November 6, 2013

Bill Nemitz: Revelation for Michaud, evolution for Maine

The candidate’s coming-out wasn’t a big deal for many, showing how much views have changed since that famous ‘Seinfeld’ episode.

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U.S. Representative Mike Michaud more 3 4 5..

Tim Greenway/Staff Photographer

“The root of it is, are you comfortable coming out to anyone?” said McTighe in an interview Monday. “You first have to get to the point where you’re comfortable saying that.”

Michaud, noting that his decision to come out was prompted largely by a “whispering campaign” and reports of a push poll that presaged a rough road ahead, is clearly a new arrival to that comfort zone. Indeed, even in making what must be the most difficult revelation of his life, he emphasizes repeatedly that being gay doesn’t change the fact that “I’m still Mike.”

And Mike he must now stay as opponents LePage and independent Eliot Cutler tiptoe around Michaud’s pre-emptive pronouncement without so much as a sideways glance. As Cutler put it in a brief interview Monday, “This is a 48-hour story. ... I think this election is going to be about Maine’s future.”

Let’s hope so. The last thing this already rollicking gubernatorial campaign needs is a distraction that, as Cutler aptly noted, “has nothing whatsoever to do with whether (Michaud) is qualified to be governor.”

Still, in a state where acceptance of gays and lesbians has risen in lockstep with exposure to that once-closeted gay neighbor, Michaud has become Maine’s (and, in particular, northern Maine’s) quintessential gay neighbor. A major step forward, to be sure, but a challenge nonetheless.

From here on, Michaud finds himself walking a tightrope between the gubernatorial candidate who happens to be gay and The Gay Gubernatorial Candidate. Lean too far – or, more likely, get pulled too far – toward the latter and Mike the longtime mill worker risks becoming Mike the adopted figurehead of the national gay-rights movement.

McTighe puts the chances of that happening somewhere between nil and you’ve got to be kidding.

“I can tell you right now – and I’ve known him for awhile – you’d have a hard time turning Mike into anything other than who he is,” said McTighe. “He’s going to be exactly the same – no matter what.”

Which, when it’s all said and done, is the bigger point behind this whole kerfuffle: It’s not Mike Michaud who has changed – he was as gay 20 years ago as he is now. Rather, it’s Maine that has changed, from a state where closet doors were best kept shut to a community that abounds in gay neighbors and is proud of it.

Tuesday morning, just out of curiosity, I called McTighe with an odd question: Does Michaud remember that “Seinfeld” episode all those years ago? And if so, as a closeted gay man, how did he react to it?

“It just didn’t really show up on his radar screen,” McTighe reported back a few hours later. “I don’t think he’s ever seen an episode of ‘Seinfeld.’ ”

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at:

Twitter: @billnemitz

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