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    October 09, 2006

    The 'thin pink line' thickens

    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…



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