TRENTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — It’s been a decade since New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey resigned from office with a speech that will be forever remembered for his admission that “I am a gay American.”
The struggle for gay rights and acceptance has moved leaps and bounds since that speech, but McGreevey told WCBS 880’s Marla Diamond he doesn’t see himself as a trailblazer.
“I was more like kicked out of the closet, but at the moment I did, I was so glad that I embraced my truth and worked to live an authentic life day in and day out after that point,” McGreevey said.
McGreevey, 57, said he’s not sorry he resigned.
“I’m not in the regrets business, and I’m in the acceptance business,” McGreevey said. “And I think what’s important is that decision, I believe … was the right decision for that time.”
For many, the speech was shocking. For McGreevey’s close friend and confidant, state Sen. Ray Lesniak, it was difficult to watch.
“It was sad, particularly because I did not believe that he should resign,” said Lesniak, D-Union.
McGreevey said he is pleased to see the progress toward gay equality since.
“There’s been this sort of lightning pace change that’s almost been miraculous,” the ex-governor said. “And so for the next generation of young gay and lesbian youth, that’s been a great blessing.”
In recent years, McGreevey, who has two daughters, has been working with incarcerated women and has been promoting changes to the prison system. He oversees job training and prisoner re-entry programs in Jersey City and advises its mayor. He said he has no plans to return to politics.
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.
Video of Jim McGreevey’s resignation speech:
Observers look back on his resignation 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.”
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.
He and his wife, Dina Matos McGreevey, divorced in 2008.
There was anger 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.
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 also wrote a book and appeared on “Oprah.”
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