In the year since New Jersey Gov. James E. McGreevey (search) told the world, "I am a gay American," his words have appeared on bumper stickers and his likeness on an action figure. But a year after McGreevey became the nation's highest-ranking, openly gay elected official, it does not appear he had much of a long-lasting effect on gay America.
McGreevey's soul-baring speech drew national attention Aug. 12, 2004 as he declared his sexuality in one breath and announced his resignation with the next. For some gay Americans, the governor closing the door on his political career still overshadows his coming out of the closet.
"I had mixed feelings about the way McGreevey did it," said Allan H. Spear, a former state senator in Minnesota who in 1974 became one of the nation's first state lawmakers to acknowledge publicly that he was gay. "It made it sound as though this was some sort of a fatal flaw. The fact that the coming out was accompanied by the statement that, 'I'm going to resign,' took away some of the positive impact it may have had."
McGreevey's speech was carried live on national television and stories about it were in newspapers around the world the next day. Coverage of the story earned The Star-Ledger of Newark a Pulitzer Prize.
McGreevey made immediate — but short-lived — ripples in pop culture, starting with jokes from the likes of David Letterman (search) and Jon Stewart (search). Within a week, the Connecticut toymaker Herobuilders.com was selling McGreevey action figures.
Company owner Emil Vicale said this week that among the Herobuilder action figures of 10 or so politicians — a lineup that includes Hillary Clinton, President Bush and Arnold Schwarzenegger — McGreevey's is by far the slowest selling.
Northampton's Pride and Joy, a gay book and gift shop in Northampton, Mass., has been selling bumper stickers that say "I am a gay American." Similar stickers and T-shirts with the slogan are also available on several Web sites.
At Rainbow Road, a gay-themed gift shop in Minneapolis, the McGreevey-inspired trinkets have not made an appearance. In fact, when asked about McGreevey's impact, shop owner Jim Connelly responded: "Who is he?"
While the fact that he was gay got the most attention, McGreevey had been having a tough few months. Two major fundraisers had been indicted. It also was later revealed that the former aide, identified by McGreevey confidantes as the governor's lover, was threatening to file a sexual harassment lawsuit that never came about. The man, Golan Cipel (search), denied having an affair with McGreevey and denied being gay.
Jeff Jones, a former co-chairman of the Fairness Alliance, a gay rights group based in Louisville, Ky., said that for a few days last August, McGreevey was a hot topic on gay-oriented online message boards in Kentucky.
"The way I felt and maybe what the consensus was, the issue was not that he was gay but that A) he was cheating on his wife and that B) he was using his political power to get his boyfriend a job," said Jones, a professor at the College of Public Health at the University of Kentucky.
But to Scott Schmidt, a West Hollywood, Calif., blogger who describes himself as a gay Republican, it was an odd but promising sign for America's acceptance of gays that McGreevey seemed to use his being gay as "a cover-up for the corruption."
"Ten years ago, 20 years ago, the corruption would have been better than being gay," said Schmidt.
McGreevey has tried to live out of the public eye since he left office in November. He worked for a time for a law firm, has traveled to West Virginia to research poverty and is working on a book. But he has not yet submitted to media interviews.
Steven Goldstein, chairman of Garden State Equality and perhaps New Jersey's most visible gay activist, said McGreevey's words might be better remembered than the man himself.
"It really qualifies as a 'Jeopardy!' $100 question," Goldstein said. "Who said: 'I'm a gay American'?"