PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — When the intensely private Rep. Mike Michaud laid bare his private life and announced he's gay, one openly gay congressman joked that the Maine Democrat had never registered on his "gaydar."
As he prepares to return to Capitol Hill this week as the seventh openly gay member of the U.S. House, Michaud said the decision to come out last week was a positive experience that drew support from fellow congressmen and hundreds of constituents — even if it was political nastiness that prompted his announcement.
"People know me as Mike. They know my issues are veteran issues, economic development, health care and jobs, and nothing is going to change," he said.
Michaud, who's engaged in a three-way race for governor, used an op-ed provided to two newspapers and The Associated Press to disclose he's gay, saying he did so to address "whisper campaigns, insinuations and push-polls" that raised questions about his sexuality.
He said constituents have been supportive, with many finding his honesty refreshing.
Several members of Congress including Democratic Reps. Joe Kennedy of Massachusetts and David Cicilline of Rhode Island have reached out to show support, as well.
Among them was Republican Rep. Jeff Miller of Florida, chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee, who works closely with Michaud, the committee's ranking Democrat.
"Mike Michaud is my friend and colleague. He is a strong ally in advocating for veterans and his recent announcement does nothing to change that," Miller said.
Before Michaud's announcement, there were six openly gay members of the U.S. House. Michaud's sexual orientation was as much a surprise to at least some of them as it was to Mainers.
Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., who is gay, tweeted in surprise after Michaud's announcement that "My #gaydar missed it." He also reached out to lend support.
"I conveyed to him that I felt it was great that he has this load off his shoulders and I know he'll be an even more effective servant for the people of Maine," he said.
Back in Maine, political observers said Michaud's announcement likely won't have a big impact on the governor's race. Voters here approved gay marriage a year ago.
Michaud continued a regular schedule of public events after making his announcement. On Friday, the Maine Association of Police and the Professional Fire Fighters endorsed Michaud over Republican Gov. Paul LePage, the incumbent, and wealthy independent Eliot Cutler.
Michaud's sexual orientation was never mentioned.
"Mike was the same person six years ago when I knew him," said John Martell, president of the Professional Fire Fighters of Maine. "He's the same person today. It makes no difference whatsoever."
Michaud, for his part, has never been one to discuss his personal life. He informed his mother that he was gay just hours before announcing it to the world.
He said he doesn't have a partner and said his private life is "boring."
"I don't have a very exciting life, other than public work," he said. When he's not in Washington, Michaud is usually traveling the vast 2nd Congressional District to meet constituents.
Polis said he fully expects his colleague to dive back to work on Tuesday, when he's due to return to Washington after attending Veterans Day events in Maine.
"It's clear he doesn't intend to make a big deal out of it," Pollis said. "It's done and he's ready to get back to work."
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