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Interview with
James McGreevey
former Governor of New Jersey

by Denny Meyer

"~the inherent deception of Don't Ask Don't Tell: you can continue to appear straight and act straight, but once you live or show your truth there are negative consequences. We value appearances over the truth; we value form over substance; we value societal norms over integrity."  - James McGreevey

In person, James McGreevey is gregariously congenial, charming and strikingly genuine.  Going to meet a man who fell from grace, one wonders how he might be; he's not like anything you would expect.  There is no egotism and no shame.  He is a proud gay man, a Gay American -in his words, still glowing from the incredible personal freedom of being newly openly out.  This is a man with nothing left to hide, his deepest secret having been revealed on the evening news around the world.  His absolute joy in being totally honest is what draws you to him; it is what seems to be his way of having risen from the ashes, just being honest.

Gay Military Times: When you gave a speech at Stonewall Democrats NY, recently, there was the sense that you savor being open and totally honest as a gay person; is that accurate?

James McGreevey: Its also trying to live that truth and in living that truth - trying to contribute to making America more tolerant to that truth.  Truthfulness is what Americans espouse; (e.g.) George Washington chopping the cherry tree.  But. unfortunately there is a culture of deception within our political class. Bob Woodward captured this essence in his book (Plan of Attack), which narrates the deception by the administration with regard to the Iraq war trying to create a false linkage to 911.

Another example is the inherent deception of Don't Ask Don't Tell: you can continue to appear straight and act straight, but once you live or show your truth there are negative consequences. We value appearances over the truth; we value form over substance; we value societal norms over integrity.

GMS: At Stonewall, I had asked you how you felt, personally, when Ted Haggard was exposed.  You said, "Very sad."  Could you elaborate on that, in the sense of how it reminded you of how you felt at the time that your own homosexuality was first exposed to the public?

JM: Rev. Haggard's case is so complicated by virtue of his theology and his historic position with regards to gays.  Andrew Sullivan, in The Conservative Soul, thoughtfully narrates how and why fundamentalists take such vitriolic positions against gays.  Fundamentalism, by its nature, does not believe in debate.  Fundamentalism believes in the unerring word of the Bible as the boilerplate to determine all human actions.  So, it's unlike other Christian traditions, which encourage reflection and discernment.  Fundamentalism claims to have every answer to every question. And, therefore, Rev. Haggard has created a false choice for himself: to accept his theology or to accept his sexuality; a horrific and false choice.  From my limited vantage point, it's not God's truth.  See Faith in America which seeks to battle religious faith bigotry. His theology is unfortunately replicated through large swaths of this nation.

GMS: Could you explain how you and Ted Haggard are quite different from each other?  The news media have speculated a great deal about each of you.  While Ted Haggard expresses public shame, perhaps due to his political and religious beliefs, from your speeches, you appear to have been reborn as being dedicated to doing good for gay freedom.

JM: It's also that, over the years, we were able to pass Domestic Partnership in New Jersey; and we also passed the toughest anti-bullying bill in the United States, which includes sexual orientation -to protect LGBT youth,  and to hold school administrators responsible to protect those children in the classroom and school environment.  While I was fearful of being discovered or Outed, I had an inherent sympathy with the gay community from a distance.  

GMS: What are you doing these days?

JM:  I'm working with 'Faith In America,' and volunteering with other worthwhile organizations. I'm focusing on LGBT youth, working professionally with education; and I'm working with Kean University in New Jersey to develop a university campus China.

GMS: Where do you see yourself going?

JM: Doing advocacy with particular focus on LGBT youth so that they make the right decisions and hopefully have more resources available to them than I had.  I would like to see an America where I'm the last to have to choose between one's heart and a career, whether it's in the armed forces, political office, or private employment; the importance is for next generation of LGBT youth to be able to proudly identify their sexuality as being ordinary and accepted and affirmed.

GMS: You had contacted Military Equality Alliance (MEA) asking what you might do for our cause.  What is your interest?

JM: My father served as a drill instructor in the USMC, I'm named after his brother who died in Iwo Jima; and one of my dearest friends served in Iraq and is a decorated soldier who is gay and knows the limitations of continuing to live a false life. 

GMS: The Gay Military Signal is dedicated to the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell.  Could you speak about how you see your own having been in the closet as a prominent politician, compared with ordinary Americans serving their nation, being required by law to hide their homosexuality.

JM: I think its an absurdity.  'Don't Ask Don't Tell' is morally wrong; within the words themselves, it asks gay military personnel to engage in deception; (i.e.) uniform deception, no pun intended.  It's no way to recognize the number of armed services that have begun the process of being gay inclusive.  Its unfortunate, because the United States has always led the world in human rights and civil liberties; it is taking a distant back step.

GMS:  From your own experiences, could you describe how you see ordinary American service members being able to function as openly out gay people?

JM:  The importance is of living our truth and not perpetuating this false warped reality.  Life ought to be that much more simple and honest and transparent, being who we are, simply. I think this is critically important because the contribution of gay people in our armed forces has been exemplary. Its not only changing the law, which is important for America, for the best and brightest to be able to serve, for America and for the culture there is a higher standard for the military; and 'Don't Ask Don't Tell' says gays are less than or not as good as others.  It's an implicit value statement which needs to be redressed.

SoulForce and their Executive Director Jeff Lutes, and Jake Reitan, have been a phenomenally constructive force on this issue by having young gay people apply and work through the admissions process and then unfortunately be rejected due to their sexuality.  SoulForce has brought a youthful energy and activism to the issue, and has added an effective element to the pubic policy debate by demonstrating the stupidity of the policy.  In addition to all the veterans who have been so outspoken, David Mixner has helped thousands in a humane and loving way.

GMS: What current public policy issues would you like to talk about?

JM:  Federal anti-bullying legislation is so very critical.  GLSN and HRC have shown great leadership on this issue, to protect children and LGBT youth throughout the country.  The entire country does not look like New Jersey or California.  Why is youth so important to me? It goes to my heart, my feeling, that so many gay youth across America suffer the pain of loneliness and ostracism.  I still feel all that as if it were yesterday (from my own experience as a youth).  Anti-bullying legislation is important, also, as it relates to gay teen suicide, which has a rate three times higher than that of straight teens.

I'm also still focusing on education for children, early literacy, and childhood hunger; fourteen million American children go to bed hungry; most of those children living in poverty are under the age of five.

GMS:  How can you now best represent the gay community in the democratic political process?  How can you best help to improve the process in the sense of selection of candidates, particularly those who are gay?

JM:  I think that great organizations, such as the Victory Fund, have a tremendous record of supporting gay candidates, as do grass roots activists. I think 'Faith In America', fosters the notion that being gay is intrinsic and it is letting straight Americans know that.

GMS: Now that you love having your life back, as you have put it, do you see any future time running for office again, now with what you have to offer as an openly gay man?

JM: I'm not running for office.  Advocacy is cleaner and more natural for me.  Having served in elective office was a privilege.  Now, I want to be closer to earth and issues as an advocate.

James McGreevey is the author of The Confession, published by Harper Collins.