In 2007, U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud co-sponsored the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA, which would have made it illegal to discriminate in employment against people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Unfortunately, Congress later removed the protections for transgender people. Because of that, EqualityMaine joined with more than 300 LGBT and civil rights groups to oppose that noninclusive version of ENDA.
Michaud stood with EqualityMaine and with all of Maine’s LGBT community despite pressure to advance this incomplete bill. He said at the time, “I oppose all types of employment discrimination,” but that he simply “couldn’t support a bill that doesn’t live up to the nondiscrimination protections of our state.”
It was because of this kind of principled and heartfelt support that EqualityMaine enthusiastically endorsed Michaud for re-election in 2008.
Michaud’s stand in 2007 was by no means his first, nor would it be his last, on behalf of the LGBT community. He has been a strong ally, fighting for equality for nearly 15 years. He not only opposed federal marriage amendments in 2004 and 2006, he actively worked to persuade his colleagues to do the same. And his has been an influential voice in efforts to end discrimination in our armed forces and to repeal the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA.
Of course, as with anyone with such a significant record of public service, there have been times — in the distant past — when Michaud wasn’t with us. Prior to his support for Maine’s nondiscrimination law in 2000, Michaud had opposed this bill in previous sessions.
In the endorsement process this year, in which EqualityMaine chose to back Michaud for governor, Michaud talked about serving in the Legislature with Dale McCormick, the state’s first openly LGBT legislator, and the times he’d fallen short of 100 percent support for our community.
He wrote in a letter to the EqualityMaine board: “I know that there were some votes I took in the earlier part of my career in the state Legislature that hurt people like Dale and my fellow LGBT Mainers. It’s one of the reasons I’ve fought so hard for equality throughout my time in Congress and why I will continue to do so as governor.”
And that’s exactly what Michaud has done. Since 1999, he has stood with our community, voted with our community and been there to ask others to do the same.
Michaud did all of this before coming out last fall. With the people of Maine and the national media watching, he did something most of us get to do in private and one-on-one settings.
As anyone who has navigated the process of coming out — to yourself and others — can tell you: It’s a challenging, emotional and sometimes scary experience. We wonder how our loved ones will react, what our friends might say, if people at work or in our community will treat us any differently. And all of these challenges exist without the added scrutiny of television cameras and people actively working to tarnish your reputation as part of a heated campaign.
Although I have always known Mainers to be fair and caring, I took special heart in the overwhelmingly positive reaction to Michaud’s courageous decision to share his story in such a public way.
Michaud didn’t need to come out to prove himself as an advocate for the LGBT community. One of the cornerstones of our movement has been the inclusion of steadfast straight allies who have stood with our community.
The congressman had already proven himself as a reliable and vocal supporter of the needs of the LGBT community in Maine and elsewhere; he has been standing with our community for nearly 15 years.
What he did when he came out, though, was much different — and maybe more important — than the votes he’d taken and the words he’d spoken in support of us.
What Michaud did when he came out was set another example and break down another barrier. He sent a message to everyone — to young LGBT Mainers from Fort Kent to Kittery — that anyone, anywhere can be gay and be proud.
Michaud showed us that rather than a political liability, as some had insinuated, who you love doesn’t affect your ability to legislate or lead or to be a Mainer we can all look up to. Throughout his career in Congress and in the Legislature, Mike has brought people together — Republicans, Democrats and independents, people from around the country and around our state.
This is the leadership we need in Augusta, these are the skills we need in our next governor and this is why we feel strongly that Michaud is the best candidate for the job.
We couldn’t be prouder to support him and to have his support, and we look forward to talking with our members, and with all Mainers, about why Mike Michaud is the best person to lead our state.
Jane Clayton is the president of the board of directors at EqualityMaine.