October 31, 2006
Posted by: Chris
Why does the pro-gay side have such a hard time saying "the 'M' word" when the anti-gay side is trying to ban us from 'M'-ing?
Take Wisconsin, for example, which is shaping up as the top battleground state among the eight that have gay marriage constitutional amendments on the ballot next Tuesday. Both sides have sizable advertising war chests. Even Sir Elton John got into the action, donating $20,000 to Fair Wisconsin, the group that's fighting the measure, which would also block the state from offering civil unions.
Polls suggest the vote may be very close; a survey released Monday showed 50 percent favoring the measure and 46 percent opposing, within the margin of error. Unfortunately, polls have historically undercounted those who end up against gay marriage in the only poll that matters, on Election Day.
Even more unfortunately, both sides are reverting to their usual tactics, which will likely yield the usual result: a lopsided victory for gay marriage opponents, who are 19 out of 19 states thus far. As in the past, well-intentioned gay marriage advocates in Wisconsin are afraid to make their own arguments, so instead they try to convince voters that the measure goes too far. The Associated Press reports:
One Fair Wisconsin ad features a McFarland farmer named Arlyn, who says he's opposed to gay marriage. "But I'm not here to judge somebody else," he says. "I think this ban on gay marriage goes too far, affects too many people and is unfair. They're not hurting me, why should I hurt them?"
I've criticized this strategy ever since the Human Rights Campaign first tried it during the Hawaii marriage battle almost a decade ago, in an ad featuring a popular retired general who opposed gay marriage but also opposed "writing discrimination into the constitution." These amendments are about gay marriage, and we can't run from that fight. As Evan Wolfson, who won Hawaii marriage in court only to see his victory overruled on the ballot, has written:
So far, too many of our state campaigns — both the short-term election efforts and the longer-term public education work — fail to offer the voting public real content and an authentic engagement. Too often they have not used the airtime of an election battle to talk about gay people and marriage — the two things these ballot measures are most about — instead relying on generic appeals to fairness.
Too many of our side's campaigns have chosen to emphasize collateral effects on non-gay families, as if voters will really be persuaded that what the media will always refer to as "the marriage amendment" is somehow not about gay people's freedom to marry. Worst of all, many campaigns and activists have gone with the message that people should vote the measure down simply because it is "unnecessary" or "goes too far." That subliminally suggests — unintentionally, but in a way that is still damaging to our long-term movement — that some discrimination is OK and that it would indeed be a problem if we really did have gay couples marrying.
That's exactly the mistake they're making in Wisconsin, probably led astray by partisan political strategists who are really interested in making the marriage amendment about anything other than gay couples marrying because they're more afraid of motivating evangelical conservatives than they are of swaying moderates.
Worst of all, as Evan points out, this strategy of changing the subject leaves the education effort we must do on marriage for another day, when the public is focused on the issue here and now. Having ceded the real subject of the debate, all the anti-gay side has to do is play to the "yuck factor." In Hawaii, it was two men walking on a beach wearing tuxedos, holding hands. In Wisconsin, it's all about the children. Again, from AP:
One ad, which hit the air Monday, shows children struggling to explain same-sex relationships. "[God] should have created Anna and Eve," one child says, while another concludes, "I'm confused."
Yes it's political demagoguery at it's worst. It's also likely to be very effective, especially when the pro-gay side is giving over precious airtime to likable Wisconsinites who also oppose gay marriage. As Andrew Sullivan put it:
We will not win until we are unafraid. I believe civil marriage for gay couples is moral, it is right, it is good for society — and anything less is immoral, wrong and bad for society as a whole. … Let us make this case - calmly, honestly, openly. And we will win — for one reason only. Because we are right.
Posted by: Chris
Never one to miss an opportunity for self-aggrandizement, former New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey has been telling interviewers this week that he wants to marry his partner Mark O'Donnell if the state responds to last week's Supreme Court ruling by allowing same-sex couples to do so.
"Marriage would offer the ability to bless our relationship in a committed way," McGreevey told the New York Times. Twice-divorced (to women), a marriage to O'Donnell would be his third, and the first where he was ever committed, at least in the monogamous sense most people mean by the word.
Not surprisingly, not everyone wants McGreevey's help. In his typical, drive-by-blogging style, outing activist Mike Rogers said "someone ought to tell this guy to shut up":
Let's make sure that this guy doesn't become the poster boy for marriage equality. He doesn't have a very good record and there's no need to give the other side ammunition by allowing a corrupt guy to be the most visible one in our community.
Interesting perspective coming from Rogers, who most gay people think makes a pretty rotten poster boy for the gay rights movement generally, digging into the private sex lives of politicians and gleefully spilling all the details if the pol fails his partisan-biased hypocrisy test.
I, for one, would love to see McGreevey put his mouth where his mouth is, and take a break from his self-promotional book tour to actually lobby for gay marriage in New Jersey. He claims that his fellow Democrats in the Legislature have embraced him since coming out. So why not use his considerable political skill to make up for his opposition to gay marriage while in office — a stance he admits taking only to protect his own closet. "I regret not having the fortitude to embrace this right during my tenure as governor," McGreevey told AP. Well now is the time to atone, on his "road to authenticity."
We shouldn't hold our breath, waiting for his help, however. The Jimmy McGreevey who emerges from his autobiography, "The Confession," is someone completely self-obsessed. His decisions to come out and publicly "confess" his sins were carefully calculated to benefit no one but him. (He even admits falling in love with Golan Cipel, the man whose threats forced him out of the closet and out of office, because of the way Cipel hung on his every word and thought.)
It was nice to see that the former New Jersey governor at least got some tough questions while visiting San Francisco, since his Atlanta visit to Outwrite bookstores was pretty much a cakewalk. In San Francisco, McGreevey said the goal behind his book was to give back to gay youth. "Selfishly, for me, that will be a process for healing," he said. (Funny, in Atlanta he said his goal now was to work against world hunger; seriously, that was his Miss America answer.)
Kudos to Jimmer Cassiol, gay liaison for San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, for calling the ex-gov on that one. In an interview with the Bay Area Reporter, Cassiol said "he didn't consider McGreevey a hero, but someone whose tale provides a lesson about the effect living in the closet has on one's life. For gay youth, he said, it is an example of what not to do."
Dropping the book tour in favor of some old-fashioned lobbying back in his home state would offer a a real opportunity for McGreevey to make amends, and he'd even look good in the process.
October 30, 2006
Posted by: Chris
* A Myer's department store in Sydney, Australia, has been forced to close its public toilets "because homosexuals were using the facility as a meeting point, often having sex in full view of other horrified users," the Sydney Morning Herald reported. The Myer's location had become a popular "tearoom" due to a cruising site called Squirt.org that lists some 15,000 such spots in Australia alone, including an Air Force base and the toilets at the Sydney Opera House. In the 21st century, with all the myriad private ways for men to cruise other men, there's really no excuse for such public sexcapades, and the way it discredits all gay men.
* Jon Stewart to a crowd of 12,000 at a taping of "The Daily Show" at Ohio State University: "A buckeye is a gay acorn, right?" (AP) (No, the photo isn't from the Ohio appearance, but I still love it.)
* Threats of violence from ultra-Orthodox Jewish groups have convinced police to reconsider permit approval for Jerusalem's Gay Pride Parade, scheduled for Nov. 10. Considering that one anti-gay activist stabbed a parade participant last year, police are right to take the threats seriously. But cancelling it? Isn't Israel the country that famously refuses to negotiate with terrorists? Like the World Pride march earlier this year, plans for the Jerusalem march have accomplished what a shared faith in God could not: uniting rightist Jewish, Muslim and Christian leaders. If that's not a statement of the sorry state of things in the Middle East today, then I don't know what is.
* Colorado voters will have the opportunity to split the difference next Tuesday on legal recognition for gay couples. Amendment 43 writes heterosexual-only marriage into the state's constitution. Meanwhile, Referendum I establishes a domestic partnerships for gay couples that have some basic legal rights but are not the equivalent of marriage or Vermont-style civil unions. The Rocky Mountain News has joined some moderate politicians in endorsing both measures as a middle ground, but let's not confuse these voter referenda for true democracy in action. Minority rights shouldn't have to be put to a popular vote, much less be subject to a constitutional amendment intended to prevent judges from addressing inequality.
* What a difference an ocean makes. Over the pond, Conservative Party leader David Cameron is standing by one of his closest advisers, MP Greg Barker (pictured), after the 39-year-old left his wife of 14 years for a male interior designer who had worked in the family home. The affair hasn't altered Cameron's new stance on behalf of the Tories in favor of civil partnerships for gay couples, passed in December 2004, a measure also backed by Barker at the time. Remarked one Tory insider: "The days are gone when we made people resign because of extramarital affairs, whether it’s straight or gay."
Posted by: Chris
When the new, perhaps Democratic-controlled U.S. House convenes next year, it will be considering a new version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which in past incarnations would have prohibited workplace bias on the basis of sexual orientation. This time around, gay Congressman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) will be introducing a new ENDA that adds protections based on "gender identity," the Washington Blade's Lou Chibbaro reported this week.
Before this, Barney has been among the voices of reason who cautioned against adding transgender rights to ENDA's gay protections, which despite widespread public support hasn't managed to win passage, no matter which party controlled Congress or the White House. With George W. Bush still president for two more years, adding trans protections makes ENDA an almost sure loser.
The move to add trans protections to ENDA comes two years after the Human Rights Campaign, during the disastrous one-year tenure of Cheryl Jacques as director, announced the remarkable strategy of opposing ENDA if trans protections aren't included or are removed by amendment.
There are so many reasons that the "trans-jacking" of ENDA is a bad idea, and even immoral:
1. Some federal courts have ruled that existing federal civil rights laws covering gender already protect transgender workers. The rulings aren't universal, but they offer more protections than lesbian and gay Americans have. And if a gay-only version of ENDA passed, transgender workers would win even more protection, since in many cases the discrimination they face is based on their perceived sexual orientation ("faggot," "dyke") not the bigoted boss' sophisticated notions of gender identity and expression.
2. ENDA itself represents a compromise strategy adopted by the gay movement after failed efforts to add "sexual orientation" to the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which covers the workplace, housing and public accommodations. Having put off everything but employment protection in the name of getting legislation passed, it makes no sense to encumber ENDA with trans protections.
3. Gay and transgender issues are different, and throwing them together will muddy the debate. Even the core gay rights claim that homosexuality is not a mental disease will come up against the claim by most transgender activists that gender dysphoria ought to remain a recognized psychological disorder covered by workplace health insurance, including gender transitioning. Throw in the dress code and bathroom debates that gay rights activists have put behind them, and you can see what direction conservatives will take things.
4. Even moreso than with court rulings, civil rights legislation isn't about letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. Progress is made incrementally, and it isn't immoral to win passage for gay workplace protections, for which the groundwork has been laid, before pushing for transgender rights — just like it wasn't immoral for women's rights advocates to win gender protections without also enacting gay rights as well.
5. Conversely, it is immoral to hold gay workplace protections hostage until trans rights can be enacted. Every bit of data I've seen estimates the "T" as less than 1 percent of the "GLBT community." The issue isn't whether transgender Americans deserve workplace protections; of course they do. But it's horribly unfair to the 99 percent to make them wait until there's enough support for the remaining 1 percent.
And please don't raise the old canard about drag queens rioting at Stonewall. Whatever debt gay Americans owe transgender people based on the role a few drag queens played at a riot almost four decades ago has been paid (and is being paid) by the ongoing transgender advocacy by gay rights groups, almost all of which have added the "T" to their mission statement.
Over the years, I have been disappointed and depressed with the outrageous and mean-spirited way with which many transgender activists have reacted when I've taken issue with their piggyback strategy. The attacks are almost always personal — about how I'm ignorant, bigoted, trans-phobic, hate-filled, etc. — for daring to disagree. If this is how most (if not all) trans activists represent their movement to those of us who actually agree with most of their goals, just not their strategy, I certainly don't want them out front representing mine.
The Blade story didn't report whether Barney backs HRC's "trans or bust" strategy, so there's hope yet that "the new ENDA" can be salvaged during the legislative process. Fellow Massachusetts Democrat Ted Kennedy, ENDA's chief cosponsor on the Senate side, also isn't talking. In the past, he hasn't supported adding trans protections for the same reason.
"Our goal is to get the legislation passed," a Kennedy aide told the Blade two years ago. Shouldn't that be HRC and Barney's goal as well?
October 29, 2006
Posted by: Chris
* The church that bills itself, probably correctly, as the world's largest gay church — Cathedral of Hope in Dallas, Texas — has joined the United Church of Christ, among the more left/progressive of mainstream Protestant denominations. The Dallas Cathedral, which claims 4,300 members, disaffiliated with the United Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches in July 2003, three months after the gay Christian denomination began investigating longtime pastor Mike Piazza's expense account and management of church finances. Piazza denied wrongdoing but resigned his MCC credentials two days before the investigation concluded. He took a brief leave of absence from the Cathedral when the congregation voted to leave UFMCC, but he later returned remains "national pastor" and dean. The 1.2-million-member UCC voted in June 2005 to perform marriage ceremonies for gay couples and support full civil marriage equality for them as well.
* An online auction site for domain names issued a press release today claiming that Gays.com sold recently for $500,000, to German (couple?) Julius and David Dreyer. "We are confident that we will be able to introduce an entertaining and informative website in the near future; one that will meet the needs of the gay community," the release quotes Julius Dreyer as saying. Is there a shortage of gay websites I was unaware of? No doubt unamused were the folks cover at Planet Out, Inc., who own Gay.com, and a dozen other gay media and leisure businesses. At least they got a phat write-up in the New York Times today for gay cruises that might help their RSVP brand, which hit hard times this year.
* Gay Americans aren't the only ones going north of the border, to Canada, to marry. Up to 100 Irish gay couples have trekked to Northern Ireland, which is part of the U.K., to enter into "civil partnerships" since the government began offering them last December. Now, like their American counterparts, Irish gay couples are demanding similar rights back home.
* Meanwhile further north, in Scotland, Catholic bishops are confronting an embarrassing problem: a bishop who is a little too zealous about promoting the Vatican's opposition to a proposed ban in the U.K. on discrimination against gays by hotels, agencies and other public accommodations (including Catholic adoption groups). It seems Bishop Joseph Devine of Motherwell has accused the church of a policy of "appeasement" in its relationship with the "moral vandals" and "politically correct zealots" — e.g., Scottish Labor Party officials — who are supporting the measure.
* Back home in the USA, Christian conservatives are already fulfilling my prediction that they are not-so-secretly happy with the New Jersey Supreme Court ruling. "Pro-traditional-marriage organizations ought to give a distinguished service award to the New Jersey Supreme Court," the Post quoted Rev. Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention, as saying. No doubt they are disappointed that it didn't go even further, ordering the state to actually marry gay couples.
* Still, President Bush and his allies on the Right are pushing the ruling for all it's worth. "Activist judges try to define America by court order," Bush told an adoring crowd in Indiana, which responded with whoops of "USA! USA!" I can almost hear former Alabama Gov. George Wallace, who stood at the schoolhouse door to take his stand against "activist judges" who ordered schools integrated, joining in from his grave.
* Across the state, embattled Indiana Congressman John Hostettler (R) has taken his cue from the president and launched a new ad that warns, with an announcer impersonating Clint Eastwood's "Dirty Harry," that a vote for his Democratic challenger will allow Nancy Pelosi to "put in motion her radical plan to advance the homosexual agenda, led by Barney Frank, reprimanded by the House after paying for sex with a man who ran a gay brothel out of Congressman Frank's home." "I know what you're thinking," the narrator concludes. "Is this true? Well, do you feel lucky? Go ahead, vote for Brad Ellsworth. Make Nancy Pelosi's day."
* Recent updates in Foley-gate: The Catholic priest Mark Foley says abused him has a second accuser, and has been belatedly de-frocked by the Miami archdiocese while it conducts an investigation. And Jeff Trandahl, the gay former chief clerk of the House, has reportedly named Jim Kolbe, the gay Arizona Republican retiring his congressional seat, as another of a small number of "problem members" who spent too much social time with pages. Kolbe, whose partner is young enough to be his grandson, is already under investigation by the U.S. attorney in Arizona that he was overly familiar with teenage pages on a 1996 Grand Canyon camping trip.
Posted by: Chris
Give the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops some credit. They keep trying to convert what is essentially a heartless, morally bankrupt Vatican doctrine on homosexuality and put a kind face on it.
After four years of study on how best to minister to homosexuals, the bishops are expected adopt a draft document in Baltimore next month that reaches the remarkably unremarkable conclusion that children adopted by same-sex couples are worthy of baptism. It apparently has taken until now for this pastoral-minded group to realize that whatever the church view about the parents, the children shouldn't be punished through exclusion from church sacraments. Perhaps next the bishops will remind each other not to refuse a Catholic burial to a parishioner engaged in a gay-related business.
Other kindly nuggets include a recognition that it might be good for gay Catholics — whose homosexual "tendencies" are objectively disordered, even if they as homosexuals are not — to tell a few friends and their priest about their sexual orientation. But they shouldn't go shouting it from the mountaintops: "general public announcements" within the parish are frowned upon.
Additional, snail's pace movement comes on the issue of therapy, reparative and otherwise. In the new document, the bishops acknowledge that gay Catholics have "no moral obligation to attempt therapy" because while "some have found therapy helpful," the bishops claim there's "no scientific consensus" on therapy or the causes of homosexuality.
In fact, there is scientific consensus on reparative therapy. The American Psychological Association concluded in 1990 "that scientific evidence does not show that conversion therapy works and it can do more harm than good." The American Medical Association concluded "aversion therapy is no longer recommended for gay men and lesbians." The American Counseling Association, American Psychoanalytic Association, National Association of Social Workers, and American Academy of Pediatrics have reached similar conclusions, as the gay group Truth Wins Out has documented. Of course, it took 359 years for the Vatican to acknowledge "scientific consensus" and admit it had been wrong to condemn as heresy Galileo's claim that the Earth revolves around the sun.
I'm waiting to see a copy of the full draft of the new document, but from the description offered by the bishops themselves, these "pastoral guidelines" remain strikingly cold-hearted. Keep in mind that the bishops have previously acknowledged that "a considerable number of people experience same-sex attraction as an inclination they did not choose." Yet they still conclude that acting on that natural inclination is "always sinful," as is any sex "not directed toward the expression of marital love with an openness to new life." (Take note, non-procreating married couples and sexually active heterosexuals!)
But since the bishops also oppose "so-called same-sex 'marriages' or any semblance thereof, including civil unions that give the appearance of a marriage," gay Catholics are given no path on which they can live a full, rewarding life. Either they deny their natural "inclination" and marry someone of the opposite sex, with whom they are permitted procreational sex (that runs counter to their natural inclination), or they are condemned to a life of complete chastity, devoid of any romantic relationships that form such a core part of what it means to be human. At least priests and nuns, who take a similar vow, are married to the church. No such luck for the solitary homosexual.
An even more bitter pill to swallow is the fact that this cold-hearted document issues forth from men — and an institution — who have absolutely no moral ground (high or otherwise) from which to make pronouncements on any matter relating to sex. The incidence of grotesque abuse by Catholic priests of children and youths under their "pastoral care" is dramatically higher than in the general public — more than 12,000 in the U.S. alone, according to figures compiled by the conference — hardly an aggressive benchmark for those who would condemn the sexual activity of others. And the church hierarchy, including the bishops, played a well-documented role in facilitating and covering up the abuse.
At least on questions of human sexuality, about which these bishops would have to violate their vows to have any firsthand knowledge, the current generation of Catholic clergy would be better served by "a life of prayer and penance" than issuing pronouncements. That admonishment, by the way, was the only major abuse penalty handed down thus far by Pope Benedict XVI, after he was confronted with evidence that the elderly founder of the conservative order Legionaires of Christ had sexually abused seminarians.
October 28, 2006
Posted by: Chris
Interim Log Cabin director Patrick Sammon (pictured) has written an interesting essay, called "Moving Forward," about the Mark Foley mess. He ably takes on anti-gay conservatives who've cynically tried to turn Foley misconduct on its head to disparage gays in general, or to purge gays from the GOP. But Sammon misses the opportunity to "move forward" fairly. He writes:
We support efforts to have an outside investigation to thoroughly examine Foley's wrongdoings and the Congressional leadership's response. It's important to find out if Congressional leaders responded appropriately to his behavior. It's also critical to find out if Democrats held onto information about Foley in an effort to use as it as a political tool as the election approaches.
Fair enough, but what about gay Republican staffers who may have "held onto information about Foley" for partisan political reasons, though as a shield to protect rather than as a sword to do damage. Conservative gay bloggers, including those over at Gay Patriot, have also focused inordinantly on what Democrats, including gay Democrats, may have known about Foley's misconduct, while expending none of the same energy pressing for inquiry into what gay Republicans on the Hill knew and when they knew it.
One gay Republican who knows a lot about what it's like to be closeted and working on the Hill showed a bit more courage. Brian O'Leary Bennett made headlines in the late '90s after he came out following a long career working for archconservative former congressman Bob "lesbian spearchucker" Dornan. In an essay for Newsweek, Bennett gently pushes gay Hill Republicans still in the closet to take a step out:
I hope a war of introspection and decision is being waged within the minds of my gay GOP brethren who now live fearfully in the closet. Is it really worth it? At some point, you will have to own up to who you are. Or like Foley, former New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey and others who walked the razor's edge, you too will slip, fall, and do incalculable damage along the way. I don't care what office you hold. It screws with your head. It's not worth it. How you must long for peace of mind. I remember.
Good for Bennett. If we can all agree — Bennett, Log Cabin, Gay Patriot, me — that outing gay Republicans on the Hill is not the way to go, then isn't it each of our responsibility to say what we can to convince them to take the step on their own?
What's more, Bennett is willing to acknowledge what Log Cabin and Gay Patriot won't, that gay Republicans on the Hill may well have been formed a "thin pink line" (my words, not his) to protect Foley and each other:
[Just] because all Republican officeholders have hired gay staffers does not mean there's some kind of gay mafia at work. This notion that a sinister cabal closes ranks and protects one another at all costs based on sexual orientation is noxious and homophobic. Right or wrong, people act to protect one another out of friendship. It’s funny how we never hear a word about that “hetero mafia” protecting the even longer list of philandering, college-girl skirt-chasing straight members of Congress.
Bennett is defending their motives, but at the same time he is acknowledging these gay Hill Republicans probably "acted to protect one another out of friendship." Friendship or politics, if it happened it showed poor judgment, at least as much as Democrats who may or may not have sat on Foley's e-mails for maximum political exposure.
If we're to move forward, let's do so fairly.
Posted by: Chris
Most of America was indignant and, even more so, turned off when Ken Starr issued his moralistic, sex-drenched report on Bill Clinton's philanderings with Monica Lewinsky. It represented for many the Puritan-yet-prurient streak that runs through the right-wing of the Republican Party, obsessed that someone somewhere might actually be having fun.
The last few years have reminded us, however, that the sex police on the Left can be even more intrusive and personally destructive, from the boundary-free outing campaigns of gay activist Michael Rogers to the self-appointed hypocrisy cops like John Aravosis at AmericaBlog, who for months on end gleefully begged readers to view every naked photograph and fetish description from Jeff Gannon's old escort ad.
Add to that Hall of Infamy the judgment-free "journalism" of Bob Norman at the Broward-Palm Beach New Times, who has made a name for himself delving into the sex lives of Florida Republicans. In his latest salvo, Norman devotes 2,000 words to blow the lid off of anonymously-sourced party gossip that Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist had sex with a young gay Republican activist. Any editor worth his salt would have recognized Norman's article for what it is, a reporter's notebook full of unconfirmed (in fact, denied) allegations dumped into a story.
Unlike even Rogers, Norman has no direct facts to support his basic assertion. Crist (pictured) denies it, as does the young GOP activist, Jason Wetherington (also pictured). The "evidence" consists of unnamed sources who claim that 21-year-old Wetherington bragged of having sex with Crist at two private parties.
So this is what passes for journalism these days? Norman can invade the sexual privacy of not only Crist, who is at least a public figure, but a 21-year-old staffer, only because two sources unwilling to have their names used claim the youngster made a sexual boast at a couple of parties?
And it doesn't stop there. Norman went on to print claims by the unnamed sources that Crist supposedly has a long-term romantic relationship with a man with a criminal record for embezzlement. Again, Crist and the man, Bruce Carlton Jordan, both deny it, as does Jordan's family. But the party gossip is enough for Norman (and his editors) to go to press.
Some inquiry behind perpetual bachelor Crist's claim to heterosexuality is justified, as I've written before, because he favors a constitutional amendment banning gays from marrying and Florida's uniquely cruel ban on gay adults adopting children. But bedside reporting from the Left is every bit as disgusting and destructive as bedside prosecution from the Right.
And as I've noted before, it discourages honest reporting about the sexual orientation of public figures, by associated fair questions about who a politician is with unfair questions about what he does in his bedroom.
October 27, 2006
Posted by: Chris
It was the weekend before Bill Clinton's first inauguration, in January 1993, and I was at my regular watering hole at the time: JR.'s in Washington, D.C.'s Dupont Circle. I told my friends I thought the guy across the bar looked exactly like George Stephanopolous, the handsome, single Clinton adviser that had all the capital's gaydar buzzing at the time.
I went to investigate, and learned it wasn't Stephanopolous — who also wasn't gay, we learned later. It was Neil Giuliano, another rising political star, but from the other party. Back then, he was the vice mayor (emphasis on vice, I used to joke) of Tempe Ariz., and a member of the City Council there. The New Jersey native was in D.C. as a lobbyist for Arizona State University, part of his "day job" there.
At the time we were both semi-closeted gay Republicans, unsure of the direction of our party now that Clinton had won the White House and conservatives were ready to dump the moderate wing, which they blamed for George H.W. Bush's tepid re-election effort.
Neil and I became fast friends and have seen each other through many good times and some bad. He was soon elected Tempe's mayor, a position he held for 10 years until July 2004. Republicans in Tempe are for the most part moderate, like Neil, but that didn't stop anti-gay activists from threatening to out him in 1996 for signing on to an initiative from the City Council to cut off some funding for the Boy Scouts over its ban on gay members and leaders.
He beat them to the punch and came out on his own terms, but that didn't stop them for petitioning for his recall. Neil won the vote by a 70-30 landslide and in a stinging blow to his enemies on the right, subsequently won a court ruling that said his recall victory also counted for his re-election. Take that!
I have often thought (subjectively) that Neil would have been an ideal choice to run one of our national gay political groups, which have stayed hopelessly partisan-Democrat during the Bush II years, even though the entire town is controlled by Republicans. The result has been their marginalization and no effort (outside Log Cabin Republicans) to incentivize GOP strategists away from wedging on gay rights issues, especially marriage.
Last year, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation got smart and tapped Neil as its new leader, and the organization has flourished since. So has Neil, who has taken to non-profit activism like I always knew he would.
He is someone who sought and held public office for all the right reasons, and who has always measured his ideals by what's practically possible under the circumstances. That's where real progress comes from, more than bomb-throwing from the sidelines. Two decades in politics and activism haven't changed him, and he remains exactly the kind of guy you want on your side, when the chips are down or things are looking up.
Today is Neil's 50th birthday, and from a good friend who is very far away, parabens and felicidades!
Posted by: Chris
And now for something completely different… After all, life is about more than politics — even for a junkie like me. In fact, one of the great discoveries about myself that I credit entirely with accepting my sexual orientation is, drum roll please, that I love to dance.
Not exactly profound, you say? Then my guess is you don't share my passion for the dance floor. I've always loved all kinds of music, but the disco years weren't kind to my adolescence. I still remember with a mental grimace trying out my best John Travolta moves in 7th grade, only to earn stares from my classmates in Germantown, Tenn. I guess a gawky blond couldn't channel a suave Italian-American, though he and I apparently do have some things in common.
Fast-forward almost a quarter-century, and I've come to see the club scene — done right — as a treasured cathartic, tribal and just plain enjoyable way to spend an evening. "I take my problems to the dance floor," and when I hear Inaya Day belt out lines like that, I just can't help following her from the sidelines and into the action.
Unfortunately, the scourge of crystal methamphetamine (a.k.a. "Tina") has almost ruined the party scene in the U.S. We saw it happen close up in Washington, D.C., where the big weekly gay dance party, Velvet Nation, fell victim first to a changing scene and second to the construction of a new Major League Baseball stadium.
DJ Ed Bailey — who went to Vanderbilt University the same time I did — was the music man behind Velvet Nation's success, and he described the downward spiral much more eloquently than I can, in an interview with MetroWeekly:
It was always about the music and everyone coming together to be inspired by the music. There's something about that that's kind of tribal. That was intoxicating to me. … [Then] in the middle of this run at Nation, it got a little stale where I wasn't feeling it for a few years, where I thought the music became too dark. A lot of things have happened in our industry that have, I think, aided in [dance music's] decline — and the drug use is a big part of it. Whether the music is a reflection of the drug use or whether it's just a trend, the music just seems to be darker and deeper and scarier. It sounds meaner. It's not the happy, ''put your hands in the air'' kind of music of the '90s. …
By the time a song gets to a club, the music has been chopped up, sectioned off and partitioned into this or that, so that a lot of the musical quality has been lost. And that's unfortunate. I think it detracts from the overall spiritual experience. I know it sounds corny for me to say that, but I really believe it. When all you hear is thump, thump, thump all night where you used to hear a lot of vocals and pianos and happiness, it changes the environment.
Amen, Brother Ed! Fortunately, crystal meth hasn't infiltrated everywhere, and dance music that sounds like music still survives and thrives in Europe and Latin America. It's been a major upside to my self-imposed semi-exile in Brazil that I've been able to enjoy the scene there (actually here, as I write this). And no club I've been anywhere — in the U.S., Europe or anywhere else — can showcase the dance scene better than The Week in São Paulo, as I described in a feature article for the Washington Blade.
Follow the jump for photos and video from last week at The Week:
Posted by: Chris
It took about 24 hours before Karl Rove had President Bush distorting Wednesday's New Jersey Supreme Court ruling, which ordered the state to provide gay couples all the rights and benefits of marriage but left to the Legislature whether to open up "traditional marriage" to same-sex couples. In a half-hour speech in Des Moines that mostly focused on Iraq and taxes, Bush briefly addressed the decision, according to this Radio Iowa report:
Bush told the crowd in Des Moines that traditional marriage is a "fundamental institution" of civilization. "We had another activist court issue a ruling that raises doubts about the institution of marriage. I believe that marriage is a union between a man and a woman," Bush said.
Bush in the past has said he believes states have the authory to enact laws creating so-called "civil unions" which extend some legal rights to gay couples, but Bush supports passage of an amendment to the U.S. Constitution which would declare the only legal marriages in America are those between a man and a woman. "I believe it's a sacred institution that is critical to the health of our society and the well-being of families and it must be defended," Bush said. The crowd applauded, and then Bush moved on to another topic.
It's easy to see how the New Jersey opinion is a weak substitute for the landmark Massachusetts decision when it comes to riling up evangelical conservatives; more like a bland chicken marsala than the red meat they were thrown during the 2004 campaign. The New Jersey ruling "raises doubts about the institution of marriage"? Not particularly effective, as fear-mongering goes, especially considering the court refused to order the state to marry gay couples, instead leaving the issue to the democratically elected Legislature.
It's also ironic that Bush would call marriage a "fundamental institution," since it was the three dissenters in the New Jersey case who agreed, arguing that all Americans (yes, including gay and lesbian Americans) have a "fundamental right to marry," making any limitations on marriage subject to higher scrutiny than ordinary rights and freedoms. They went on to conclude that they would have ordered the state to begin marrying gay couples.
It was the New Jersey court majority, on the other hand, that argued — rather circularly — that the right sought by the seven gay couples who sued there was the "right to same-sex marriage," effectively concluding at the beginning what they decided at the end: that "gay marriage" is an entirely different institution from heterosexual marriage. Since "only rights that are deeply rooted in the traditions, history, and conscience of the people are deemed to be fundamental," it was easy work for the 4-3 court majority to conclude the "right to same-sex marriage" is not fundamental.
That's one of the ways the court majority was wrong on the law: by concluding there is somehow a fundamental right to heterosexual marry but no fundamental right to gay marry.
Follow the jump for what how the U.S. Supreme Court feels about this:
October 26, 2006
Posted by: Chris
For being a minority that exists in every American family, and whose civil rights are supported by a growing majority of the U.S. public, gay men and lesbians sure come across as the election millstone for whichever party is too closely associated with them (err, us).
Democrats blamed "gays in the military" for wrecking the first half of Bill Clinton's first term, and with it the loss of Congress to Republicans for the first time in generations. It's accepted wisdom today that Karl Rove successfully used gay marriage as a wedge issue in key swing states (especially Ohio), proving crucial to George W. Bush's re-election.
Then came Foley-gate, which pundits of all stripes declared was the last nail in the coffin for GOP hopes of retaining the House (and maybe the Senate) in this year's mid-term elections. Like gay marriage two years earlier, the Foley issue is seen as crucial in only a handful of locales, but in a closely divided House, that can be the difference between Speaker Hastert and Speaker Pelosi.
Then yesterday, we got our "October surprise": the New Jersey Supreme Court ruling that struck down the state's heterosexual-only marriage laws. The timing wasn't political; it was forced by the mandatory retirement of Chief Justice Deborah Poritz — who turned out to be Chief Protagonist for gay couples — and whose 70th birthday happened to be yesterday.
Rove and company — including his closeted cohort Ken Mehlman at the GOP's helm — were surely disappointed by the ruling. Not because the New Jersey justices unanimously ordered the state to extend to gay couples all the rights and benefits of heterosexual marriage. No, these partisan hacks — like their counterparts James Carville and company on the Democratic side — have always cared much more about power than policy. Their true disappointment was no doubt that the decision didn't go further, and order the state to begin actually "marrying" gay couples.
As it stands, the New Jersey justices aren't likely to be smeared too successfully as "activist judges," considering they left the question of what to call the institution to the democratically-elected Legislature (and governor). It's the name "marriage," after all, that is the rub for all but the most conservative Americans.
As Conor Clarke details nicely for The New Republic, General Rove and his troops will no doubt try to use the New Jersey ruling as a wedge where they can, especially in states like Tennessee and Virginia that feature both a tightly contested U.S. Senate race and a gay marriage ballot initiative. But those two races already featured highly charged racial issues, making homosexuality an unlikely deciding factor.
New Jersey voters will also decide a closely fought Senate race, but both Democrat incumbent Robert Menendez and GOP challenge Tom Kean, Jr., oppose gay marriage and back civil unions, so conservatives probably can't do much with Kean's additional support for a federal marriage amendment. That's especially so since Gov. Jon Corzine and his fellow Democrats in charge of the state House and Senate are also on record opposing "marriage" for gays.
Republican strategists will instead risk appearing mean-spirited (which they are) if they try playing politics with civil unions the way they have marriage and self-righteous (which they are) to boot, given what the Foley mess has taught the U.S. public about the influence of gay Republicans within the Gay Old Party. Not to mention that the GOP-In-Chief, President Bush, is on record backing civil unions for gay couples, as Andrew Sullivan reminds us.
No, it looks like no matter who wins — or more importantly, who loses — on Nov. 7, they won't have us gays to blame for it come Nov. 8. And who knows, maybe one day, in that shining city on a hill, being associated with the basic equality of our little subset of Americana will actually be credited with winning an election or three.
Posted by: Chris
"Those who would view [the New Jersey] Supreme Court ruling as a victory for same-sex couples are dead wrong," said an impassioned Steven Goldstein, head of Garden State Equality, one of the gay groups that brought the marriage lawsuit.
I disagree, even though I support completely the very next words from Goldstein: "So help us God, New Jersey's LGBTI community and our millions of straight allies will settle for nothing less than 100-percent marriage equality." What's more, I would agree with Goldstein and others that the New Jersey court was dead wrong on the law for allowing the state's Legislature to adopt civil unions, rather than simply amending the marriage law to include same-sex couples. But I still view the decision as an important victory.
By ruling as it did, the New Jersey court followed the middle-of-the-road example set by the Vermont Supreme Court seven years ago, when it struck down that state's heterosexual-only marriage law but left to the legislature to develop a replacement legislative scheme. Back then, gay activists in Vermont were thrilled and didn't even try to overcome opposition to full marriage from the legislature or then-Gov. Howard Dean.
Since then, as we all know, the Massachusetts high court struck down that state's marriage law, and when the legislature came back to the court three months later to ask whether civil unions were sufficient, the court said no. "The history of our nation has demonstrated that separate is seldom, if ever, equal," wrote Chief Justice Margaret Marshall (pictured), in words that ought to echo today in New Jersey.
But since the example of Massachusetts, conservatives have nonetheless succeeded in passing laws and constitutional amendment banning gay marriage in dozens of states. In the few states where they haven't succeeded, it's been because moderates and gay activists have often argued that such measures are unnecessary because gay marriage isn't a pending threat.
Judges aren't immune to political developments, and they know the harm done to the authority and credibility of the courts if their rulings are overruled by the people in constitutional amendments, as happened in both Hawaii and Alaska in the '90s over this very issue. It's not surprising, then, that the high courts in New York and Washington state couldn't muster majorities in favor of equality for gay couples, and instead decided this summer that the issue properly belonged in the legislatures to resolve.
Follow the jump for why the fight is better fought in legislatures:
October 25, 2006
Posted by: Chris
"What's in a name?" That's the question asked and answered this week by the New Jersey Supreme Court, which ruled the state must provide all the rights and benefits of marriage for gay couples but can call the institution by a different name.
All seven justices of the court, which is known as among the most progressive in the country, agreed that depriving gay couples of the rights and benefits of marriage was a violation of the New Jersey Constitution's guarantee of equal protection.
But by the slimmest of margins, 4-3, the court decided that it does not violate the equal protection of gay couples to limit "marriage" to straight couples, so long as everyone gets the same rights and benefits.
Chief Justice Deborah Poritz (pictured), whose mandatory retirement at the age of 70 on Wednesday led to the release of the court's decision, led the three justices in dissent.
"What we 'name' things matters," she wrote, "language matters."
The seven gay couples who brought suit back in 2002 challenging New Jersey's marriage law "express a deep yearning for inclusion, for participation," Poritz added, "for the right to marry in the deepest sense of that word."
The four justices in the majority were unwilling to go so far and instead gave the New Jersey Legislature six months to either amend the state's laws to allow gay couples to marry, or in the alternative to enact a civil unions law like those adopted in Vermont and Connecticut, that extends the rights and benefits of marriage but by another name.
Justice Barry T. Albin wrote on behalf of the court majority that by asking for the name "marriage" and not just the same rights and benefits, the gay couples were seeking "social acceptance," which is not something the court is empowered to provide.
"To be clear," Albin wrote, "it is not our role to suggest whether the Legislature should either amend the marriage statutes to include same-sex couples or enact a civil union scheme. Our role here is limited to constitutional adjudication, and therefore we must steer clear of the swift and treacherous currents of social policy when we have no constitutional compass with which to navigate."
It is also clear that the four justices in the majority also agreed that gay couples were better off, in the long run, winning the name "marriage" from the Legislature than the courts.
"The great engine for social change in this country has always been the democratic process. Although courts can ensure equal treatment, they cannot guarantee social acceptance, which must come through the evolving ethos of a maturing society," wrote Albin. "Plaintiffs' quest does not end here. Their next appeal must be to their fellow citizens whose voices are heard through their popularly elected representatives."
Early reaction from leading national gay groups was mostly positive and focused pressure on the Legislature to move forward with full-fledged marriage, not civil unions.
"Today's unanimous New Jersey Supreme Court ruling is a recognition of the equal needs and common humanity of committed same-sex couples and their kids," said Evan Wolfson, director of Freedom to Marry. "As the legislature moves now to implement the constitution's command of equality, we are confident that legislators will see that the right way to end discrimination in marriage is, indeed, to end discrimination in marriage, not repackage it."
"This is, at its core, a pro-family, pro-equality decision," agreed Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. "It is now in the hands of the Legislature to do the right thing, and recognize that all New Jersey families should have the protections that only marriage provides."
For Wolfson, the solution is a straight-forward, if not simple one.
"The easiest next step is not to cobble together a separate new system with two lines at the clerks' office," he said, "but rather, to end the exclusion from marriage itself with two simple words, 'I do.'"
Follow the jump for why gay activists in New Jersey disagree:
Posted by: Chris
Looks like the New Jersey Supreme Court has come down on marriage exactly like the Vermont Supreme Court did way back in 2000. All seven justices agreed that gay couples are entitled to equal benefits and rights as heterosexual couples, but the legislature can decide what to call the institution (e.g., civil unions would be OK):
HELD: Denying committed same-sex couples the financial and social benefits and privileges given to their married heterosexual counterparts bears no substantial relationship to a legitimate governmental purpose. The Court holds that under the equal protection guarantee of Article I, Paragraph 1 of the New Jersey Constitution, committed same-sex couples must be afforded on equal terms the same rights and benefits enjoyed by opposite-sex couples under the civil marriage statutes. The name to be given to the statutory scheme that provides full rights and benefits to same-sex couples, whether marriage or some other term, is a matter left to the democratic process.
More from the court, telling the N.J. expressly that civil unions are an option, so long as they're "equal" to marriage:
The equal protection requirement of Article I, Paragraph 1 leaves the Legislature with two apparent options. The Legislature could simply amend the marriage statutes to include same-sex couples, or it could create a separate statutory structure, such as a civil union. Because this State has no experience with a civil union construct, the Court will not speculate that identical schemes offering equal rights and benefits would create a distinction that would offend Article I, Paragraph 1, and will not presume that a difference in name is of constitutional magnitude. New language is developing to describe new social and familial relationships, and in time will find a place in our common vocabulary. However the Legislature may act, same-sex couples will be free to call their relationships by the name they choose and to sanctify their relationships in religious ceremonies in houses of worship.
And the legislature has six months to act:
To bring the State into compliance with Article I, Paragraph 1 so that plaintiffs can exercise their full constitutional rights, the Legislature must either amend the marriage statutes or enact an appropriate statutory structure within 180 days of the date of this decision.
Follow the jump for how many justices were willing to go for full-fledged marriage:
Posted by: Chris
That's the colorful headline on a story in today's Boston Herald about Deval Patrick, the Democratic candidate for governor in Massachusetts, taking a shot at his former boss, Bill Clinton for signing the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996
“I think it was a terrible mistake by the Clinton administration,” Patrick said of the Defense of Marriage Act. The act was signed in 1996 by Clinton, who will stump for Patrick and his running mate, Tim Murray, this afternoon in Worcester.
Patrick, who calls his opposition to banning same-sex marriages “a civil rights issue,” said he was left out of Clinton’s decision-making process, even though he was the president’s civil rights chief in the Justice Department.
“I wasn’t a part of that internal debate or legislative initiative at all,” Patrick told the Herald yesterday. “And I think it was because they knew where I was on that subject.”
“They didn’t get everything right,” Patrick added.
Patrick, who is expected to retake the governor's mansion in Massachusetts after a string of GOP chiefs in the bluest of states, comes only hours before we learn whether the New Jersey Supreme Court follows the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in opening up marriage to gay couples. It also comes two weeks before a Constitutional Convention resumes on Nov. 9, two days after Election Day, which may deal with efforts to amend the state's constitution to overturn marriage rights for gay couples.
Not surprisingly, his GOP opponent Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey is backing civil unions but not marriage, citing the state's leading Democrat, Sen. John Kerry, as her natural ally on the issue.
Posted by: Chris
As the clock ticks down to the release at 3 p.m. today of the New Jersey Supreme Court's ruling on same-sex marriage, this tidbit from the AP about the possible impact of a decision that orders the state to allow gay couples to marry:
"New Jersey is a stepping stone," said Matt Daniels, president of the Virginia-based Alliance for Marriage, a group pushing for an amendment to the federal Constitution to outlaw same-sex marriage. "It's not about New Jersey."
From a practical standpoint, the Massachusetts court decision made little impact nationally because the state has a law barring out-of-state couples from wedding there if their marriages would not be recognized in their home states.
New Jersey has no such law.
Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a Republican with his eye on a 2008 White House run, fought the legislature's efforts there to comply with the landmark state court ruling. When he couldn't recruit a super-majority to enact a constitutional amendment overruling the court — a move backed by Sen. John Kerry, then a Democratic candidate for president — he pressured the state's clerks to enforce a 1913 law that blocks the issuance of marriage licenses to non-residents if their home state would also refuse to issue it.
Gay groups challenged the 1913 law all the way up to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court but lost. As a result, only the residents of a few states that don't have laws expressly limiting marriage to heterosexual couples can marry in Massachusetts.
New Jersey has no law limiting which non-state residents can marry there, which opens the possibility of gay couples from all over the U.S. coming to New Jersey to marry legally. Then, when they return home, they would presumably challenge their home state to recognize the New Jersey marriage license under the U.S. Constitution's "Full Faith & Credit Clause," which generally requires each state to recognize the legal documents of the other 49.
Standing in the way of such out-of-state couples is the Defense of Marriage Act, passed in 1996 by a Republican-controlled Congress and signed into law by Democrat Bill Clinton. In addition to blocking all federal recognition of state-issued marriage licenses to gay couples, DOMA also provides that no other state can be forced to do so either. Of course, the U.S. Constitution trumps federal and state laws, so that sets up a legal challenge: DOMA vs. the Full Faith & Credit Clause. That's exactly what conservatives claim is the gay groups' game plan; again, from AP, quoting Mattt Daniels of the anti-gay Alliance for Marriage:
Daniels said gay-rights advocates are already looking ahead to such lawsuits. "Their game, of course, is they figure all they need to do is execute this maneuver in a half-dozen states and they'll have the momentum," he said.
In fact, that prospect is the worst nightmare for most gay rights strategists, and Daniels knows it. If DOMA is struck down by the courts, then moderates in Congress will likely join with conservatives and enact a federal marriage amendment, writing into the U.S. Constitution a permanent ban on gay marriages that might reverse history in Massachusetts and New Jersey and perhaps even strike down civil unions issued by Vermont and Connecticut, and domestic partnerships from California, Hawaii, D.C. and dozens of local governments.
Most gay rights strategists prefer instead to win in a few key states, let the general public see that marrying gay couples doesn't threaten civilization as we know it, and then move incrementally, in the legislatures and the courts, extending the freedom to marry state by state, much as they have non-discrimination, hate crime and domestic partnership laws.
Either way, or a dozen other courses that things could take, there's a lot riding on the New Jersey court ruling today, long seen as the best bet among the ongoing lawsuits — others are pending in California, Maryland, Connecticut and Iowa — challenging state marriage laws.
October 24, 2006
Posted by: Chris
A New Jersey Supreme Court official told Reuters today that a ruling issued tomorrow at 3 p.m. will decide whether the state will become the second, after Massachusetts, to conclude that gay couples have a constitutional right to marry. The decision will be posted at that time on the the court's website, the official told Reuters.
The landmark Massachusetts victory for gay couples has been followed by a series of defeats, including decisions by the high courts in New York and Washington state, and a California appeals court.
Fear that marriage recognition for same-sex couples would spread from Massachusetts to other states has helped motivate social conservatives to go to the polls, including in several swing states like Ohio during the 2004 presidential election. Republican strategists may well be hoping that gay couples win the New Jersey suit to help energize the GOP's evangelical base, which has been discouraged by the Mark Foley scandal and the failure to enact much of its social agenda.
I'll be posting my own analysis of the ruling, along with what others think, very soon after it is issued tomorrow.
Posted by: Chris
Washington loves its investigations, so it should be no surprise that Foley-gate has now officially devolved into the type of plodding probes that rarely deliver the truth and almost never on a timely basis. Today was Dennis Hastert's turn, but don't expect to find out anytime soon what the speaker knew and when he knew it.
So far the Mark Foley mess has spawned at least four investigations: (1) the FBI, which is looking into whether the former Florida congressman broke any laws; (2) the House ethics committee, which is investigating how Republican leaders and their aides responded to complaints from congressional pages; (3) the Catholic archdioceses of Miami and Gozo (in Malta), which are investigating an octagenarian priest who admits fondling and cavorting naked with Foley when he was a teen; and (4) the U.S. attorney in Arizona, who is looking into whether another gay Republican congressman, Jim Kolbe, engaged in illegal sexual contact with congressional pages on a Grand Canyon camping trip.
Don't expect much "truth" to emerge from the last two probes. A journalist in Malta has already said, "if steps are taken" against the priest, "they would be taken very cautiously and very privately." The U.S. attorney, similarly, will likely say little if he decides not to prosecute.
But the first two investigations are the most important, and it's striking that, with all the ink spilled so far on Foley, there's been almost no attention paid to what it is exactly these investigations are looking into. It's certainly not "the truth," as most of us would think of it. Probes like these are only interested in measuring the facts against whatever legal or ethical standard the investigative body is charged with enforcing.
The FBI is investigating whether Foley broke any laws — presumably federal laws — by engaging in sexually explicit online chats with former pages, who were still minors but may or may not have been at the age of consent to have sex or be exposed to graphic sexual content. So far, only one former page has claimed to have had actual sex with Foley, and he was 17 at the time. Assuming the sex took place in the District of Columbia, then it was legal because the age of consent there is 16.
The first round of sexually explicit online chats between Foley and a former page took place when the congressman was home in Florida and the former page, then 16, was home in Louisiana. The age of consent for sex in Florida is 18 (if the older participant is over the age of 24) and 17 in Louisiana. Like most states, both also have "lewdness" statutes that make it criminal to expose "minors" to vaguely described graphic content. These statutes are rarely prosecuted, especially when the "content" is online talk, according to a report in the New York Times (no longer available online except by payment):
In the past, legal experts said, prosecutors have exercised a great deal of discretion in deciding whether to pursue such cases. In the absence of physical contact, said Douglas A. Berman, a law professor at Ohio State University, some prosecutors reviewing e-mail messages like Mr. Foley's ''could say, 'This is really gross, I need to take a shower,' but not charge'' the sender with a crime. But Professor Berman added, ''There are cases in which people have done stuff that is not significantly worse and have had the book thrown at them.''
If Foley used the chats to arrange an actual meeting, for example when a former page below the age of consent was physically close by, then he could be nabbed for solicitation of sex with a minor, whether or not the meeting ever occurred. And each of these state laws, if broken by Foley, could also subject to prosecution anyone who knew about his conduct but didn't report it to the authorities.
But if the FBI probe is based on federal laws, then Foley would mostly face being hoisted by his own petard, since as co-chair of the House Caucus on Missing & Exploited Children he helped enact broad-based legislation designed to protect minors from Internet predators. Surprisingly, there's really been no media coverage on what exactly that legislation prohibits and how it might apply to Foley's conduct (and those who might have covered it up).
Follow the jump for why we shouldn't expect much from the House probe, either:
October 23, 2006
Posted by: Chris
Run, Barack, run. That's the refrain echoing in some Democratic circles after first-term Illinois Sen. Barack Obama announced on "Meet the Press" this week that he is considering a run for the White House in 2008.
A party superstar ever since his energetic keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, the mere possibility of Obama's entry scrambles what is already the most wide open presidential race in both parties in decades. His inclusive "One America" speech was one of the few major addresses at the convention that mentioned gays.
"There's not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there's the United States of America," he said to cheers. Then, in a series of examples of how reality defies the division of the country into conservative "red states" and liberal "blue states," he added, "yes, we've got some gay friends in the red states."
But if Obama does run, it will also scramble gay support — in money, endorsements and votes — for the other candidates in a crowded field of possibles that includes at least four other senators — New York's Hillary Rodham Clinton, Indiana's Evan Bayh, Delaware's Joseph Biden and Wisconsin's Russ Feingold — along with two governors — Tom Vilsack of Iowa and Bill Richardson of New Mexico — and maybe even repeat runs by Al Gore, John Kerry and John Edwards.
Last time around, in 2004, gay Democrats flexed their political muscle as never before, providing the earliest financial backing for Howard Dean, who catapulted from nowhere to front-runner before imploding in a single "whoop" the night of the Iowa caucuses.
But gay rights groups pretty much stayed neutral during the Democratic primary, waiting until after Kerry was nominated to endorse his candidacy. By doing so, they bought into the same logic that (mis)led the party's primary voters to Kerry as the "safest" pick, rather than the best on the issues. This time around, especially with the field so wide open, those groups and gays generally should consider a different strategy.
Posted by: Chris
One of the things that makes people so cynical about Washington is the rapidity with which facts are twisted, contorted and sometimes flat-out ignored to fit the ideology of the advocate. Rather than accept and deal with difficult facts, they are treated as inconveniences easily sacrificed for a worthy, more important end, usually coinciding with political power for the advocate and his allies.
We've seen it played out with George W. Bush over Iraq, with Bill Clinton over Monica Lewinksy, and with Ronald Reagan over the Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages scandal. And now we're seeing it play out in how not just the right, but the left, is treating the scandal over Mark Foley's inappropriate contacts with teenage pages.
On the right, conservatives have tried at times to blame Foley-gate on a conspiratorial release of the damning online chats just before an election. Never mind that the media learned of the scandal from Republicans, not Democrats. Then they tried blaming a favorite right-wing punching bag: political correctness. Frank Rich, the liberal New York Times columnist, neatly sums up the argument (in a piece only available for pay):
The Family Research Council's Tony Perkins, a frequent White House ally and visitor, led the way. "When we elevate tolerance and diversity to the guidepost of public life," he said on Fox News Channel, "this is what we get — men chasing 16-year-old boys around the halls of Congress." A related note was struck by the Wall Street Journal's editorial page, which asked, "Could a gay Congressman be quarantined?" The answer was no because "today's politically correct culture" — tolerance of "private lifestyle choices" — gives predatory gay men a free pass. Newt Gingrich made the same point when he announced on TV that Mr. Foley had not been policed because Republicans "would have been accused of gay bashing."
This explanation ignores the fact that the very conservative politicians it's intended to defend — principally House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) — are saying exactly the opposite: that they were unaware of any sexually explicit online chats by Foley until the day he resigned, and would have acted if they had, political correctness or no. Add that to the fact that no voice from anywhere along the spectrum, including the liberal bastions of political correctness, has offered any defense of Foley's actions, even after he pled alcoholism, homosexuality and a history of being abused as explanations for his actions.
But the facts, as they have emerged thus far, are also inconvenient for those on the left, mainly gay activists and their allies. I have always tried, while recounting them and suggesting a theory worth investigating, to also acknowledge what's known and what's not.
Follow the jump to see how leftist ideologues have rushed to judgment:
October 21, 2006
Posted by: Chris
Earlier today I posed the question whether gay politicians are essentially disqualified from office in conservative, "red" states due to the bias of their constituents, and if so, does that justify running for office from inside the closet?
In 1985, Max Linn took a three-month program called Leadership St. Petersburg that focuses on grooming future leaders in business and politics. One of his classmates in the program was Charlie Crist, who is now Florida’s attorney general and the Republican nominee for governor.
Linn, who is running against Crist on the Reform Party ticket, said there were only about 20 people in that 1985 class. “So you got to know everybody,” Linn said.
According to Linn, during the course of conversations with Crist he learned that the future attorney general is gay. The two talked about “what would happen if [Crist’s sexual orientation] comes out” during a political campaign, Linn said.
Linn kept quiet about Crist’s alleged gay secret for more than 20 years until he launched his third-party bid for governor. But on Oct. 11, National Coming Out Day, Linn “outed” Crist on WFTL, a South Florida radio show.
“Charlie, come out, come out from wherever you are,” Linn said on the radio show.
Crist has been dogged for years by rumors that he is gay, despite repeated denials and a 1979 marriage that lasted seven months. His record on gay issues, Phil LaPadula of the Express reports, has been a mixed bag of shifting positions, which makes him no worse than most politicians from either party and a decided moderate in the Florida GOP.
On the plus side, Crist has said that civil unions for gay couples are "fine" with him, a surprising position as strong as that taken by the leaders of the national Democratic Party, including former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean. On the minus side, he opposes gay marriage (as does Dean) and signed a (failed) petition to put a gay marriage amendment on the November ballot, a position no worse than John Kerry, the Democratic nominee for president two short years ago.
Crist has danced around whether he favors repealing Florida's uniquely cruel ban on single gay adults adopting children, and whether he favors basic non-discrimination legislation. But he has come out in favor of hate crime laws and school bullying protections that specifically target anti-gay harassment.
That gay rights record is in the same ballpark as another closeted Florida Republican: disgraced Congressman Mark Foley. In fact, the two have known each other for decades. The thumbnail photo here was snapped by Ocala Pride, an ironically named non-gay publication in Ocala, Fla.
Follow the jump for what Crist and Foley have in common:
Posted by: Chris
No, it's not a sign welcoming home Idaho Sen. Larry Craig (R) the subject of a D.C.-based "outing campaign." It's the message board sign outside the landscape supply and horse-boarding business owned by Joe Valentine in Post Falls, Idaho. The side of the message board visible for southbound travelers was even more hospitable: "Don't fruit with Idaho. Kill Yo-Yo Boy."
According to a story in the Spokane Spokesman-Review, the same paper that reported Craig's denial of gay rumors, Valentine didn't post the sign to target the Republican senator:
According to Valentine, “Yo-Yo Boy” is his nickname for convicted killer and child molester Joseph Duncan, who killed three members of a Coeur d’Alene family and allegedly abducted two children from the family home so he could rape and molest them.
“People are kind of numb. I think they need to wake up a little bit,” said Valentine, who drives classic cars emblazoned with the Confederate flag. One has a horn that plays “Dixie.”
With enlightened constituents like Valentine, ready to smear all gay people based on the depraved acts of one homicidal (not homosexual) pedophile, it's easy to imagine why an aspiring gay politician might want to remain in the closet.
I'm among the first to criticize elected officials for hiding their homosexuality because it's politically inconvenient, but raw bigotry like Valentine's does pose an interesting question: Should gay candidates be essentially disqualified from office, or at least higher, statewide office, based on the intolerance of their constituents?
Outing activists would probably argue that so long as they don't stake an anti-gay policy positions — and Larry Craig has among the worst gay rights records in the U.S. Senate — then it's OK to serve from inside the closet. But is hypocrisy the only justification for inquiring into a public official's sexual orientation (not sex life)? What about deceiving constituents in general about who they are? Is that lie justified by the likely career damage based on bigotry that would be caused from being honest?
October 20, 2006
Posted by: Chris
Earlier in the week, I challenged Mike Rogers, the "outing activist" who targeted Republican Sen. Larry Craig of Idaho, to let his sources talk to the Spokane Spokesman-Review, Craig's hometown newspaper, which has reported on the attempting outing. Well now, I take it back.
Not because of anything Rogers has said in response, mind you. Rogers hasn't answered my blog post or e-mails I've sent him. It's not surprising. He's always been all-offense and no-defense, completely wilting in the face of challenge.
Two years ago, in the midst of his initial round of outings on Capitol Hill, he lit up the phone lines at the Washington Blade, where I was editor, absolutely apoplectic that we planned to run his photo along with a profile of him. He insisted, in a battery of phone calls of ever-increasing intensity, that he faced death threats and would be physically endangered if his photo ran in the Blade.
The claim was ridiculous on its face, especially considering the photo we were running was a screen capture (shown here) from his recent appearance on "The O'Reilly Factor." Rogers also refused to be interviewed for the profile or answer any questions about his own motives in bringing the outing campaign.
Follow the jump for a re-direction of the Craig "outing" challenge:
Posted by: Chris
Alex Koppelman's newly posted piece in Salon offers a fascinating glimpse at the way the mainstream media dance around questions of sexual orientation, even when they involve newsworthy questions for public figures who are elected officials. He fairly (and generously) quotes me, along with Kevin Naff, my successor at the Blade, for the proposition that the time has come to end the double-standard in how sexual orientation gets reported in the mainstream media.
Mark Leibovich, a reporter with the New York Times, offered Koppelman the classic "MSM" approach. The Times policy manual states a pretty clear rule to follow: "Cite a person's sexual orientation only when it is pertinent and its pertinence is clear to the reader." And yet Leibovich, following an unwritten convention adhered to most mainstream journalists, adds an additional hurdle the press would never countenance in almost any other context involving a public official: It has to be OK with the story subject, too.
"We don't out people," [Leibovich] says. "It has to be relevant to the story. But if there's someone who's openly gay, and it's relevant, then we'll report that."
Asked what he defines as "openly gay," Leibovich answered, "Someone who has introduced themselves as such and basically who considers themselves openly gay. We generally leave the standard up to the person involved."
Similarly reluctant was Peter Wallsten, the Los Angeles Times reporter who was first in the mainstream press to report this month that Kirk Fordham's, Mark Foley's former chief of staff, is gay — two years after Fordham (pictured) had been outed by activists in the Washington Blade:
“I don’t think it was sufficient that it was in the Blade,” Wallsten states. He says he was certain that Fordham would not be troubled by how the paper described him, but won't specify how he knew that. “I had indications that it was not a problem.” He included the information because, he says, it was "important and noteworthy" in the context of the story.
But Wallsten wouldn't have reported the "important and noteworthy" fact that Fordham is gay unless Fordham wouldn't have been troubled by it? Wouldn't elected officials love it if they could select other "important and noteworthy" facts about their lives that are squarely relevant and newsworthy and single-handedly declare them off-limits even to reporters who already know them?
Follow the jump to find out how mainstream journalists justify the cover-up:
October 19, 2006
Posted by: Chris
Jeff Trandahl, the now-openly gay former clerk of the U.S. House, finally told his side of Foley-gate to someone: the House ethics committee. In testimony earlier today, he reportedly pointed the finger at his old boss: Ted Van Der Meid, chief counsel for House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), as the staffer who Trandahl kept informed about all matters Foley.
Even before Trandahl had finished testifying, ABC News' Brian Ross, who broke the first stories about Mark Foley's sexually explicit online chats with former pages, reported the gist of Trandahl was expected to say:
The Republican source said Trandahl planned to name Ted Van Der Meid, the speaker's counsel and floor manager, as the person who was briefed on a regular basis about any issue that arose in the page program, including a "problem group of members and staff who spent too much time socializing with pages outside of official duties." One of whom was Mark Foley.
Ross further reported that Van Der Meid expects also to be called to testify before the House committee investigating the matter.
Not surprisingly, the attention — from the mainstream media and the blogosphere — appears to be focused on tarring Hastert with any and all information about Foley reported by Trandahal and others to the speaker's staff — principally Van Der Meid and staff chief Scott Palmer. Many of these analysts are assuming that Hastert must have learned about the matter because he is "unusally close" to his top aides, even sharing a D.C. townhouse with two of them. Hastert has flatly denied that claim, a remarkably stupid move if in fact he was kept in the loop. It just doesn't fly as a theory for me.
Follow the jump for a more plausible theory than blaming Hastert:
Posted by: Chris
Activist-blogger Michael Rogers bragged yesterday that his attempt to "out" Republican Sen. Larry Craig of Idaho topped Technorati's list of "top searches." But as much play as Rogers (pictured) is getting on the blogosphere, the mainstream media so far ain't biting. Even Craig's hometown paper, the Idaho Spokesman-Review, had an internal debate over whether even to cover the "outing" and ended up burying the story, in which Craig denies the claim as "ridiculous."
Part of the problem lies with Rogers if he "refuses to name his sources," as the Spokesman-Review reported. Even if Rogers made a deal to protect the anonymity of those sources, he should encourage them to talk to the Spokesman-Review on the same condition. If the evidence is so overwhelming, as Rogers claims, then let it speak for itself — or, in this case, them speak for themselves.
October 18, 2006
Posted by: Chris
Mike Rogers has done it again. The blogger-activist who made headlines two years ago outing gay (mostly Republican) members of Congress and staffers, today claimed that Idaho Sen. Larry Craig (also Republican) is a closeted gay man. Rogers claims to have spoken with four men — one in Washington, D.C., and three back in Idaho — who in turn claim to have had sex with Craig. None of the four men is identified, and Rogers indicates they don't know each other and yet still identified "physical characteristics" from Craig that lent their stories credibility.
Craig's hometown newspaper reports the senator has called Rogers' claim "ridiculous."
Rogers claims the "outing" of Craig, who is married with two children, is justified because he has a horrible track record on gay rights. That much is for certain: He has received a zero on every scorecard from the Human Rights Campaign, the D.C.-based gay rights group, during his current, six-year term. To earn a zero on all those scorecards, Craig opposed not only gay rights legislation, but a number of fairly non-controversial HIV/AIDS measures. He has also refused to adopt a policy not to discriminate in his own office on the basis of sexual orientation, something even many Republicans with poor gay rights records have been willing to do.
Follow the jump to find out why this 'outing' was a bad idea…
Posted by: Chris
… but four days — just two not counting the weekend — after I complained on my blog that the Human Rights Campaign had yet to release its scorecard rating the votes in the current congressional session, the "nation's largest gay political group" finally did so on Monday, Oct. 16.
It's a mystery why HRC waits so long into the election cycle to issue its scorecard, keeping gay and gay-friendly constituents from knowing the compiled record of incumbents, but it's probably the same reason HRC's website still doesn't feature a complete list of its endorsed candidates. Here's my theory, offered last week:
The only explanation for keeping the scorecard secret so late in the campaign is HRC's insecurity that having a strong gay rights voting record will more likely be used against incumbents than in favor of them. This is, of course, classic Democratic triangulation made famous by Bill Clinton. Gay-frendly incumbents who've survived the primaries are running to the center and to the right in the final weeks before the election, and support for "the gays," especially in the midst of the Mark Foley scandal, doesn't contribute to that strategy.
Someone needs to remind [HRC leader Joe] Solmonese [whose entire career has been in Democratic politics] that he doesn't work for Howard Dean and the Democratic National Committee. The gay rights movement will never be won by slinking into the closet before Election Day. … If we don't show confidence that our movement's message will resonate with voters, why should we expect poll-watching politicians to?
October 17, 2006
Posted by: Chris
It's great to see how hip hop has matured to the point that it's not so much about macho posing to embrace its gay fans. In an interview with Blender magazine where the readers ask the questions, hip hop's top producer Timbaland, was queried about his new single with Justin Timberlake, "SexyBack," in which Timbaland raps to Justin in the chorus: "Go 'head child and get your sexy on."
"I love the song," wrote in a reader from St. Paul, Minn., "but didn't you feel a bit weird telling Justin to 'get his sexy on'?" Timbaland answered:
Not at all. Some people listen to a song like 'SexyBack' and think, am I queer? Am I funny? If you are that way, you're just that way. But if you're a masculine man, embrace it. Have a glass of wine, put the record on, invite your girl over — get sexy. 'Cause you might get some drawers off. Trust me — I know what I'm talking about.
Yeah yeah, I know. Timbaland acts like being gay means you're a flamer and being straight means you're masculine. But aside from that (not so) small point, I'm impressed that he wasn't defensive about the issue and what people might think about his duet with Justin.
Read in the jump how Justin recruits:
October 16, 2006
Posted by: Chris
After arriving in Rio on Saturday following a nightmare trip from Washington, I was so excited that my partne and I could spend time with a good friend from law school and his partner, who was celebrating his 40th birthday here. Two other friends from school came along as well, along with the partner's parents and (straight) brother. But the highlight of the weekend was meeting their adorable baby daughters — twins the couple adopted at birth 14 months ago.
As I saw the two daddies dote on their two daughters, with the loving support of their extended family and friends, I thought how ridiculous it is that conservative politicians are still scapegoating gay parents as the third rail argument against allowing gays to marry. In fact, on Sunday, as we visited with my friends' family, Republican Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts was appearing on video uplink to hundreds of evangelical Christian churches across the U.S., using the issue to rally the troops to the November ballot box:
"The price of same-sex marriage is paid by the children,” said Romney during a brief but peppy speech from Boston during a forum hosted by the Family Research Council. “The child’s development is enhanced by the nurturing of parents of both genders. Every child deserves a mother and a father."
Many gay activists consider that sort of rhetoric to be "demonizing" or "bashing" gay parents, but most gay parents I know are keenly aware of the need to provide role models for their kids from both genders.
Follow the jump for a video glimpse into the future:
Posted by: Chris
For years, the mainstream media deliberately avoided reporting on Mark Foley's personal life. Now that the Florida congressman has resigned in disgrace over a sex scandal, it's no holds barred.
In its cover story last week, Newsweek quotes an anonymous "friend" to report that Foley's double life included a series of affairs with men who, like Foley, already had boyfriends. That way, they both had something to lose; "mutually assured destruction," he supposedly joked.
Yet in the same issue, Newsweek took heat from readers angry that the previous week's cover story on photographer Annie Leibovitz "straight-washed" her long-term relationship with now-deceased author Susan Sontag. The lengthy profile referred to Sontag only as "the person [Leibovitz] was closest to." (The tiny credit on this photo of Leibovitz, from the Newsweek cover story, indicates it was taken by Sontag.)
Why is the media so willing to dig into the personal lives of gay public figures when the subject is seedy, and so reluctant to even ask "the question" of public figures whose lives aren't tainted by scandal?
Follow the jump for the questions Barry Manilow and Luther Vandross won't answer:
October 15, 2006
Posted by: Chris
I wrote last week about how on Oct. 9 and 10, Huffington Post included a teaser at the top of its home page that a TV network was developing a story about how another gay Republican in Congress, Jim Kolbe, of Arizona, also has had inappropriate contact with teenage male pages. I was so busy with my move and travel to Rio late in the week, that I missed this brief story posted on MSNBC on Oct. 11.
The "bombshell" is anything but. The U.S. attorney's office in Arizona is investigating a camping trip to the Grand Canyon taken by Kolbe with two former pages, both male and 17 at the time in 1996, coincidentally the same year he was pushed out of the closet for supporting the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act. Also on the trip were Kolbe's sister, several of his congressional staffers and even several park employees.
Two days later, MSNBC updated the story, citing claims by an unnamed source who apparently sparked the investigation that Kolbe showered one of the pages with unwanted attention that included "fawning, petting and touching" the teenager's arm. NBC also interviewed the two former pages:
One of them said that Kolbe was a gentleman and never acted in an improper fashion. He recalled that the pair spent time in Kolbe's house at one point — and briefly were alone with him on the trip — and that Kolbe always acted professionally and decently.
The other would not comment on Kolbe's behavior during the trip or characterize it in any way.
"I don't want to get into the details," he said. "I just don't want to get into this... because I might possibly be considered for a job in the administration."
However, the former page — who is the one to whom Kolbe allegedly paid special attention — said he had a "blast" on the trip and did not report anything improper to his parents or any House officials after the trip. He said he has a favorable impression of the page program to this day and likes Kolbe.
Considering the hoopla surrounding Mark Foley's misconduct, the power relationship between members of Congress and pages, and the age of consent (18) in Arizona, the U.S. attorney's "preliminary investigation" is understandable. Leaking that investigation to the press, however, would be troubling and suggest a less than honorable motive could be at work. The NBC News report does indicate that such an investigation would normally be handled by the FBI, not the U.S. attorney, who is appointed by the president.
Are Republicans looking to pin the Foley scandal on gay members of Congress, along the lines suggested by some of the White House allies who've shamelessly played on the pedophile slur that still haunts gay men? Did Kolbe give them ammunition by testing the lines of fraternal conduct? It's probably a matter of time until the mainstream media reports, as I mentioned in my previous post, that Kolbe's partner now is young enough to be his son, or even his grandson.
Perhaps the U.S. attorney's office didn't leak the investigation. Maybe the source from the trip complaining about Kolbe's behavior also brought the story to the press. Or maybe the U.S. attorney's office thought that some public coverage of possible misconduct by Kolbe with one former page might bring others out of the woodwork, which is exactly how the Foley scandal broke.
Whatever the whole story, the three threads of Foley-gate — Foley's own misconduct, the apparent attempt by gay GOP staffers to keep it quiet, and now Kolbe's relationship with teenage males — are all headed in directions that could be used to scapegoat homosexuality as a common factor in the scandal and its cover-up.
October 14, 2006
Posted by: Chris
Even though my boyfriend and I are in the process of locating in the same city, for the next month or so we are still very much long distance: Washington, D.C. to Rio De Janeiro, Brazil.
Those who've done it know the positives (yes, there are some) and negatives that come from being in love with someone in a distant zip code, country, or in our case, continent. One downside is the emotional toll it can take when travel plans go awry, as they are wont to do. That's what happened to us on Thursday, when I caught my Continental Airlines flight to Rio, which was connecting through Houston.
I knew I was in for a rough day when, a few hours before the flight, I rechecked my reservation only to discover the flight was out of distant Dulles Airport, not the nearby National Airport (I won't call it Reagan Airport, out of deference to a close friend who still remembers that administration's deadly silence in the early days of AIDS).
As my taxi approached Dulles, we got caught it a massive traffic backup on the special road devoted to airport travel; a truck had flipped over and spilled its contents onto the highway, shutting down one of two lanes for traffic.
I actually still managed to catch my flight, but the pilot announced once we were airborne that thunderstorms in Houson had closed George H.W. Bush Airport (no rule against using his name, is there William?), and we would have to divert to Gulfport, Miss., just to refuel while we waited for it to reopen. By the time we arrived in Houston, my flight to Rio had left 20 minutes earlier.
Waiting in line at the Continental desk, I heard the agent explain to a woman who missed the same flight our depressing options: wait TWO days and fly out on Saturday night, arriving Sunday morning, or take an incredibly circuitous route on Friday: Houston to Newark to Sao Paulo to Rio, arriving Saturday morning.
She chose the latter but when it was my turn, I convinced the very nice Continental agent to let me switch to partner Delta Airlines, from which I'd purchased the ticket, and fly to Atlanta on Friday and then to Rio in the redeye on Friday night, arriving Saturday. That's what I did, finally arriving at our apartment in Ipanema almost 48 hours after I caught the taxi in Washington.
I'm thankful there's only one more of those D.C. to Rio trips before my move is complete.
October 13, 2006
Posted by: Chris
The House Ethics Committee heard five hours of testimony yesterday from Kirk Fordham, the gay former chief of staff for Mark Foley who claims he alerted House Speaker Dennis Hastert's chief of staff three years ago of Foley's "page problem." As the committee gears up its investigation, the Washington Post is reporting that the early focus will be on three Hastert aides: Scott Palmer, the speaker's staff chief; Mike Stokke, his deputy chief, and Ted Van Der Meid, his chief counsel.
Fordham claims he went to Palmer in 2003 about Foley's inappropriate contacts with pages after being called by chief House clerk Jeff Trandahl about a late-night drunken visit by the Florida Republican outside the page dorm, trying to get in. Trandahl, who is gay, told Fordham, who is also gay, that he needed to rein the congressman in — a conversation the two aides apparently had more than a few times over the years. According to the Post, Fordham expressed doubt that a warning from him would do anything at this point, so the two decided to raise the issue with Palmer.
As I've mentioned before, the word on the Hill is that Palmer is also gay, so bringing the issue to him was still keeping the Foley issue within the so-called "velvet mafia" of gay Republicans on the Hill. The Post describes Hastert, Palmer and Stokke, who all live together in a D.C. townhouse, as "unusually close." The profile makes no mention of wives or families for any of the three Hastert aides.
Will the committee ask whether Palmer, Stokke or Van Der Meid is gay? I've also heard that Van Der Meid is, but the rumor mill is at full tilt right now in D.C.
A combination of factors may result in "the question" never being asked by anyone, much less answered. First and foremost, political correctness dictates the question can't be asked. To Democrats, asking is the equivalent of a McCarthy witchhunt, even though the facts in this case make sexual orientation squarely relevant. Also, more cynically, Democrats want this issue to stick to Hastert and GOP members of Congress, not a coterie of semi-closeted staffers. Gay activist and blogger John Aravosis, who made headlines a few years ago as one of two "outing activists," is shying away from the question this time for the same nakedly partisan reasons.
For Republicans, asking the question violates their own, slightly offensive form of political correctness: They embrace "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" because what you do in your bedroom is your business, as if being gay is any more or less about sex than being straight. And as deep a pile of muck as the Foley scandal has created for Republicans, they gain little by blaming a "thin pink line" of gay GOP staffers. They're still Republican staffers, and the party's anti-gay base of evangelical conservatives would likely be further turned off, keeping them home for Election Day.
That leaves the media to ask "the question," since the House committee is full of partisan politicians and the FBI is focused on the law, not the full truth, which aren't necessarily the same. Will the media — straight or gay — ask "the question"? Have they finally learned that asking the question isn't "outing" anyone? It's doing a journalist job. I'm not holding my breath.
October 12, 2006
Posted by: Chris
The year is 1983. Americans learn a congressman is gay at the same time they learn he had sex with a former congressional page. The congressman is a Democrat, and his party controls the House. Seeing a political opportunity, a Republican challenger in a district hundreds of miles away seizes on an innocuous statement by the Democratic incumbent there that she is friends with the gay, page-predator congressman.
The Republican even runs ads on Christian radio telling social conseratives that the Democratic incumbent's "friend has been caught using his position to take advantage of 16-year-old pages." Gay groups rightly condemn the radio ads as gay-baiting: The targeted Democrat isn't alleged to have played any role in the gay congressman's predatory behavior or the resulting alleged cover-up, but she is gay-friendly and endorsed by the Human Rights Campaign, the D.C.-based gay rights group. The Republican challenger is cynically playing upon conservative Christian prejudices by tarring the Democrat for being friends with a gay predator.
October 11, 2006
Posted by: Chris
When Mark Foley entered politics, he probably dreamed that one day he might make the cover of Time magazine. Maybe he didn't expect "Man of the Year" honors, but I guarantee he never imagined a story on him would make the cover, illustrated with a photo of an elephant's ass.
Time's report on the scandal confirmed that the mainstream media are beginning to probe the role gay Republians played when they learned about the Foley's inappropriate contact with male pages:
A whisper campaign has been launched in Washington to blame an internal culprit [for the Foley scandal]: a "velvet mafia" at the upper levels of GOP leadership on Capitol Hill. Foley, that line of argument went, had been protected by gay staff members like [Kirk] Fordham, [Jeff] Trandahl and others whose names were being widely circulated. Says a top aide: "It looks like they may have tried to handle this among themselves because they were similarly situated."
Note that Time doesn't identify the names of the other top gay GOP aides, even though their "names were widely circulated." If there's to be a silver lining to the whole Foley mess, hopefully it will rewrite the rules about when to report on a gay person's sexual orientation. (There is, of course, no restriction on when the press reports someone's heterosexual orientation, whether they are a public official or even a public figure.)
If there are senior Republican aides who were aware of Foley's "page problem" and didn't act on it because, at least in part, they are gay also, then their sexual orientation is front-and-center newsworthy and reporting the mere fact of their homosexuality does not violate their privacy.
It's long past time the media applied the same rules to deciding when a gay person's sexual orientation is relevant as they do a straight person's. If they did, we woudn't learn so often that a public figure is gay when they are mired in a seedy sex scandal, and using their sexual orientation to explain away their marital infidelity (James McGreevey) or to blunt suggestions they are a pedophile (Mark Foley).
Posted by: Chris
Out gay Congressman Barney Frank tells the Advocate there are more, yet-to-be-revealed, closeted gay Republicans who helped cover for Mark Foley:
There are others who were involved that I can't mention since they aren't out. They are all more like secret Jews. … A lot of them chose between their gayness and their party. I'm sure the group of gay Republican staffers hid Foley's actions as best they could.
Frank has always been among the most partisan Democrats in Washington, but he's also been careful not to join in outing gays on the Hill, no matter how pernicious their role within the GOP making anti-gay policy. There's little doubt that he's right about the role gay Republicans played here.
October 10, 2006
Posted by: Chris
For almost two days, the blog-news compilation site Huffington Post included a prominent tease at the top of the home page that TV networks were working on a story about inappropriate conduct with pages by gay Republican Congressman Jim Kolbe. Now that mention has disappeared in a puff of smoke, without any emerging story to deliver the goods.
Waiting to confirm facts before reporting them is what separates journalists from rumor-mongerers. It's too easy for people to conclude that where there's smoke, there's fire. Spreading rumors that Jim Kolbe — or anyone else — might have engaged in predatory behavior is not only irresponsible, it plays on the worst kind of anti-gay stereotypes.
You would think that Arianna Huffington herself would no better than to rumor-monger about the private lives of others. After all, she endured quite a bit of very personal press after Michael Huffington came out as bisexual during the course of the couple's 1997 divorce. Several years earlier, Michael had been narrowly defeated by Dianne Feinstein for a U.S. Senate seat from California.
As for Kolbe, he is something of an enigma. The Arizona Republican was in the closet for much of his political career, coming out in 1996 only after he feared he was about to outed by the Advocate for voting in favor of the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act. (Mark Foley was targeted by outing activists in the same timeframe, but stayed in the closet.) Since coming out, Kolbe's voting record has been considerably more pro-gay, though he has never renounced his vote for DOMA.
I took Kolbe to task earlier this year in a Washington Blade editorial for not using his influence on immigration issues — press reports indicated he was a key White House ally in a sea of xenophobic House Republicans — to introduce into the national debate the Uniting American Families Act. Kolbe is a co-sponsor of UAFA, which allows gay Americans to sponsor their same-sex partners for immigration purposes in the same way straight Americans can.
Kolbe had attended a Log Cabin Republican black-tie dinner in Washington weeks earlier with his boyfriend, who is a Panamanian national in the U.S. on a temporary visa. Even though the issue hit so close to home, Kolbe insisted there was no point in raising UAFA because it didn't have the votes to pass and the immigration debate was difficult enough without it.
Looking back, I also could have pointed out that Kolbe's boyfriend (partner?) is much, much younger than the Arizona congressman, who at 64 has already announced this is his last term in Congress. Of course, having a 20-something boyfriend by no means proves the "developing story" teased by Huffington's site, but at least it's a fact — and one the media would have reported days ago if Kolbe were straight.
Posted by: Chris
One day after the Washington Post broke the story that gay Republican Congressman Jim Kolbe received a complaint from a congressional page way back in 2000 about inappropriate attention from fellow Republican Mark Foley, Kolbe issued a short statement with a few more details about the "corrective action" he says he took.
Kolbe said he learned from the former page, who Kolbe had appointed, about "emails from Rep. Foley that made him feel uncomfortable." Kolbe's "corrective action" was not, as the Post report had suggested, to confront Foley directly, but to "pass along the complaint to Rep. Foley's office and the clerk who supervised the Page program." Kolbe took no additional action, he said, because the former page never raised the issue again and had graduated from the page program.
Kolbe will no doubt come under fire for thinking it was "corrective action" to refer the complaint to Foley's staff. Why would Foley's office do anything other than bury the matter, perhaps with a private, toothless warning to the closeted congressman?
Kolbe doesn't name to whom within Foley's office he directed the complaint, but expect yet more heat if it was Kirk Fordham, Foley's gay chief of staff. The other recipient of Kolbe's referral also isn't named, but is identified as "the clerk who supervised the page program." That would be Jeff Trandahl, the gay Republican who was then chief clerk of the U.S. House. If Kolbe's "corrective action" was to refer the complaint to other gay Republicans, it lends further credence to what appears to have been a "thin pink line" of gay Republicans covering for Foley. It also puts Trandahl further on the hotseat.
Until now, Trandahl's confirmed knowledge of Foley's "page problem" dated only to the end of last year — soon before Trandahl quietly resigned his post — when House Speaker Dennis Hastert asked Trandahl and Rep. John Shimkus to talk to Foley about an overly friendly email to a former page in Louisiana. Now it appears Trandahl was made aware at least five years earlier about Foley's pursuit of these teenage males.
A number of reports on "Foley-gate" have quoted former pages as saying they were unofficially warned about Foley's unusual interest in individual pages. Hopefully these sorts of nudges weren't the only "corrective actions" taken by Trandahl and his staff.
Trandahl's complete silence on the matter only underlines the questions he hasn't answered: How many other such incidents was he aware of, and did he inform the speaker or his staff, or Shimkus, or anyone else for that matter, about the pattern of Foley's conduct? The same questions could be asked of Fordham, if in fact he was the person in "Foley's office" alerted by Kolbe.
October 09, 2006
Posted by: Chris
A Washington Post report today adds considerably to the impression that Mark Foley's unseemly pursuit of congressional pages was well-known on the Hill among gay Republicans, who largely kept the matter among themselves. As far back as 2000, the Post reports, gay GOP Congressman Jim Kolbe from Arizona was aware of problematic online conversations Foley had with male pages soon after they left Washington.
Kolbe spokesperson Korenna Cline told the Post that Kolbe took "corrective action" at the time, but that was apparently limited to a confrontation between the two gay congressmen — one out and one in the closet. Cline indicated that the online conversations at issue back in 2000 were not sexually explicit, just troublesome and unwelcome to the former pages who received them. But another, unnamed source read the exchanges to the Post reporter and characterized them as sexually graphic.
For those of us who know gay Republican staffers and congressmen on the Hill, the scenario described in the Post story is completely plausible. These men — because they are very, very rarely lesbians — are a closeknit group, sometimes referred to as "the Velvet Mafia," who perceive themselves as unwelcome and derided by the two groups most important to them: the Republican Party and the gay community. Protecting each other's privacy is a top priority, especially when disclosure can mean ridicule from liberal activists within the gay community, and can ruin job prospects from within conservative GOP ranks.
In that toxic atmosphere, it's hardly surprising that Kolbe, or gay GOP staffers Kirk Fordham and Jeff Trandahl, would try to deal themselves with Foley and the fallout from his misbehavior. Taking the matter through official channels would risk outing Foley and embarrassing gay Republicans generally with the most reviled of all anti-gay stereotypes: the child predator. Now, paradoxically, their paranoid fear of disclosing skeletons from gay GOP closets threatens to do far worse damage to the image of gay Republicans, and gays generally, than they probably ever imagined.
Unfortunately, the worst may be yet to come. Word on the Hill is there's much more to the Foley story, with more of the Velvet Mafia yet to be outed. Some of the focus has centered on Scott Palmer, who is chief of staff for Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill). Fordham, who resigned last week as chief of staff for ranking Republican Thomas Reynolds of New York, is engaged in a public relations war with Palmer over whether Fordham approached Palmer as far back as 2003 about Foley's predatory behavior toward pages and former pages. Palmer is single and shares a D.C. townhouse with Hastert.
Whether or not more dirt emerges on "the thin pink line" that appears to have mishandled Foley's despicable behavior, the damage may already be done. To some extent, the GOP deserves to take the heat for fomenting a secret world of gay staffers and congressmen, who act to protect each other's hide in a conservative, anti-gay environment that constantly threatens their careers. The same can be said for the members of the Velvet Mafia itself, who not only compartmentalize their lives in the traditional ways demanded by the closet, but also divvy up and rationalize away their professional commitment to a party that opposes their own basic civil rights and regularly wedges the electorate with gay-baiting tactics they personally loathe.
As many gay politicos said over the weekend in Washington, it was only a matter of time…
October 06, 2006
Posted by: Chris
When I found out former New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey was going to be in Atlanta tonight for an appearance at Outwrite Bookstore, I rearranged my schedule to stay here an extra day to hear what he had to say. I'm not particularly sympathetic to McGreevey, who came out only when he had absolutely no other choice, and when it was actually in his interest to do so. Hardly a profile in courage.
His memoir, "The Confession," doesn't cheat on details the way Mary Cheney did in her recent effort, but all McGreevey's talk about integrity and "authenticity" comes up short, in the book and in person. Self-effacing and a dynamic speaker, McGreevey is at his best describing the turmoil of the closet, his own oversized ego and the ambition that came with it. He pulls few punches there. He also succeeds in describing in vivid detail the toll the closet took on him and his political ambitions — along with the political advantages he took from lessons the closet taught him about compartmentalization and portraying an image, whether "authentic" or not.
Where McGreevey loses his "authenticity" is when he describes the toll his closet took on anyone other than himself, and his double life has quite the body count. As much as he professes to have been changed by his "journey," McGreevey comes across as the same self-absorbed egotist as emerges from his book. Only now, since his most sympathetic audience is likely gays and our friends, we have become his target audience. The very people whose lives he short-changed while in power — through opposing gay marriage and even civil unions — he now milks as his cash cow.
To be sure, McGreevey offers perfunctory apologies to some of those he has wounded along the way: his two wives and two children, his parents, his advisers, his supporters, the people of New Jersey, and on and on. But very little about his actions suggests the remorseful words are "authentic." If McGreevey felt true regret for dragging his wives and families through the mud, for instance, then why do so all over again now with a high-profile book tour? The motive, of course, is financial — to the tune of a half-million-dollar book advance, according to GQ Magazine.
Another group of folks victimized by McGreevey's cowardly path to power, and equally cowardly fall, didn't even make his "apology list." So during the Q&A, I asked him whether it tarnished the image of gays generally when most Americans learn for the first time that so many prominent people are gay only when they are mired in some seedy sex scandal, whether it be McGreevey, or Mark Foley or even George Michael. Shouldn't his apology list include those gay people who have had the courage to risk their own ambition to live openly and authentically, only to be dragged through McGreevey's mud by association?
His answer was nothing if not politically masterful. He rambled a bit about the perils of the closet, then riffed on how society bears responsibility for forcing people into the closet, segue-waying seemlessly into a vignette about a lesbian teen beaten up in her high school for coming out. When he summed up by calling for anti-bullying legislation, half the audience cheered, having completely forgotten the question and McGreevey's near-total evasion of it.
McGreevey is the first to admit that he would likely never have come out if events hadn't forced him to, and even that's not quite right: He only came out when doing so was more advantageous to staying in the closet. Among the most telling passages of "The Confession" is when McGreevey describes the epiphany that led him to come out publicly.
When he finally admitted he was gay to a gay supporter — after avoiding the question during almost two weeks of internal discussions about his extramarital affair — his friend exclaimed, "That's it! That explains everything! Don't you see? The truth will set you free." [Read: The truth is coincidentally advantageous to you!] "This is the truth! Tell it to everbody. Hold a press conference and tell the truth. And suddenly the tawdry affair with your political appointee makes sense. You were a man in the closet, and now you're free. This is huge, Jim. I think the voters will understand."
McGreevey described his friend's reaction as "a preacher's altar call" that reduced him to tears of relief. It was clearly ironic to McGreevey that the truth he had hidden all his life actually benefitted him at this point, he had dug his hole so deep. So he moved forward with his press conference, without regard before or since about the impact it had on anyone but himself.
October 04, 2006
Posted by: Chris
The unfolding Mark Foley scandal has thrust into the spotlight two Capitol Hill insiders who are gay, even though their sexual orientation has not yet become an issue. The two men appear to be among the first who learned of Foley's problematic interest in congressional pages, and their actions (or inaction) will no doubt come to reflect not only on them, but gay people generally.
Both Kirk Fordham, who was Foley's chief of staff for a decade, and Jeff Trandahl, who was clerk of the U.S. House from 1998 to 2005, have lived for years out of the closet, at least within Washington, D.C.'s, gay community.
Fordham made headlines today when he resigned as chief of staff for New York Congressman Tom Reynolds, who heads up the GOP's effort to retain control of the House. Fordham insisted his reason for quitting was not to become a political drag on his boss, who is locked in a tight re-election battle and is coming under heat for how he dealt with early reports that Foley had sent an inappropriate e-mail to a teenage male in Louisiana who had been a congressional page. Fordham was Reynolds' top aide at the time, having left Foley's staff in January 2004.
Fordham claimed in interviews today that he told a top aide for embattled House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) as early as 2004 about Foley's overly familiar relationships with the teenage pages. Fordham said he learned about the issue from Trandahl, although at that point the concern was apparently over the Florida congressman's general rapport with the teens and not graphic Internet communications.
Trandahl's name surfaces in the Foley timeline again in late 2005, when he and Rep. John Shimkus, the Illinois Republican who co-chairs the congressional page program, met with Foley to confront him about the email to the former page in Louisiana. Neither Shimkus nor Trandahl, who as clerk of the House worked for Hastert, informed the Democratic co-chair of the page program. And it's unclear whether Trandahl told Shimkus about the similar concerns about Foley's conduct that Trandahl raised with Fordham two years earlier.
Trandahl and Shimkus were apparently convinced by Foley that the communication was innocuous and didn't further pursue the matter. What's unclear is whether Trandahl and Shimkus asked Foley whether he had other Internet communications with teenage pages or simply accepted his response at face value.
As a longtime insider both on Capitol Hill and within Washington's gay community, Trandahl no doubt knew Foley was gay, making the e-mail to the Louisiana teen all the more suspicious and deserving of further inquiry. And since Trandahl had raised the issue with Fordham two years earlier, he knew the e-mail, which sought a photo of the teen, was not an isolated incident.
The question now becomes whether Trandahl and Fordham were more concerned about protecting a sitting congressman (and Fordham's boss) than they were protecting the teenage pages. And GOP strategists, who rarely miss the opportunity to gay-bait, may well suggest that these gay aides (albeit from their own party) closed ranks to protect "one of their own," a line of argument that plays upon all sorts of fears about gay male predators and closeted "gay mafia."
Trandahl, Fordham and Foley all contributed to this impression by living compartmentalized, closeted lives, expecting the media — including the gay media — not to report on their sexual orientation, even though they lived their lives quite openly, attending gay parties and other social events. Both Foley and Fordham were regularly seen in public with longtime partners.
When questions were raised about Foley's sexual orientation during his Senate campaign — in May 2003, the same year as the graphic e-mails that have come to light and the same year that Fordham says Trandahl approached him about Foley's conduct — Fordham aggressively lobbied me and other journalists from the Washington Blade against reporting Foley's sexual orientation or even asking him the question. He apparently played the same role last week when the graphic online chats came to light, trying to horsetrade with ABC News an exclusive on Foley's resignation if they withheld the content of the chats.
When Foley held a press conference back in 2003 to try to put a lid on the gay questions, his line of argument will sound familiar to those who read Fordham's resignation statement today. Foley blamed the gay questions on a "revolting and unforgivable" effort by Democrats to smear him. At the time, of course, Foley was locked in a heated Republican primary and there was no particular advantage for Democrats to knock the only GOP moderate out of the race.
In similar fashion today, Fordham insisted his resignation was forced by Democrats who wanted to use him to damage Reynolds, his current boss. Every indication, however, is that fellow Republicans, especially in Speaker Hastert's camp, are the ones who have the most to gain for sticking Reynolds and Fordham with the blame for not stopping Foley earlier.
The entire timeline remains convoluted and, even more than in most Washington scandals, everyone seems to have the knives out for everyone else. But all indications are that Trandahl and Fordham have serious questions to answer about how responsibly they handled the concerns raisd about Foley's conduct, and whether they let their own ambition and/or partisan loyalty and/or a "thin gay line" cloud their judgment.
Posted by: Chris
With all the attention being paid in the media to the Mark Foley congressional page scandal, I hope some intrepid journalists will revisit his aborted 2004 bid for the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate seat from Florida. So far, most reports are chalking up Foley's decision to abandon that campaign midstream as a decision made due to the fallout from rumors Foley is gay.
To be sure, Foley struggled in May 2003 to stifle the gay questions, spawned by a column in a South Florida alternative weekly that openly discussed long-standing rumors about the Palm Beach Republican's sexual orientation. When the story didn't die after a week or so, Foley took the extraordinary step of calling a press conference to denounce the questions as "revolting and unforgiveable."
Of course, now we know that it was during this exact same time period that Foley was engaged in graphic online chats with teenage males whom he met through the congressional page program. We can only wonder about the interior dialogue of a man who considers questions about whether he's gay as "revolting and unforgiveable," but can somehow justify sexually exploiting teens entrusted by their parents to the care of Congress through the page program. Then of course add to the hypocrisy Foley's role leading the House Caucus on Missing & Exploited Children.
At the time, I wrote about Foley's "crazy closet" and how his angry denunciation of questions about whether he's gay cast aspersion on gay people generally. I had no idea just how much he would slime us three years later. But I can't help but wonder whether others knew back then about the slimy online chats, and whether they might have played a role — perhaps a critical role — in Foley's decision four months later to abandon his Senate campaign.
When Foley announced his withdrawal from that race in September 2003, he claimed his reason was to care for his ailing father. Almost no one was buying that explanation, and of course Foley found time away from his father's bedside to run for re-election to his House seat during the same campaign season.
A number of factors suggest that not only was the "ailing father" explanation a lie, but the gay question wasn't the primary reason either. In our story at the Washington Blade, Lou Chibbaro reported that despite the gay flap months earlier, Foley "continued to break all records in the fund-raising department." Respected political analyst Hastings Wyman, longtime editor and publisher of the Southern Political Report, told the Blade then, "It was amazing to me that this [gay issue] never seemed to hurt him in any way." Wyman, who is gay himself and had discussed the issue with political insiders in Florida, said Foley was still well-positioned to win the nomination because he was the only moderate in a four-candidate field.
Foley's chief of staff at the time, Kirk Fordham — who resigned today from Congressman Tom Reynolds' staff — added that some 35 Republicans from the Florida legislature had endorsed Foley's Senate bid and the White House had reiterated its support for Foley if he won the nomination. "Voters by and large were not focused on his private life," Fordham said then. "People either discarded the [gay] rumors or decided the issue was not a problem for them." The Palm Beach Post reported that Foley's withdrawal stunned the state's political establishment because, all these months after the gay story fell out of the headlines, Foley continued to lead in the polls.
So what was Mark Foley's real reason for quitting the Senate race, while atop the polls and awash in cash? The worst of the online chats that have come to light so far were from that year: 2003. Did someone threaten Foley to pass them on to the media then? Was a story actually in the works? We're already learning that several Florida media outlets knew about at least some of the inappropriate exchanges.
Why do the most explicit chats that have come to light all seem to date back to 2003? If this was a pattern of (mis)conduct for Foley, why didn't it continue? If the '03 chats surfaced at some level and caused him to abandon his Senate run, that would explain the subsequent shift in his behavior.
There's clearly plenty more here worth digging into…
Posted by: Chris
Now he comes out. After a decade of dodging questions about his sexual orientation, Mark Foley finally acknowledged on Tuesday he is gay, hours after the American public learned of the sexually explicit online chats the Florida congressman had with teenage males he met as pages.
By waiting until he was disgraced by scandal to finally come out of the closet, Foley joins a disappointingly lost list:
* Jim McGreevey, who announced he is "a gay American" in the same press conference he resigned as New Jersey governor for having an extramarital affair and hiring his unqualified boyfriend to oversee the state's homeland security efforts.
* George Michael, who finally owned up to the rumors he's gay after his arrest for soliciting a police officer for sex in a public park.
* Gerry Studds, the Massachusetts congressman who came out two decades ago after admitting he had sex with — you guessed it — a teen-age male congressional page.
Lacking the courage to come out when times are good, these public figures shame us all by coming out only when times are at their worst, and their conduct is invariably a smudge on all our reputations.In the short time since the Foley scandal broke, he's already trotted out a series of excuses, while simultaneously insisting he's not offering as excuses: He's an alcoholic (it was the booze talking); he was an abuse victim himself; and, of course, he is gay.
The role these factors played in Foley's life probably won't be developed into a more complete picture until we're treated with the inevitable confessional autobiography and "Oprah" appearance, assuming Foley follows the same route as McGreevey.
It's an ironic bit of karma that the media spotlight for McGreevey's book tour was stolen by the Foley scandal, as the media became distracted by even more salacious sexual misadventures by another closeted gay public official.
Like Foley, McGreevey refused all interviews after coming out and resigning from office. McGreevey said his silence was out of respect to his wife and family, though now it's clear it was intended to build up interest for a "tell-some" book that cashes in on his misconduct.
As suggested by the book's title, "The Confession," McGreevey now portrays himself as fully contrite, accepting responsibility for betraying his wife and the public. He claims he was driven by his Catholic upbringing to stifle his homosexual impulses and marry and have a family. In truth, his political ambition outstripped his religious devotion, since he did not feel similarly bound by the Catholic restrictions on divorce and remarriage, not to mention honoring his (re)marital vows.
Still, even without knowing all the details of McGreevey or Foley's stories, the deception, sexual immaturity and hypocrisy featured in both their scandals bear the hallmarks of lives lived in the closet.
Mark Foley is no Jim McGreevey, to be sure. Foley wasn't married to a woman and for much of his political career has been "openly closeted": that is, publicly unwilling to identify his sexual orientation. Some media reports, as well as some of those who know Foley, say he has a long-time (male) partner, who resides back in his home district.
None of that discounts the toll the closet no doubt took on Foley, no matter how deep inside it he may have lived. Normal sexual and romantic development, through adolescence and adulthood, involves trial-and-error lesson-learning about the relationship between sex and love, and the benefits of integrating the two.
Much of that education occurs firsthand, through crushes, dating, romances and relationships, and much of it occurs secondhand, learning and mirroring our parents' relationships, as well as those of other loved ones and friends.
As many gays know all too well, sexual and romantic development for us is often quite different. Sex is associated with guilt and is compartmentalized into a secret, double life. Sexual and romantic maturity can be left in a state of arrested development. The older the gay person, the fewer examples they've seen among family or peers of successful gay relationships.
Integrating that double life can be a lifelong task, made all the more difficult the later in life it's attempted, and made near-impossible under the pressure of public and media scrutiny.
Jim McGreevey cheated so easily on his wife because he long ago learned to compartmentalize his sexual desire from his relationship feelings. Mark Foley similarly compartmentalized his sexual fantasies from his relationship with his partner, a skill that was second nature after decades in the closet.
None of this excuses their behavior, or even offers a complete explanation for it. But we should face up to the fact that closeted gay politicians engage in sexual misconduct at a much higher rate than do openly straight elected officials.
And we shouldn't miss the lesson that depriving a person of normal sexual and romantic maturation can really screw them up, raising the risk of gross misconduct later in life. Just ask the Catholic priest Foley alleges molested him as a teen.
October 03, 2006
Posted by: Chris
Welcome to citizencrain.com, which will be my blog about all sorts of topics, including those I have covered for almost a decade while working as editor of the Washington Blade and Southern Voice newspapers, as well as overseeing the editorial operations at five other gay and lesbian publications: the Express Gay News and 411 Magazine in Fort Lauderdale/South Florida, the New York Blade, the Houston Voice and David-Atlanta Magazine.
Expect more bells and whistles to follow, but for now, let's get blogging…
If you've got feedback, send it my way at [email protected]
October 01, 2006
Posted by: Chris
UPDATE: At the end of the post
A little about me...
My email address is here.
MySpace profile is here.
My Facebook profile is here.
The home page for this blog is www.citizencrain.com
I launched this blog after almost a decade editing gay and lesbian publications for five U.S. cities: the Washington Blade; Southern Voice and David Magazine in Atlanta; the New York Blade; Express Gay News and 411 Magazine in Fort Lauderdale; and the Houston Voice. I am extremely proud of the journalism record we set during that time, and I value more than I can say the dedicated colleagues I worked with at each of these publications. Leaving, as I've written, was very bittersweet.
In a previous incarnation, I was a lawyer, litigating mega-sized lawsuits between mega-sized corporations for two mega-sized law firms: Covington & Burling in Washington and Alston & Bird in Atlanta.
Before that, I was a Southern boy, growing up in Little Rock, Ark., and Memphis, Tenn., attending Vanderbilt University in Nashville and then Harvard Law School in Boston. Like everyone else in my family, I was for many years a conservative Christian, unfailingly loyal to the GOP.
Coming out and returning to journalism shook all those old loyalties, and I have for some time considered myself independent and free-thinking in all things, as hokey as that might sound. If you’re interested, I wrote recently about how the curves in life’s path have taken their toll on pretty much all the pre-conceived notions I had about things.
Starting now, in the fall 2006, I’ve gone solo again, but not really. I am in the process of moving from Washington to Rio De Janeiro to be with my partner after two years very long distance. His unconditional love and support has changed my life, and so I am happy to change more of it to be with him. Since he is Brazilian, we have not been able to obtain a visa to bring him to the U.S., and my country does not allow gay citizens to sponsor foreign same-sex partners for citizenship here. His country does. So for the time being, we’ll (finally) be together in Brazil, a place I have loved from the first time I stepped foot there.
“Citizen Crain” was a nickname I picked up from friends in college, after my ambitious campaign to be editor of the student magazine immediately after finishing up a year as editor of the student newspaper. It was, of course, a not-so-complimentary take-off on “Citizen Kane” that followed me in recent years, what with the multiple publications owned by Window Media, the company I co-founded.
These days, the idea of “citizenship” has intruded into my life in unwelcome ways, as I’ve described. Even still, I believe in the concept of a “good citizen,” whether it knows national boundaries or not.
I also like the sound of it because it captures how I view my role: as one citizen in a community with others, doing what I can to make the world a better place. That may sound corny, but 15 years immersed in politics, law and journalism — and even a decade in Washington, D.C. — haven’t robbed me of that idealism. I hope you haven’t lost it, either.
Those who are familiar with the publications I edited know not to expect this to be a “rah-rah” blog with an ideologically-driven “Amen corner” of any stripe. I seek out those who make me question my own views, and I try to be similarly provocative to others. If you’re looking for validation and reassurance about any particular world view, you’ve come to the wrong place. If you believe we can all gain from an honest, direct, no-holds-barred dialogue, then welcome, and please contribute your thoughts.
And finally, after a decade writing about gay-gay-gay and serious-serious-serious, I’m looking forward to branching out a bit, looking at other areas of life and lightening things up a bit. I hope you’ll help me out there as well.
I’d love to hear from you. Thanks for reading!
UPDATE (January 2008)
It's about time for a brief update here. In June 2007, I launched Gay News Watch, a website that compiles in one place all the latest gay news, entertainment, gossip and much more and lets you decide how you want to view it: by geography, by topic, by buzz, by reader ratings and more. Plus related stories are linked together, so if you want to see all the articles about the 2008 Democratic Party presidential primaries, it's as easy as clicking here.
In October 2007, my partner and I moved to Buenos Aires because my tourist visa for Brazil was set to expire for the year. As I write this, we are winding up our time in exile from exile and will soon return to Rio. I still make regular visits back to the States, usually staying in Washington, D.C., and Atlanta, although traveling elsewhere as well.
Just this month, I relaunched the blog with a new design that was a collaboration with Lisa Sabin-Wilson of E.Webscapes Design Studio. I love the new look, if I do say so myself, and along with all the 2008 political news has reinvigorating my blogjo -- not that I ever lost it. A few more changes are in the works, including some guest posts from a few friends to spice things up a bit.
So I hope you enjoy, and please take the time to post a comment and offer your thoughts. That's what it's all about, after all. Thanks again for reading!
(Photo by William Waybourn)