On Monday morning, Rep. Mike Michaud (D-Maine) addressed rumors that he is gay with a simple, straightforward message: "Yes, I am. But why should it matter?"
It shouldn't. But it's making headlines because Michaud has an early lead over incumbent Gov. Paul LePage (R) in the 2014 gubernatorial race, and if he wins, he will become the first openly gay person in U.S. history to win a gubernatorial election. But he will not be America's first gay governor. Former New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey (D) came out during his resignation in 2004.
Michaud says he came out because he was tired of the "whisper campaigns, insinuations, and push-polls some of the people opposed to my candidacy have been using to raise questions about my personal life." He adds:
Growing up in a large Franco-American Catholic family, it's never been in my nature to talk about myself. I write this now merely to let my opponents and the outside interests who fund them know that I am not ashamed of who I am. And if seeing someone from my background, in my position, openly acknowledge the fact that he's gay makes it a little bit easier for future generations to live their lives openly and without fear, all the better. [Bangor Daily News]
Michaud's announcement is being praised by the LGBT community, especially the six other gay members of the House:
— Jared Polis (@jaredpolis) November 4, 2013
Winning a House race as a gay candidate is hard enough, but winning a statewide race in which you can't rely solely on dense, liberal pockets of voters, is even more difficult. Only one other candidate has done it: Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), who in 2012 became the first openly gay candidate to be elected to the Senate.
Of course, Michaud hasn't won yet. Polls show him with a modest lead of three to six points over LePage, and that was before today's announcement. There are signs, however, that Michaud's announcement could be a boon for his campaign. Voters in Maine approved same-sex marriage in 2012, and, as Maine political columnist Mike Tipping noted, Michaud's announcement will "make him a symbol for supporters of equal rights for LGBT people across the country (whether he likes it or not) and will likely dramatically increase his fundraising potential." The flip side of that, of course, is that Michaud's candidacy could rally social conservatives to back LePage.
If Michaud does win, it would likely help bolster the growing sense that gay candidates can win beyond urban congressional districts centered around places like Boulder, which Polis represents, or Providence, R.I., home to another gay congressman, David Cicilline (D).
But while Maine has increasingly voted Democratic over the past few elections, it's no California or New York. It would be no small accomplishment for Michaud to win there.
On a national level, polls show Americans are increasingly okay with the prospect of having a gay president.
Yes, that means roughly one third of America still wouldn't vote for a candidate who was openly gay. The trend, however, is clear: Americans are more willing to accept LGBT politicians now than they ever have been before. Michaud is betting that those changing attitudes will send him to the governor's mansion in Maine. Other potential Senate and gubernatorial candidates in the LGBT community will be watching closely.