I know there is no right, gay or otherwise, to exempt one from criticism, or even some small mockery, of the one and only issue that someone has raised. If Michaud's sexual orientation becomes a campaign issue, it will be because he and his supporters make it one.

    But I'm not surprised at all by this response. If I criticize or poke fun at Obama's political issues, it's guaranteed someone will jump in with: I guess we know how Frostproof truly feels about blacks.

  25. If a Marian read thru these comments
    and had no other knowledge of the subject matter
    Might they conclude that gay supporters are looking for a fight where one does not exist?

  26. A vote for Cutler is a vote for Le Page. Try sleeping on that one for 4 more years.

  27. Al,

    A provocative column, as usual. I think it's important to remember that Mike's a Franco-American Catholic from a conservative part of Maine. From my many gay friends, I know that the decision to come out, especially to family, is a very difficult and personal decision, especially for someone of his background. Given his now-revealed sexual orientation, I am sure that each and every vote against gay rights was agonizing for him. He had his reasons and I say, let's give the guy a break...

  28. Ok Anne,,,
    If we give him a break like you say,,,
    You willing to also give Lepage a break??
    How 'bout Bush??

    I'm sorry but what you are asking is a special right for him to NOT be accountable for his voting record..
    That's not fair.

    He's a big boy.
    He knows the game,,,,,,,,,,,,,very well.
    I'm going to vote the issues not some agenda.

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