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MCAD Head Brings Gay Politics to Republicans

By Mary LOUISE Kelly

For newly-appointed Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) commissioner Michael T. Duffy, four seems to be a lucky number.

Just four days after his 1987 graduation from the Kennedy School of Government, he was hired as finance director for a successful congressional campaign in Connecticut.

And last month, almost exactly four years after graduation, he became the first openly gay Republican ever appointed to lead MCAD.

"He's been a pioneer as an openly gay person in the Republican party, which takes real courage," said David LaFontaine, lobbying director of the Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Civil Rights. "I think he's shown real leadership in the Republican party as far as sensitivity to minority issues."

Duffy gives credit for at least part of his rapid political climb to Gov. William F. Weld '66 whose administration has been described as one of the most strongly supportive of the gay-rights movement in the nation.

"Without a doubt [Weld] is the most pro-gay governor in the nation," Duffy said. "With new pro-gay legislation springing up all over New England, everyone is looking to Massachusetts as a model. And everyone's dumb-founded that it's a Republican administration that is making these strides."

Hidden Hurdles

But the road to success has not always been easy for Duffy.

He was fired from his position as communications director of the Massachusetts Republican party in 1989 because of policy differences with his boss, he says.

Last fall he narrowly failed in his bid to unseat an eight-year incumbent state representative, Byron Rushing (D-Suffolk).

And most recently, opposition to his appointment as head of MCAD was strong enough to spark the formation of a coalition trying to block it.

Much of the criticism stemmed from concern that the radical brand of conservatism which Duffy once preached could not possibly be compatible with a position as head of the chief anti-discrimination organization in the state.

As an undergraduate at Trinity College, Duffy wrote an editorial denying the merit of affirmative action programs for minorities. But he says that his views have changed considerably since his college days.

"In that same article, I also mentioned that I hoped to get married. So obviously my life has changed a lot," Duffy said. "Today I am 100 percent behind the idea of affirmative action."

Ironically, much of the grief which Duffy has encountered in his quest for MCAD's top post has come from other gays.

"It's bizarre that I've gotten such a warm reception from the governor and his administration when many gays were giving me a hard time," Duffy said. "I think they are uncomfortable with my being both gay and Republican."

Steve Tierney, co-chair of the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus, admits that there has been a backlash to Duffy's status as an openly gay Republican. In fact, he says, some of the people trying to block Duffy's appointment were gay.

"I'm happy the Governor appointed an openly gay man to the position," Tierney said. "But it's true that the Republican party has generally been unresponsive to gay and lesbian concerns."

Tierney is also skeptical of Weld's growing reputation as a gay rights champion in New England.

"That's what the gay Republicans are telling you," he said. "As far as I know, [Weld's] appointment of Michael is the only thing he has done in that regard."

But gay-rights leaders are far from unanimous in attributing the bulk of the opposition to Duffy's appointment to other gays. LaFontaine attributes most of the resistance to civil rights activists, who he says were shocked that a gay man might be named chair of MCAD.

"There is a big tradition of gay people being left in the back of the bus in the civil rights movement because they aren't as involved in those issues," he says. "But Mike is extremely well qualified. I'm convinced that if a Black man with Mike's same qualifications had been appointed as chair, there would have been no opposition."

Stolen Rugs

All political issues aside, some of the toughest questions Duffy has had to face have been fired at him by the Harvard police.

During his time as a Kennedy School student, Duffy and his roommate were charged with stealing a rug from the Business School library. Although he apologized for his actions and says they planned to return the rug at the end of the year to complete the prank, some opponents say the incident blemishes his record.

"It was a stupid prank," Duffy said. "I wish I hadn't done it. But I'm not really sure how relevant the incident is to my position now."

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