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    October 21, 2006

    Charlie Crist, meet Mark Foley

    Posted by: Chris

    Cristfoley1 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? 

    Charlie Crist, the Republican nominee for governor in Florida, has apparently been pondering this question for some time, according to this report in Fort Lauderdale's Express Gay News:

    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:

    What basis is there, then, for lumping Crist with Foley into the "closeted" category, when Crist has flatly denied being gay? 

    My favorite denial came when a country music DJ (and Crist supporter) delicately asked: "Are you a homo?" "No, man," a suddenly hip Crist replied. "No, I love women. I mean, they're wonderful."  I can picture Jon Stewart having a field day with that one:  "Yeah, they like have breasts.  And pretty hair and make-up.  And they're just really great, aren't they?"  Color me unconvinced.

    As Linn has pointed out, every time Crist gets "the question," he's been asked, "Are you gay?" (or a homo).  No one has asked if he's bisexual.  If he is, or if that's his story and he's sticking to it, then his answers are Clintonian half-truths, he of the drug-use denial: "I have never broken the laws of this country" (turns out he smoked pot, but famously never inhaled, in England); and "I never had sex with that woman" (turns out he didn't consider fellatio to be oral sex).

    I count myself among the politically incorrect gay men who are skeptical over many claims of male bisexuality, especially from politicians who seem to have a woman on their arm only when it's politically convenient, as with Crist's "girlfriend," who's made a number of recent public appearances. But my guess is that if Crist has in fact used Clintonian rationalizations to "the question" as Linn suggests, it's a short leap to an outright lie if he's asked if he's bi.

    The media thus far has played the Crist coverage about right, asking the question, printing Crist's answer and otherwise largely avoiding the issue until Linn came forward.  Despite Linn's obvious political motives, his story doesn't violate Crist's sexual privacy the way the "outing activists" do, digging up tattle-tale tricks to spill the dirt.

    Cristfoley2_1 But Crist's mixed gay rights record, and backing from anti-gay Christian conservatives, isn't the only basis for raising his sexual orientation as a legitmate campaign issue.  As Floridians have seen up close and personal with Foley-gate, secrets surrounding sexual orientation can have a debilitating effect on the judgment of their elected officials. 

    And Foley isn't the only example.  Openly gay, former Wilton Manors mayor Jim Stork abandoned his congressional campaign in midstream two years ago after raising $2 million and even speaking at the Democratic National Convention.  He cited health reasons, but it's accepted among political insiders that Stork dropped out after being threatened with embarrassing revelations about his life in the closet, before he first sought public office.

    There's no indication that Crist has any sort of sexual skeletons in his closet, but Linn has raised the vulnerability to extortion as a valid question for a closeted candidate for high office to answer.  As former New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey (D) related in his recently published memoir, "The Confession," every secret affair entered into by a closeted public official carries with it the risk of lapsed judgment and blackmail.

    Yes, the specter of "homosexual extortion" is an old saw used in the past to deny gays security clearances, but it's a justifiable issue to raise in a campaign for high public office, and one Crist should address.  Right after someone asks him squarely, "Are you bisexual?"



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