The recent hiring of Richard Grenell, Mitt Romney's openly gay foreign-policy spokesman, represents a breakthrough in the world of Republican presidential campaigns.
Grenell isn't the first out gay person to serve as a high-level staffer to a GOP nominee, but as far as I can tell, he is the first such press spokesman -- the first to serve as the public face of the all-but-certain Republican nominee -- and on the historically sensitive issue of national security, no less. As an openly gay Republican in presidential politics, Grenell joins a small fraternity of out GOP staffers, instantly becoming the highest-profile of the band. His rise signals a remarkable new openness in a party often castigated for its social conservatism; in addition to being out, Grenell has waged some public battles for gay rights that contradict his new boss's own positions.
While Republican presidential campaigns have had staffers who were known to be gay before, these staffers, like the scores of gay GOPers working on Capitol Hill, have generally sought to avoid public notice, or even worked to stay hush-hush in the face of widespread social speculation about any single man of a certain age who is powerful but neither married nor a ladies' man. Many -- like Ken Mehlman, Bush's 2004 campaign manager and from 2005 to 2007 the chairman of the Republican National Committee -- didn't come out until they were safely out of politics. (Mehlman came out in an interview with The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder in 2010, confirming rumors that had been circulating in the city for years.)