Ken Mehlman, the campaign manager for George W. Bush in 2004 and former chairman of the Republican National Committee, has publicly come out as gay to his friends, family and colleagues. He is the highest profile Republican to ever do so, reports the Washington Post. “It’s taken me 43 years to get comfortable with this part of my life,” Mehlman said. Though the chairman was active in trying to increase party popularity amongst African Americans and Hispanics, he acknowledged that he avoided the gay community. “I can’t change the fact that I wasn’t in this place personally when I was in politics,” he told The Atlantic , “and I genuinely regret that. It was very hard, personally.” During his time as chair, from 2005 to 2007, the GOP strengthened its anti-gay initiatives, including distributing literature linking homosexuality to ungodliness, reports The Atlantic. Mehlman said he felt helpless to go against the party consensus but has come out now because he is ready to be a voice for same-sex marriage within the party. He recently participated in a fundraiser for the American Foundation for Equal Rights, which opposes Proposition 8 , the same sex marriage ban that is currently a source of controversy in California. According to the Washington Post, Clarke Cooper, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, said, “The Log Cabin Republicans are very supportive and appreciative of Ken’s coming out. Being gay and being conservative are not mutually exclusive. As a fellow Bush alumnus, I also look forward to Ken helping me and our colleagues build a stronger more inclusive Republican Party.” “I hope that we, as a party, would welcome gay and lesbian supporters. I also think there needs to be, in the gay community, robust and bipartisan support [for] marriage rights,” Mehlman said.