Three decades ago, when Harvard sophomore Alex Baker confided in his mother that he was gay, she consulted a therapist, who told her that her son faced a miserable future, “without any meaningful relationships.”
Alex, a self-described nervous wreck, then called his older brother, Charlie, and asked to meet.
“They were scary words to say,’’ Alex said, recounting how he conjured up the nerve to tell his sibling that night in 1981 that he was gay.
But Charlie Baker took the news in stride, even telephoning their mother to assure her.
“He said, ‘No big deal, I have a couple of gay friends,’ ’’ Alex recalled.
The Baker brothers recalled the conversation Wednesday in an interview together in the living room of the South Boston home Alex shares with his husband of 10 years. That conversation, along with a video of the pair that Charlie Baker’s gubernatorial campaign released Thursday, are key components in the Baker campaign’s efforts to recalibrate his public image, presenting the GOP candidate in softer — and, his advisers would say, more genuine — tones.
That contrasts with the harder-edged image Charlie Baker projected in his failed 2010 bid for governor, when he sometimes seemed more interested in tough fiscal policies than connecting with voters.
The release of the video of the Baker brothers coincides with Saturday’s 10-year anniversary of the first gay weddings in Massachusetts and the nation, a landmark date for social liberals. It helps Charlie Baker distance himself from the socially conservative wing of the Republican Party, appealing to independents who are critical to his success in the November election.
Beside his brother in the living room Wednesday, Alex Baker was quick to note that he is a “very liberal Democrat” who has only twice voted for a Republican — his brother and Governor William F. Weld. Neither Scott Brown nor Mitt Romney made that list.
“If you told me 30 years ago that I’d be talking to a reporter about being gay, it would have been unfathomable,” Alex Baker said. “That scared kid back in 1981 talking to Charlie never thought he would be getting married.”
But he seemed to delight in recounting the story of how he came out to his family. Beside him, Charlie Baker leaned back in an overstuffed chair, at ease with the topic.
The public conversation between the brothers may break new ground in national Republican circles, according to one gay marriage advocate who monitors GOP politics.
“To my knowledge, there has been no [Republican] candidate for governor or statewide office who has made a point of making support of marriage equality, particularly in a video exclusively devoted to the topic, as Mr. Baker has in this instance,’’ said Gregory T. Angelo, executive director for the Log Cabin Republicans, which advocates for gay issues around the country.
The video is also likely to stir controversy among social conservatives within the state Republican Party who have long resisted the state’s first-in-the-nation move to allow same-sex marriages. In the September primary, Charlie Baker will probably face a Tea Party opponent, Mark Fisher, a Shrewsbury businessman who opposes gay marriage.
While few major GOP candidates have aired such intimate family details on a controversial subject, there are a growing number of high-
profile Republicans who have talked openly about gay family members. Former vice president Dick Cheney has publicly supported his daughter, who is gay, and has come out in support of gay marriage. US Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, once a strong opponent of gay marriage, announced his support of it in the middle of the 2012 presidential election, citing his son, who is gay.
Arline Isaacson, cochairwoman of the Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus, was tepid in her response to Charlie Baker’s new video.
Isaacson said she gives credit to Baker for “being a loving brother,” but noted he was not willing to step up at a critical time in 2004 when she and other gay leaders were looking for prominent Massachusetts business leaders to publicly come out in favor of marriage equality.
“We knew Charlie had a gay brother and a good relationship with him, so he was one of our first stops,’’ Isaacson said. Baker was then president and chief executive of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care. “While he was privately supportive, he said he didn’t want to be very public about it because of his position. Many other CEOs quickly and easily jumped on the bandwagon to support marriage equality in a very public fashion.”
Democrats also sniffed at Charlie Baker’s decision to use his family members to soften both his policy positions and his image.
Since his failed 2010 bid for governor, the GOP candidate has adopted more moderate positions on a host of issues as he tries to appeal to independent voters. He now supports raising the minimum wage and has embraced the call for state budget increases for environmental programs. He has also toned down his opposition to Cape Wind and has backed off comments questioning scientists who say that human activity has added to global warming. And he has eliminated calls to trim thousands of state jobs and cut taxes.
The 2010 campaign, Baker said, taught him a tough lesson, not just about policies, but about tone.
“Running for office is not a job interview,’’ Baker said. “It’s an opportunity to give voters a sense of who you are, what you have done, what makes you tick. Last time, I treated it like a job interview.’’Frank Phillips can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
■ Correction: Because of a reporting error, an earlier version of this story incorrectly described Gregory T. Angelo’s job title with the Log Cabin Republicans.