What's Changed Since N.J. Gov. Jim McGreevey's 'Gay American' Speech 10 Years Ago

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Gov. Jim McGreevey, By David Shankbone (David Shankbone) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

(Speech in verbatim at the bottom of this story.) Ten years after he announced that he was a "gay American" and would resign from office after a scandal-plagued stint as New Jersey governor, Jim McGreevey is back in government, this time mostly as an evangelist for prison reform.

Greg Kabel

McGreevey, now 57, runs transitional programs for those getting out of prison and returning to Jersey City, where the mayor sees him as a policy and political adviser.

"This is the ideal intersection of faith and service and government policy," McGreevey said in an Associated Press interview this month.

His speech on Aug. 12, 2004, is "in the rearview mirror," he said, and he does not see himself as a gay rights trailblazer, though he remains the only person to have served as a governor while openly gay. But he and other observers look back on his speech, and his life until then, as a cautionary tale.

"I think Jim was part of a generation that thought it had to hide who they were in order to be successful in politics. I'm part of a generation that believes I have to be honest in who I am to be successful in politics," said U.S. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, a Democrat from New York who in June married his partner of 22 years. "I think his resignation reinforced for a lot of us the need to be honest about who we are."

Coming out amid scandal

When McGreevey officially left office three months after becoming the nation's first — and so far only — openly gay governor, Massachusetts had just become the first state to recognize same-sex marriage. Now, 19 states, including New Jersey, do.

When McGreevey announced he was gay, there were just a handful of openly lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender elected officials in the county. Now there are about 500 by the count of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund. In Maine, openly gay U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud is the nominated Democrat for governor.

While McGreevey's resignation speech is remembered mostly for his coming out — delivered with his wife at his side and including the line, "My truth is that I am a gay American," with undertones of defiance and patriotism — the situation was more complicated than that.

There was upset over McGreevey's attempt to appoint Golan Cipel — with whom McGreevey would later say he had an affair — to be his top homeland security adviser despite having few qualifications and being unable to get federal security clearances. And within weeks after McGreevey's announcement, two of his campaign donors pleaded to corruption charges and later served time in prison.

He told the AP this month that resigning was the right decision for his family and New Jersey.

Finding his path

After he left office, he studied to become an Episcopalian priest and mostly tried to stay out of public view, though he did write a memoir and promote it with an appearance on "The Oprah Winfrey Show." His ex-wife, Dina Matos McGreevey, also wrote a book and appeared on "Oprah."

In recent years, McGreevey has been promoting changes to the prison system, an issue that became of interest when he was sent to work in a prison while in seminary school. He wants inmates to have access to drug rehabilitation and job training programs so they can reinvent themselves as they return to society.

His prison work was the subject last year of a documentary shown on HBO and made by Alexandra Pelosi, the daughter of former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

He is now the executive director of the Jersey City Employment and Training Program, overseeing job training and prisoner re-entry programs in the state's second-largest city. His salary, which is paid by the city and reimbursed through his program, is $110,000. Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop said he sometimes relies on McGreevey for political advice.

And McGreevey, who has two daughters, said his life is now an honest one, though he says he now wants to keep details of his private life and the status of his relationship with partner Mark O'Donnell private.

"I can only wish that I had found this path more directly," he said.

SPEECH IN VERBATIM:

Former New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey's resignation speech in its entirety, delivered Aug. 12, 2004:

Throughout my life, I have grappled with my own identity, who I am. As a young child, I often felt ambivalent about myself, in fact, confused.

By virtue of my traditions, and my community, I worked hard to ensure that I was accepted as part of the traditional family of America. I married my first wife, Kari, out of respect and love. And together, we have a wonderful, extraordinary daughter. Kari then chose to return to British Columbia.

I then had the blessing of marrying Dina, whose love and joy for life has been an incredible source of strength for me. And together, we have the most beautiful daughter.

Yet, from my early days in school, until the present day, I acknowledged some feelings, a certain sense that separated me from others. But because of my resolve, and also thinking that I was doing the right thing, I forced what I thought was an acceptable reality onto myself, a reality which is layered and layered with all the, quote, good things, and all the, quote, right things, of typical adolescent and adult behavior.

Yet, at my most reflective, maybe even spiritual level, there were points in my life when I began to question what an acceptable reality really meant for me. Were there realities from which I was running? Which master was I trying to serve?

I do not believe that God tortures any person simply for its own sake. I believe that God enables all things to work for the greater good. And this, the 47th year of my life, is arguably too late to have this discussion. But it is here, and it is now.

At a point in every person's life, one has to look deeply into the mirror of one's soul and decide one's unique truth in the world, not as we may want to see it or hope to see it, but as it is.

And so my truth is that I am a gay American. And I am blessed to live in the greatest nation with the tradition of civil liberties, the greatest tradition of civil liberties in the world, in a country which provides so much to its people.

Yet because of the pain and suffering and anguish that I have caused to my beloved family, my parents, my wife, my friends, I would almost rather have this moment pass.

For this is an intensely personal decision, and not one typically for the public domain. Yet, it cannot and should not pass.

I am also here today because, shamefully, I engaged in adult consensual affair with another man, which violates my bonds of matrimony. It was wrong. It was foolish. It was inexcusable.

And for this, I ask the forgiveness and the grace of my wife.

She has been extraordinary throughout this ordeal, and I am blessed by virtue of her love and strength.

I realize the fact of this affair and my own sexuality if kept secret leaves me, and most importantly the governor's office, vulnerable to rumors, false allegations and threats of disclosure.

So I am removing these threats by telling you directly about my sexuality.

Let me be clear, I accept total and full responsibility for my actions. However, I'm required to do now, to do what is right to correct the consequences of my actions and to be truthful to my loved ones, to my friends and my family and also to myself.

It makes little difference that as governor I am gay. In fact, having the ability to truthfully set forth my identity might have enabled me to be more forthright in fulfilling and discharging my constitutional obligations.

Given the circumstances surrounding the affair and its likely impact upon my family and my ability to govern, I have decided the right course of action is to resign.

To facilitate a responsible transition, my resignation will be effective on November 15 of this year.

I'm very proud of the things we have accomplished during my administration. And I want to thank humbly the citizens of the state of New Jersey for the privilege to govern.


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