Like King and Clinton, Michaud never looked back on equality

After Mike Michaud announced that he was gay, some of us in the media and politics celebrated his courage. There is a reason that in the history of America, no out man has ever been elected governor. It was truly risky to come out in the middle of a campaign, when 13 percent of the people in your district say it will negatively affect their vote and 54 percent voted against marriage equality. Mike’s announcement was a political risk worthy of high praise.

MichaudEven more praiseworthy, while Mike was representing one of the more conservative districts in New England, and still in the closet, he was a quiet hero, racking up one of the best voting records on LGBT issues of any elected official in Maine over the past 15 years. From supporting the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) as a state senator in 2000 when his district strongly opposed it to publicly supporting marriage equality in 2012, again, as his district voted it down, Mike has been a steadfast supporter of LGBT rights since 1999.

Unfortunately, you wouldn’t get this true picture from what many critics have been writing. In a recent column, Al Diamon said “[Michaud] sat silently on the sidelines while real heroes sought to change public attitudes.” Fellow BDN columnist Chris Busby irresponsibly speculated that over the course of Michaud’s political career perhaps he would “nod in silence, attempt to change the subject, or express agreement” when meeting with homophobic bigots. And then, in response to the recent announcement that EqualityMaine (disclosure: I sit on their board) had endorsed Michaud, even Eliot Cutler’s spokesperson, Crystal Canney, joined the misguided attacks. She claimed that EqualityMaine had “abandoned its principles” and “cannot create…a new record for Mike Michaud.”

Create a new record? Sat on the sidelines? Nodded in silence? Nothing could be further from the truth.

Certainly, there is no denying that during the first half of Michaud’s political career, he was on the wrong side of history. From housing and employment discrimination to Maine’s Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), Mike was not where he should have been. Sadly, most weren’t. Even Gov. Angus King, a hero of marriage equality today, in 1997 allowed a bill to become law that codified marriage in Maine as between a man and woman.

But from 1999-2013, every vote Michaud took was pro-LGBT.

Yes, you read that correctly. For the past 15 years, Michaud did not take a single vote against LGBT equality. Every vote was on the right side of equality, and he cosponsored virtually every piece of pro-LGBT legislation submitted.

In his final four years as a state senator, he voted to end employment and housing discrimination and sponsored legislation to provide health care benefits for domestic partners. As a congressman, he voted for and/or cosponsored countless initiatives, including the federal version of ENDA, repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, strengthening hate crime laws, creating tax equity, extending family and medical leave to domestic partners, and voting every time against a constitutional amendment that sought to define marriage as between a man and a woman.

Importantly, Michaud was also one of only seven Democrats to refuse to allow ENDA to become law without protections for the transgender community. This position exemplified why he earned the 2008 endorsement from EqualityMaine and this praise from Betsy Smith (the group’s executive director at the time): “Congressman Michaud has been a powerful voice for equality and for this state since he took office in 2003. Perhaps no vote better exemplified Mike’s integrity than his stand against the non-inclusive federal ENDA in 2007.”

All of the above earned him an average rating of 95.4 percent from the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the leading national civil rights group for LGBT equality.

In short, for the last 15 years, Michaud has a legislative record that has been as good as Barack Obama’s, Hillary Clinton’s, John Kerry’s and almost every other standard bearer we currently celebrate as champions of LGBT causes. And, for me, this consistent 15-year record is clear proof of where he stands today.

Even more convincing is that, while the above elected officials represented constituencies that supported their positions, Mike, from the beginning, came from a district that did not. Two years before Mike first supported Maine’s non-discrimination law, his district voted to repeal it by over 70 percent. His hometown of Medway voted against the measure 83 percent-17 percent. Yet Michaud still did the right thing two years later.

That, my friends, is the definition of courage.

Posted by Ethan Strimling. Note: While Ethan is on the board of EqualityMaine and chairs the committee that makes recommendations on endorsements, nothing here is written as a board member or on behalf of the organization. Scorecards and the vote descriptions described above can be found at these links: 108th Congress, 109th Congress, 110th Congress, 111th Congress, 112th Congress.