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The Rise of Anti-gay Beltway Power Broker Cleta Mitchell – for Her, It’s Personal

There’s a great piece up at The Atlantic by Jonathan Krohn that profiles Cleta Mitchell, who was the primary force behind GOProud’s exclusion from CPAC last year (and was embarrassed this year when her anti-gay panel featuring NOM’s Brian Brown was sparsely attended, while GOProud’s Jimmy LaSalvia was on a standing-room only panel).

She’s a partner in the powerful firm of Foley & Lardner and has among her client base of DC social conservatives Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC). Mitchell was referred to by the Wall Street Journal as “the consigliere” when it comes to campaign finance law, embraced by virtually all of the teahadist candidates.

While mainstream conservatives are starting to realize the folly of continuing the anti-gay drumbeat, Cleta, was once was a liberal Dem:

When Mitchell first dove into hot-button social issues, it wasn’t as a defender of traditional values. She was a driving force behind the passage of Oklahoma’s Equal Rights Amendment. The Oklahoma incarnation of the amendment was supported by then-president of the National Organization for Women Eleanor Smeal, who came to the state house in person to support the amendment. Conservative luminary Phyllis Schlafly, who helped kill the national version of the amendment, backed the opposition. These days, Schlafly is a mainstay of CPAC…Even amidst all this social activism, according to a lawyer who is a close friend of Mitchell’s and fought for the ERA with her, Mitchell “never talked” to her about gay issues while she was in the legislature. And yet it was work to keep gay-rights groups out of events like CPAC has come to define her public image — though Mitchell says “no one cares” about this aspect of her career — rather than any of her prior social activism.

Now Mitchell belongs to the wing of hypocrites in the the conservative movement that love the tortured, closeted homosexual. And there is a personal reason. Krohn, who links to my Blend piece about Mitchell from 2011, cites the fact that she was married to a closeted man who left her (and who later led an openly gay life). Krohn:

Mitchell married Duane Draper, who she met in the city of Norman in her home state of Oklahoma. In 1980, Draper moved to Massachusetts to take a teaching fellowship at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. The couple divorced two years later in July 1982 on grounds of “incompatibility.” (Mitchell’s friend from the Oklahoma legislature, after hesitating, said she didn’t feel comfortable discussing whether Draper’s sexuality was a reason for the divorce.)

In 1988, Draper became director of the Massachusetts AIDS policy office. His interest wasn’t just academic or humanitarian — he himself contracted the disease. By the time he died of AIDS in 1991, Draper was living as an openly gay man. From his hospital bed, he told the Boston Globe that his support for AIDS victims and gay rights were two elements of a single mission to make life easier for “all AIDS people, especially gay men uncertain of how families, friends, and co-workers will take [their diagnosis].”

…As powerful as she is, Mitchell is wary of the press. When I first approached her to request an interview, she repeatedly speculated that I would write a “hit piece,” and only agreed to speak on the condition there would only be one GOProud-related question. When I asked her in an email about a blogpost linking Draper’s sexuality to the couple’s divorce, she clammed up. “I think I’m finished talking about this with you — it is a hit piece as I suspected from the start,” she said. “Swing away! [emphasis added]”

Touchy, isn’t she? I’d call her a tragic figure if she didn’t have so much power in her position in D.C. to make life miserable for LGBT people who simply want their civil rights. Women left by closeted men is not a matter to laugh at — families can be left devastated. The solution, however, is not to stigmatize gay men, but rather to remove the pressure from a country steeped in homophobia to be in the closet in the first place, so they don’t marry to try to “escape” their orientation. Every person in that situation is a victim. Cleta Mitchell could have chosen to find a path to resolve these issues without lashing out at the LGBT community. Instead she sought solace with the likes of Phyllis Schlafly, Tony Perkins and other professional anti-LGBT leeches. That was her choice.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding