Seven months after this incident, Gunderson made his sexual orientation official in a New York Times Magazine profile published in October 1994, just before he was solidly reelected. The piece bore the headline: Fiscal Conservative. Social Moderate. Gay. The article included a quote by Newt Gingrich – "He's not liberal enough for the gay community, and he's not straight enough for the conservative community."
In 1991 bad-boy activist Michael Petrelis approached Gunderson in an Alexandria, Virginia gay bar that the Congressman frequented. Upset that Gunderson had refused to co-sponsor the federal gay rights bill, Petrelis loudly and rudely urged Gunderson to come out and support gay rights and federal financing for AIDS research. Gunderson replied, “I am out. I'm in this bar, aren't I?” – brushing Petrelis off. The activist grew angry, threw a drink in Gunderson's face, and called the police on himself in order to garner publicity over the incident. The story appeared in the local press, and the papers back in Milwaukee picked it up and printed it. In spite of the scandal, he kept his House seat and was subsequently reelected.
Gunderson was an influential leader in other human rights causes, as well. His efforts on behalf of the ethnic Asian Hmong people resulted in the overturn of the Clinton administration’s policy of forced repatriation that often led to persecution ; as a result thousands of Hmongs were granted U.S. immigration rights.