A politician comes out
Michael Huffington, after years of struggle, reveals that he's gay--and starts a new life as a gay activist
By John Cloud
Last week former California congressman and almost Senator Michael Huffington announced, via a profile in Esquire magazine, that he is gay. Perhaps making up for lost time, the millionaire ex-husband of conservative political commentator Arianna Huffington appeared within days to become something of a newborn gay activist. He attended an AIDS fund raiser on Dec. 5, dined with gay political consultant and Clinton pal David Mixner on Dec. 10 and continued talks with national gay leaders about what his role in the movement might be.
Writer David Brock--the journalist who discovered Paula Jones--portrayed Huffington in Esquire as a tragic, muddled figure who is no longer even sure whether he's a Democrat or a Republican. But Huffington, 51, who wasn't talking to the press last week, told friends that Brock got it wrong. First of all, Huffington says, he thinks of himself not as gay but as probably bisexual: in other words, his marriage to the former Arianna Stassinopoulos wasn't a total sham. He insists that he was never unfaithful to her, with men or women. And he takes his relatively new Greek Orthodox faith--a footnote in Brock's piece--very seriously. "He has become a man of great spirituality," says a close friend.
Like many lesbians and gays, Huffington found that the journey from the closet was long and difficult, but he's been hinting for some time. Last year he gave openly gay financial guru Andrew Tobias money to help produce Out of the Past, an award-winning documentary on gay history. (Tobias, an old Harvard chum, says he was the first person Huffington told about his sexuality, 26 years ago.) Tobias asked if he could include his friend's name in the film's credits, and Huffington consented. Three months ago, he also gave $140,000 to the University of Southern California for courses on sexual orientation and the media.
Huffington tells friends he came out "for the next generation"--to offer young gays and lesbians an example and give them some hope. In an implicit response to the "ex-gay" movement--a small group with conservative backing that claims people can change their sexuality--Huffington struggled for years to pray away or spend away or marry away his sexuality, but found it all useless.
Arianna isn't talking, except to say that she wishes Huffington well and to point out that she has written that private sex lives shouldn't be fodder for reporters and rival politicians. Brock defends his piece, saying he told Huffington from the outset--the two met four years ago, just after Huffington lost the most expensive U.S. Senate race in history--that their friendship wouldn't stop Brock from writing an honest article. Friends admit that Huffington was naive to think Esquire would print the touchy-feely piece he had hoped for.
What's next for Huffington? After bottling up feelings for years, gay people often come bursting from the closet with a single-minded intensity (think Ellen) that can wear a bit thin. But consider the alternative: an unhappy, dishonest Huffington could have continued to run for major public office. Now that would have been a tragic tale.
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