PORTLAND, Maine — Young gay and lesbian Mainers struggling with self confidence may find Democratic gubernatorial candidate and U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud an inspiration, whether or not he wants to make his sexual orientation a campaign issue, a gay rights advocate said Wednesday.
Michaud — who announced he is gay early Monday morning and would be the country’s first openly gay governor if he is elected next year — told reporters he came out to pre-empt a “whisper campaign” about his sexuality and that it won’t be a central theme of his run for governor.
Michaud is challenging Republican incumbent Gov. Paul LePage and independent Eliot Cutler, among others, in the 2014 gubernatorial race.
“I do not intend to make the governor’s personal life, or the independent’s personal life, a part of the campaign, and hopefully they’ll respect my privacy as well,” Michaud said on MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show” Tuesday night in his first nationally televised interview since Monday’s announcement.
Ian Grady of EqualityMaine, which campaigned for the successful 2012 referendum that legalized same-sex marriage in Maine, acknowledged Wednesday that, whether Michaud likes it or not, he’ll be seen as a torchbearer in the gay rights movement and receive heavy campaign donations from advocates nationwide who want to see a gay man break through and win a governorship.
But Grady said for his organization, the role Michaud’s orientation plays in his campaign is less important than the role it will play more quietly in homes across Maine.
“I think all of that [attraction of campaign money] is possible, but I think what’s more important is that there might be a kid somewhere in Maine who maybe hasn’t come out of the closet, who may be getting bullied at school because of who he is, and who came home Monday night to see on the news that there’s an openly gay man running to become governor of Maine,” Grady said Wednesday at an event to celebrate the one-year anniversary of Maine’s vote to legalize same-sex marriage.
“That’s hard to measure, but it’s important,” he said.
Grady said Michaud’s unassuming background as a mill worker from northern Maine helps break down stereotypes about who gay people are, what they look like and where they can be found in the community.
“The most important thing we can do to change people’s minds is tell our stories and let people get to know us, so when public figures come out, it makes a big difference,” Grady said. “A lot of people might not have known that they knew a gay person, but they’ve known Michaud for a long time.”