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  • March 06, 2010

    The return of Mark Foley

    Posted by: Chris

    Eric massa mark foley gay sexual harassment
    I launched this blog way back in October 2006, just weeks after leaving the Washington Blade and moving to Brazil, as the Mark Foley scandal was breaking. Having overseen years of coverage about Foley, a longtime GOP closet case, I had too much I wanted to say about the man, the gay staffers who surrounded them, and the scandal more broadly.

    More than three years later, I've moved back to D.C., the Blade may soon be reincarnated, and Foley-gate has resurfaced in the form of Eric J.J. Massa, a New York Democrat who will quit his congressional seat on Monday in the midst of sexual harassment accusations by young male staffers.

    The similarities with 2006 don't end there. Corruption charges leveled at powerful Charles Rangel finally forced the New York Democrat to step down as chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee, something he should have done months ago when it became clear he was part of the "swamp" that Nancy Pelosi promised she was going to "drain."

    With voter anger at incumbents on the rise, many see the charges against Massa as the Foley-esque straw that may break the camel's back, producing a "throw the bums out" midterm election in November, just like in 2006, when Democrats retook Congress from the GOP.

    Not so fast, says John Mercurio of National Journal's Hotline:

    The media is cuing up the Massa = Foley meme this p.m. to set the stage for a mantra about how '10 increasingly resembles '06, when House Dems rode a wave of GOP ethics scandals back to power. To be sure, there are similarities between the two campaign cycles. Massa isn't one of them.

    Foley was forced to resign in '06 after he admitted making inappropriate sexual advances to underage House pages. Massa's conduct may have been egregious. But there's no evidence so far to suggest the male aide he harrassed was younger than 18. More importantly, the Foley case erupted into a partywide scandal only when it was revealed that House GOP leaders had been aware of his conduct weeks before it was reported, but did little to address it. Nothing so far suggests Pelosi et al responded similarly.

    Apparently, his Hotline colleague Reid Wilson didn't get the memo. Under the headline "Shades of '06 for Shell-Shocked Dems," Reid reports:

    GOPers knew their efforts to keep control would fail, however, in late Sept. of '06, when Rep. Mark Foley (R-FL) resigned amid allegations he had inappropriate contact with House pages. …

    [Now,] Rep. Eric Massa (D-NY) said he would retire after a single term in office; Capitol Hill buzzed with rumors that the ethics committee is investigating alleged harrassment of a male staffer, though Massa denied those reports and said a recurrence of cancer had forced him to step aside.

    Mercurio has it right, in my view, and Rangel was also pressured by fellow Democrats to step down much more quickly than was Tom DeLay (R-Texas), for example, whose GOP colleagues changed the rules to keep him as Minority Leader even after being indicted. DeLay eventually resigned, and the public revulsion over DeLay, Foley and the House Republican leadership combined with rising frustration over Iraq to produce the 2006 midterms.

    Things may not go well for Democrats this year, especially if they can't close the deal on health care reform and produce tangible improvement in unemployment numbers, but it's not 2006 all over again.

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    December 31, 2006

    Kolbe finally finds his voice

    Posted by: Chris

    Kolbe_1 His last session of Congress behind him, retirement from public office only days away, Jim Kolbe has finally found his voice — or at least cleared his throat.  The gay Republican from Arizona granted a few farewell interviews before he steps down after more than two decades in Congress, to be replaced fittingly by a Democrat.

    So with absolutely nothing left at stake, no political capital to lose, Kolbe finally took baby steps toward righting two long-standing wrongs: He admitted he was wrong to vote in favor of the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, and for the first time I'm aware of, he came out in favor of gay marriage.

    Oddly enough, the admissions didn't come in an interview he gave before Christmas to the Washington Blade. That article mentioned only that Kolbe defended his DOMA vote because the law allows states to make their own decision on whether to marry gay couples. As I wrote for the Blade's blog back in July, that's excuse won't fly:

    Kolbe rationalizes his support for DOMA the way some others have, as "states rights" legislation that really just prevents one state that marries gay couples from "forcing" every other state to legally recognize those marriage licenses. But Kolbe knows better than that. DOMA goes much further, blocking the federal government as well from giving any legal recognition to married gay couples.

    Ironically, Kolbe complains later in the interview that the Human Rights Campaign hasn't devoted more energy to extending Social Security survivor benefits to gay couples — a move that would require repealing the half of DOMA that goes unmentioned in the article.  Instead, Kolbe told the Blade, his only regret was that he was pressured into coming out — by an article about DOMA the Advocate was working on back in 1996 that Kolbe feared would out him.  The article doesn't mention another irony; that years later, Judy Weider, the Advocate editor at the time, admitted she had scrapped the story after her publisher said straight advertisers would bolt if the magazine outed someone.

    It was in another farewell interview, this one with his hometown Arizona Daily Star, that Kolbe owned up on DOMA and spoke approvingly, for the first time I'm aware of, about gay marriage:

    On gay marriage, [Kolbe] said it or civil unions will be pretty widespread in this country in a decade or two because it is a fundamental human right that people should be able to legally celebrate the commitment of relationships. "Friends of mine in New York have been together for 45 to 50 years," Kolbe said. "Shouldn't we celebrate that?"

    But with the exception of one point, Kolbe said he didn't regret his 1996 vote in favor of the Defense of Marriage Act, which allows states to refuse recognition of gay marriages approved in other states. His vote on that bill prompted a gay-oriented magazine to prepare an article "outing" him as a homosexual, which led Kolbe to publicly declare that he is gay. "I could make a very good argument that marriage belongs in the hands of the state," he said. "I don't think that should be changed."

    His regret on that vote centers on the act's failure to grant participants in gay marriages, in states where they are legal, the right to federal benefits such as Social Security and Medicare earned by one's partner — the same rights that spouses in traditional marriages have. "What I would say now. … I recognize that we have to have some protection at the federal level," Kolbe said.

    It's about time, Congressman Kolbe. Ten years later, you finally own up to a vote cast no doubt from within a fearful closet. Though both the Blade and Daily Star articles portray the DOMA vote as Kolbe's one gay-rights failure, his HRC scorecard before coming out was roughly a 50 on a scale of zero to 100.

    Neither article also mentions Kolbe's unwillingness to aggressively push immigration rights for binational gay couples — those couples where one partner is American and the other is not. Kolbe was a co-sponsor of the Uniting American Families Act, which would extend to gay couples the same rights heterosexual married couples have in this regard. But he didn't use the considerable influence he had on the issue this year, given his role as one of the most prominent moderate Republicans in the House pushing the White House version of immigration reform.

    No one is arguing a more vocal push from Kolbe would have made the difference for UAFA, especially since immigration reform died on the vine, but having done nothing, the legislation is still at the starting blocks, instead of being advanced somewhat down the line. Kolbe's relative silence on UAFA is especially disturbing since he knows up close and personal the difficult choices faced by gay binational couples.  For one thing, three top former leaders of the Log Cabin Republicans are in binational relationships with partners from Latin America. For another, so is Kolbe. (For those who don't know, I should disclose that I am as well.)

    Unfortunately, Kolbe's timidity on gay marriage, DOMA and immigration reform aren't the only things tarnishing his two decades in Congress. The Mark Foley scandal stuck to Kolbe as well, since it turns out one of Kolbe's former pages asked the Arizona congressman to help convince Foley to stop contacting him. Both interviews touch on the subject, though he told the Blade only that he was happy the House ethics committee concluded no rules were broken. He doesn't mention that the House report largely lets him off the hook because he is retiring from Congress and thereby escaping the committee's jurisdiction.

    Also lost in the shuffle of the Foley report were the disturbing things the committee did report about Kolbe, including the former page's recollection that Kolbe tried to convince him not to come forward about his problem with Foley after the scandal broke in October, as well as how Jeff Trandahl, the (gay) then-chief clerk of the House, who had oversight of the page program, repeatedly warned Kolbe that he was being too familiar with pages, and that Trandahl considered Foley and Kolbe distractions from the program.

    The Blade article also left out that Kolbe is also under criminal investigation for his own relationship with young male pages, based on complaints that surfaced about a trip he took to the Grand Canyon with a group of them back in 1996. The Daily Star asked him about it, and Kolbe defended it as "completely above board," "a very legitimate trip" and "a terrific experience for 12 people over three days."

    In a final irony, Kolbe's page problem may impact his future work plans. Kolbe, 67, told the Daily Star that in addition to work for the German Marshall Fund, he plans to teach a class next fall at the University of Arizona. No doubt administrators there are already reconsidering that plan, given the allegation that Kolbe abused his power relationship with young people.

    It didn't have to be this way, of course. But as with Foley and other closeted politicians, Kolbe is in many ways a product of his generation. His departure leaves gay Republicans with no out representatives in Congress, and we can only hope that whoever follows in their footsteps will do so with greater integrity.

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    December 29, 2006

    2006: The closet's swan song?

    Posted by: Chris

    Bladeyir2006 The Washington Blade and its sister publications came out with their Year in Review issues today, and their choice for the story of the year was, "Swan song from the closet: Politicians, performers made news in 2006 by coming out."  Using the closet to tie together the Mark Foley and Ted Haggard scandals, as well as the celebrities who decided to come out, the story draws some interesting conclusions about the status of the closet as we head into 2007:

    Having confined and defined much, if not most, of modern gay existence, "the closet" showed once again in 2006 that it is still a mighty force, albeit a shadow of its once powerful self. In fact, some believe the closet is steadily inching toward irrelevance, as successive generations of gay and lesbian youth settle into their sexual orientation without first surrounding it with four walls of angst, denial, duplicity and shame.

    Far from being a place that only harbors half-truths and paralyzing secrets, the 2006 version of the closet helped fuel best-selling memoirs and a breathtaking power shift in Congress. The closet opened its doors on the set of America's most popular prime-time television series and inside one of the nation's most influential megachurches. And whereas coming out of the closet was long considered social and professional suicide, in 2006 it proved anything but.

    That somewhat rosy assessment is backed up by examples like Lance Bass, the 'N-Sync alum, who revived his fame by coming out, and embattled politicians Mark Foley and James McGreevey, who tried using the closet as "an escape hatch" in the midst of scandal.  Their stories are contrasted with that of Haggard, who stuck to his anti-gay guns even after being outed by a gay escort.

    So we're left to conclude that the closet remains a problem mainly for conservative Republicans. "Outside of Republicans, [the closet] is going to recede as more and more people are going to be out from day one so it won't be an issue," the story quotes David Ehrenstein, author of "Open Secret: Gay Hollywood 1928-1998," as saying.

    "I think there were much larger issues than Mark Foley that influenced the elections, but with that said, I think both the Foley and Haggard scandals reinforced the perception of the right wing forces of the Republican Party as being cynical hypocrites," echoed Mark Foreman, of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force.

    Of course, official Washington is littered with closeted Democrats who defy such nice caricaturization,
    but the razor sharp political divide in the U.S. over the last decade or so makes black-and-white as popular with the left as it does the right.  That's how Ehrenstein can publicly praise the decline of the closet for all except Republicans while at the same time more discreetly cheer on efforts to involuntarily "out" even the most junior gay Republicans who work in the nation's capital.

    When outing activist-blogger Michael Rogers recently published embarrassing personal photos of a young, already-out student who worked as a lowly advance staffer for Vice President Dick Cheney, Ehrenstein cheered on the effort.  "You shouldn't have blacked-out the faces of the other guys," Ehrenstein wrote in a comment to Rogers, referring to the young staffers' friends, even though they had no apparent connection to Cheney. "They're collaborators," claimed Ehrenstein.

    When one commenter using "Sad" as a moniker took issue with the outing, Ehrenstein was quick to reply, with a reference to outed escort-conservative journalist Jeff Gannon (a.k.a. James Guckert).  "Don't be sad, 'Sad,'" wrote Ehrenstein. "Now go suck off Guckert like a good little KAPO."  Kapos, so you don't miss the reference, were concentration camp prisoners who worked for the Nazis in low-level administrative positions. 

    This is the world according to David Ehrenstein, and it's the other side of the closet that re-entered the debate this year, though it's not mentioned in the Blade review.  The Foley story, especially, raised anew questions about when it's justified to "out" someone in government, whether they're holding elective office or not.  For Ehrenstein and Rogers, there are no limits to be observed, no boundaries of personal privacy to be respected, and for Ehrenstein at least, dissent is tantamount to complicity.  The Task Force's Foreman, as well, though not dirtying his own hands with outings, has publicly said he supports them.

    Neilpatrickharris For most of the rest of us, 2006 was indeed a banner year in adjusting to the changing dynamics of the closet.  As each new public figure emerges, there remain fewer "firsts" like Ellen DeGeneres in prime time or Elton John in music or Martina Navratilova in sport, to grab the biggest headlines.  And so both Neil Patrick Harris ("Doogie Howser, M.D." and "How I Met Your Mother") and T.R. Knight ("Grey's Anatomy") continue to play sexually active heterosexual men in popular TV shows, despite coming out this year in People magazine.  As the Blade story notes, popular culture is once again miles ahead of politics.

    Tammybaldwin Because in politics, despite Ehrenstein's partisan assessment of the closet as a Republican problem, the U.S. Congress is a bipartisan, heteros-only club.  We must search back almost a decade to 1998 for the one and only time someone was elected for the first time to Congress despite being openly gay.  Despite all the pro-gay triumphs of November 2006, not a single openly gay non-incumbent even won a primary for the U.S. House or Senate.  And when the new Congress is sworn in next month, that same solitary member of Congress, Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), will serve alongside Barney Frank (D-Mass.) as the only elected gays on the Hill.  So much for the closet's swan song.

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    December 24, 2006

    Mark Foley from close up

    Posted by: Chris

    WolfechuckBe sure to check out a provocative op-ed about Mark Foley in the Washington Blade this week by my friend Chuck Wolfe, who heads up the Washington, D.C.-based Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund.  Chuck brings a doubly unique perspective, first because the Victory Fund encourages gay public officials to come out of the closet.  Second because through Chuck's roles in support of two-term Florida Gov. Lawton Chiles (D), he has known Foley personally and professionally over 20 years the two have spent in and around Florida politics. 

    Chuck notes how Foley began living the gay part of his life more openly the '90s and even lets us in on the advice he offered the Republican congressman when Foley debated whether to come out in the midst of his U.S. Senate bid:

    What I told Mark then and what all closeted politicians should know, is that most Americans appear not to care very much about a candidate’s sexual orientation. In fact, there’s growing evidence that being open and honest about being gay can actually translate into greater trust among the electorate. After all, if a politician can be honest about being gay, doesn’t it follow that he’d be more honest about everything?

    Of course, we all know now that Mark Foley didn't listen to Chuck Wolfe or others offering similar advice.  He instead stayed in the closet until after his predatory behavior with congressional pages came to light and it became more to his advantage to come out (as gay) than to stay in (and be presumed a pedophile).  In this respect, Foley is no different than former New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey, who only came out when it was more to his advantage to be a gay man cheating on his wife, than to be seen as sexually harassing or worse, sexually assaulting, a male staffer.

    Markfoley_3 Chuck concludes that Foley's inability to "muster the courage to face down his fears" was responsible for "ruin[ing] his career."  No doubt, the twisted lies required by the closet played a role in the predatory behavior that led to Foley's downfall, but reading Chuck's op-ed, another possibility occurred to me.  Perhaps Foley stayed in the closet to protect his predatory behavior.  I don't know why this never occurred to me before. 

    If he would risk everything to keep these teenage males close to him — and his IM chats are sprinkled with professions of "love" as well as sexual interest — then maybe he worried that, in addition to political fallout, the straight or questioning pages might steer clear of an out gay congressman. 

    After all, it's one thing for a (comparitively) hip, single congressman to chat up young male pages and go in for the sexual kill after they've left the Hill.  It's quite another for an openly gay congressman to engage in such flirty behavior, especially if it were known more generally that he had a long-time partner back home in Florida. 

    Chuck asks why Foley would worry so much about coming out when "certainly in a place as sophisticated as South Florida, Mark Foley could have easily weathered any political fallout from finally telling the truth."  Maybe it wasn't his constituents he was worried about so much as the young pages, interns and staffers he was warned by so many to steer clear of.

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    December 12, 2006

    If you just can't get enough…

    Posted by: Chris

    …of the Mark Foley scandal, the House ethics commitee has just the thing: More than 100 pages of IM transcripts (click on Exhibit 13), starring Foley himself and a handful of name-redacted teens who he lamely attempts to seduce, as they complain about their AP English homework and Mom calling from downstairs.

    I haven't had the stamina to get through them all, but I did love this gem below (click on the image for a closer view), which finds Foley becoming jealous because Jim Kolbe, the other gay Republican congressman (that we know of) has invited Foley's teenage lust-object and three other former pages to stay at Kolbe's Capitol Hill townhouse for a page reunion. 

    "Be careful" of Kolbe, Foley warns the teen, "don't want you foolin' around with that older man." 

    The House ethics committee declined to investigate allegations that Kolbe also had inappropriate contact with underage pages because the Arizona Republican, who is retiring from Congress in January, already faces a criminal probe.

    With gay role models like Foley and Kolbe — not to mention admitted adulterer James McGreevey, lately accused of sexual assault — who needs Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell?

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    December 11, 2006

    What of Foley's 'thin pink line'?

    Posted by: Chris

    Foleyreport_3 The newly released House ethics committee report on Mark Foley offers some important clues about whether the once-closeted Florida congressman found some degree of cover from other closeted Republicans who tried to keep his "page problem" in-house, as it were.  From the earliest days of this blog, I have suggested that questions be asked about whether Foley implicitly relied on something like a "thin pink line" of closeted gay Republicans on the Hill to keep the lid on his inappropriate interest in teenage pages.

    It's clear now from the testimony of two of those gay Republicans — Jeff Trandahl, the former chief clerk of the House, who was responsible for the page program; and Kirk Fordham, Foley's long-time chief of staff — that they both were aware from the time Foley first came to Congress in 1995 that he was "overly friendly" with male pages, interns and even custodial staff.  It's also clear that both of them took these warning signs seriously, and repeatedly implored Foley to maintain a more professional distance.  Some of these warnings may have stuck in the short term, but of course we know now that they did not succeed in keeping the Florida Republican in check.

    Trandahljeff_1Both Trandahl and Fordham clearly understood and repeatedly communicated directly to Foley the dangerous waters he was treading as a closeted gay congressman developing personal relationships with male teenagers.  Here's how Trandahl described his thinking:

    Here you had — which I think is appropriate to say — a closeted gay guy who was putting himself in a situation of being one on one with young people.  And if an accusation is made, he would be immediately presumed, in a political light, guilty unless he could prove himself innocent.  So my counseling to him was, one, you don't need to be in the middle of this community of children; and two, you are creating an enormous political risk for yourself.

    Trandahl told the committee that, in addition to these direct warnings to Foley, he also talked repeatedly with Fordham to enlist his help and found Fordham "always agreeable."

    Fordhamkirk_3 Fordham, in turn, would meet with Foley to reinforce the message, and the report includes Fordham's description of one of these meetings:

    I went in to the boss and again — very uncomfortable conversation to have — and again relayed basically what Mr. Trandahl had shared with me.  I reminded him that because, you know, he is gay — most of his colleagues had figured that out, even though he hadn't announced that he was, you know, people were watching what he did.  [They're] paying attention to his behavior, and he needed to be more conscious of how he interacted with younger staffers, interns, pages.

    The report details dozens of attempts like this, by both Trandahl and Fordham.  In addition, Trandahl raised concerns about Foley on several occasions with Ted Van Der Meid, effectively Trandahl's "boss" in the office of House Speaker Dennis Hastert.  To Van Der Meid's discredit, he  essentially did nothing with Trandahl's concerns.

    When Trandahl and Fordham could see that Foley was reverting to old habits, the duo decided to up the ante, raising the issue directly in late 2002 or early 2003 with Scott Palmer, Hastert's chief of staff.  Fordham testified that he met with Palmer to seek assistance with the "chronic problem with [his] boss' attention to pages and young staffers."  Fordham told the committee that Palmer said he would meet with Foley and later confirmed Foley "understood the message" and Speaker Hastert had been "brought in the loop."

    Palmer famously denied either meeting ever took place, much less saying anything to Hastert.  The committee decided that "the weight of the evidence" supports Fordham's account, an especially damning indictment of both Palmer and Hastert, since the Speaker has stuck to his denial of knowing anything at all about Foley's page problem until just before his resignation this September.

    So what of the "thin pink line" of closeted Hill Republicans?  The committee made no effort to follow this line of inquiry.  There's no indication either Van Der Meid or Palmer in Hastert's office was asked if he is gay, despite persistent rumors that both are.  The report does not even mention that Trandahl and Fordham are gay.  No doubt pursuing these questions struck the committee and its staff as McCarthy-like and irrelevant, even though the committee ultimately concluded that partisan motives and protecting Foley's closet were the key reasons why more wasn't done in response to all the warning signs.

    Markfoley_2Most importantly, the report underscores tenfold that the primary and overwhelming responsibility for Foley's misconduct lies with no one but Foley himself.  His gross predatory behavior — the scope of which is still unknown — was despite years and years of friendly warnings from Trandahl and Fordham that, as a closeted gay man, he needed to maintain a more professional distance with young male interns and pages.  Those warnings were repeated by Palmer and even by Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.), the chair of the page board, who at Trandahl's request confronted Foley in November 2005 about an "overly friendly" email Foley sent to a former page.

    Foley nonetheless used the page program to meet and befriend these teenage males, and then moved in for the kill once they graduated and (in his sick mind) were fair game for his sexual advances.  That sort of predatory behavior reflected poorly not just on Foley, but (unfairly or not) on Trandahl and Fordham, whose names were dragged through the mud despite all their efforts.  And of course Foley's conduct reflected poorly on gay people generally, since he chose to finally come out only after his resignation, as part of a last-ditch effort to explain away his misconduct.  ("I'm not a pedophile," he was saying.  "I'm an alcoholic gay man still victimized by my teenage abuse by a Catholic priest.")

    There's also absolutely no evidence that either Trandahl or Fordham knew anything about the sexually explicit instant messages that ultimately led to Foley's resignation, although the committee's indefensible refusal to investigate those communications robbed all those involved from complete vindication on that point.  Trandahl and Fordham should be credited with taking very seriously the "warning signs" about Foley, and with repeatedly taking steps — albeit within certain boundaries — to get Foley's attention.

    Without knowing more about Palmer and Van Der Meid, we don't know if one of those "boundaries" was limiting disclosure about Foley's "page problem" to other gay Republicans, though regardless Van Der Meid was the appropriate Hastert staffer for Trandahl to approach.  The committee was far more critical of Van Der Meid, who "showed an inexplicable lack of interest" in the Foley matter, than of Trandahl, though the latter was outside the committee's jurisdiction once he resigned as House clerk in November 2005.

    Some may fault Trandahl and Fordham for not ratcheting things up further.  One of those "boundaries" they didn't cross was partisan; all their warnings stayed within Republican circles.  Even when Trandahl brought in Congressman Shimkus in late 2005, neither Republican informed any of the Democrats on the page board.  The reason, sometimes expressed and sometimes not, was a concern that Democrats would have leapt on the issue for partisan advantage.  The report certainly validates that concern, recounting how the only two Democrats to learn about the "overly friendly" Foley email responded by bypassing all House channels and going directly to the press.

    I will say this, as well, about both Fordham and Trandahl.  I have known and respected Kirk Fordham for years, even if I have frequently disagreed with him on any number of issues surrounding Foley and the other Republicans for whom he has worked.  I do not know Trandahl, but close friends and respected colleagues of mine also speak very highly of him and his commitment to the integrity of his office while chief clerk of the House.

    With the benefit of hindsight, I would say both Fordham and Trandahl were co-opted, voluntarily or not, by Foley's closet.  It's a danger faced by anyone who deals with gay issues, including those of us in the gay press.  It doesn't matter how out and proud you are personally.  Once you learn that someone like Foley is gay and closeted, any action you consider taking based on information connected to his sexual orientation carries with it the freight of "outing" him as well.  If you're semi-closeted yourself — both Fordham and Trandahl were out within the D.C. gay community and to some House colleagues, but not generally or publicly — then outing someone else can carry a great personal risk as well.

    That is why, faced only with warning signs and no direct evidence of sexual misconduct by Foley, both Trandahl and Fordham come off as concerned more that "where there's smoke someone might see it," rather than "where there's smoke there's fire."  Both Trandahl and Fordham acknowledged that their primary concern was for Foley, not the pages, and to the extent Trandahl expressed concern about the pages, it was that Foley was a "nuisance," not a threat.

    Perhaps because both Fordham and Trandahl knew, liked and wanted to protect Foley, they did not imagine him to be the predator he turned out to be.  And they did not press him with the 64-thousand-dollar question:  Was there actual fire behind the smoke?  Was this middle-aged congressman having sexually explicit contact, by virtual or non-virtual means, with young males he met through the page program?  Shimkus is the only one the report credits with actually raising that question with Foley, and he emphatically denied it, as probably he would have even to closer (gay) confidants like Trandahl and Fordham.  Only when confronted with the goods by ABC News did Foley finally admit his misdeeds.

    All in all, the portrait that emerges from the committee's incomplete investigation is one that largely vindicates Trandahl and Fordham, even as it implicates the "see-no-evil" soon-to-be-former Speaker and his staff.  Among the most depressing side effects of the Foley scandal is that the light it has shown on the role closeted gay Republicans play on Capitol Hill is likely to push the ones who remain there further into the closet, compounding the complicated and dangerous situation that Trandahl and Fordham faced. 

    Hopefully, the utter destruction of Foley's reputation, and the way he dragged Trandahl and Fordham (despite all their efforts) into the mud along with him, will serve as a warning in the future that sometimes smoke signals fire, and everyone aware of a problem needs to grab a hose, and not a shovel.

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    December 09, 2006

    A report with no teeth

    Posted by: Chris

    As expected, the House ethics committee report on the Mark Foley scandal answers more questions about how the matter was handled than initial press accounts suggested.  More on that later. 

    In the meantime, my general conclusion is that the report is a hypocritical exercise in exactly the same type of buck-passing and willful ignorance that the committee criticizes House members and staffers for exhibiting when they learned over time about the disgraced Florida Republican's unseemly interest in teenage pages.

    The report has already come in for some justifiable criticism for concluding that no ethics rules were violated, but to be fair the applicable ethics rule — that "members and staff act at all times
    in a manner that reflects creditably on the House" — is so vague as to be useless as a proscriptive against particular conduct.

    The ethics committee points out that the rule "does not mean that every error in judgment or failure to exercise greater oversight or diligence establishes a violation."  Fair enough, but the committee never goes on to spell out when such errors in judgment or diligence would give rise to a violation. Instead, it comes off like the Supreme Court's infamous standard for when pornography can be deemed legally "obscene": they know it when they see it.

    A New York Times editorial nailed the point.  "No, not every error or failure should be a violation," the Times allowed, "but certainly the ones that lead to an elected official’s sexually stalking teenage boys while his colleagues turn a blind eye or cover it up should be. We’d set the bar at least there. Apparently, it’s too high for the House."

    Rather than find rule violations, the House ethics committee issued a "strong reminder" — feel the teeth! — that "the failure to exhaust all reasonable efforts to call attention to potential misconduct involving a member and House page is not merely the exercise of poor judgment; it is a present danger to House pages and to the integrity of the institution of the House."

    Got that? Failure to protect the teens in the House page program "is a present danger … to the integrity of the institution of the House" but isn't so bad that it fails to "reflect creditably on the House" in violation of ethics rules.  (I'm not engaging in an unfair cut-and-paste job here; these two conclusions are contained in adjoining paragraphs on p. 4 of the report!)  Either the "integrity of the House" is already so sullied that you can be a present danger to it and still reflect creditably on it, or the report's line-drawing is so arbitrary that only a lawyer could understand it (or write it).

    But the real failure of the ethics committee investigators is they did exactly what they criticize other House members and staff of doing.  The committee criticizes "a disconcerting unwillingness to take responsibility for resolving issues regarding Rep. Foley's conduct. Rather than addressing the issues fully, some witnesses did far too little, while attempting to pass the responsibility for acting to others.  Some relied on unreasonably fine distinctions regarding their defined responsibilities" (p. 70).

    Et tu, committee members? The report is chockful of excuses why the committee chose not to follow the most damning leads, even while finding fault in others for doing exactly the same thing. Rather than learn the full extent of Foley's misconduct with House pages, committee members remarkably chose not to investigate the sexually explicit IMs between Foley and former pages that actually led to his resignation. 

    Oh, they claim to have "devoted substantial effort to determining whether any House member, officer or employee was aware of or saw the sexually graphic instant messages" (p.74).  But that "substantial effort" apparently amounted only to asking those already implicated by Foley-gate to 'fess up to what they knew.  The committee admits that it "did not seek to investigate fully all instances in which Rep. Foley may have had improper communications with pages or former pages, or to determine the complete facts and circumstances surrounding the instant messages that were the cause of his resignation" (p. 72). 

    The committee's excuse?  Foley had resigned and so was outside their jurisdiction.  Sound like "unreasonably fine distinctions regarding their defined responsibilities"?  How could the committee hope to know if House members and staff, including in the Republican leadership, knew about sexually explicit IMs without first nailing down (1) all the instances when Foley sent such IMs; and (2) who the recipients might have told or forwarded copies of the communications?

    A similar escape clause is adopted when it comes to Jim Kolbe, the other openly gay House Republican, who was identified by (also gay) chief House Clerk Jeff Trandahl as among those with unseemly interest in teenage pages.  The committee admits that during its investigation of Foley, it learned about "allegations made regarding Kolbe and his interaction with former House pages" (p. 77), but still chose not to investigate.

    The committee's excuse?  Kolbe is already under a criminal probe and he's retiring at the end of his term anyway, putting him outside the committee's jurisdiction (p78).  Sound like "attempting to pass the responsibility for acting to others"?  How could the commitee know without investigating whether current House members and staff, including in the same Republican leadership, knew about Kolbe's alleged misconduct and failed to act?

    By putting all these unduly restrictive limits on its investigation, the House ethics committee ultimately sends exactly the wrong message to members of Congress and their staff.  Because the real takeaway here is that if you're going to willfully ignore signs that a congressman is engaging in improper conduct, you better hope the conduct you're ignoring is so bad that the congreassman is forced to resign or is subject to a criminal probe, preferably both. That's the surest way to avoid the watchful oversight of the House ethics committee.

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    December 08, 2006

    Ethics probe clears GOP on Foley

    Posted by: Chris

    Foleyreport_2 The House ethics probe into the Mark Foley scandal has concluded that House Republican leaders and their staff violating no rules but exercised poor judgment in failing to follow up reports of inappropriate contacts by the former Florida congressman with teenage pages.  The Washington Post reports:

    "A pattern of conduct was exhibited among many individuals to remain willfully ignorant of the potential consequences" of Foley's behavior, the report said. " … The failure to exhaust all reasonable efforts to call attention to potential misconduct involving a Member and House page is not merely the exercise of poor judgment; it is a present danger to House pages and to the integrity of the institution of the House." …

    The report said Foley declined through his lawyer to appear before the subcommittee, citing pending criminal investigations against him and asserting his constitutional right to refuse to testify against himself.

    Markfoley_1Hopefully the 91-page report sheds more light on the scandal than initial press reports indicate. On the key question of whether leading House Republicans told Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) about the matter before September, when Hastert says he first learned, the report concludes — drum roll, please —  "probably at least in passing." 

    On the key question of whether former Foley staff chief Kirk Fordham raised the issue Scott Palmer, Hastert's top aide, as Fordham claims and Palmer denies: no answer, at least in the Post report.

    And finally, on whether the gay Republicans who knew at least something about Foley's misconduct — Fordham, then-chief House Clerk Jeff Trandahl, Arizona Congressman Jim Kolbe, and Hastert aides Palmer and Ted VanDer Meid (if they're gay, as rumored) — acted in-house as a sort of "thin pink line" to protect Foley, one of their own, again nothing. Committee members were probably too timid to even ask the question.

    All in all, a thoroughly disatisfying conclusion to the matter. But I'll reserve judgment until I've actually read the full report.

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    December 07, 2006

    'Don't Ask…Don't E-mail'

    Posted by: Chris

    VfmarkfoleyThat's the headline on Vanity Fair's  long-anticipated exposé on the Mark Foley scandal, but for all the rich detail there's precious little new here on the big questions raised but not yet answered. There are no revelations about inappropriate conduct by the disgraced Florida Republican with other congressional pages; in fact, other media have reported more than VF about actual sexual contact Foley had with young men soon after they left the page program.

    Kirk Fordham, Foley's former chief of staff, is one of a few primary sources relied on by the article, and there's nothing contradicting Fordham's claim that he knew nothing about Foley's misconduct beyond casual flirtation with young gay men that Fordham frowned upon as "reckless and unnecessary." Fordham did share, however, the intimate story about how Foley reacted when he first learned that his sexually explicit instant message exchanges were going public. 

    The story picks up after Fordham, who was at Foley's Washington, D.C., townhouse working damage control, was read over the phone the contents of one particularly explicit chat:

    Fordham cried, "Stop! That's all I need to know!" He heard female campaign workers weeping on the other end of the phone. When he hung up, he says he saw Foley, who was joining him on the patio, looking scared. Fordham told him the news.
    "Are those instant messages authentic?" he asked Foley, who turned away, mortified.
    When Foley looked back, he said, "Probably."
    "Yeah, I'm sure they're real," said Foley.
    [Liz] Nicolson [Foley's then-current chief of staff,] joined them. "Liz, I've been stupid," said the congressman. …
    Everyone [in GOP congressional leadership] agreed that Foley needed to resign. They weren't sure how. A lawyer was called in and advised that Foley sign a letter to be delivered to Speaker Hastert on the floor of the House. Just then, Fordham was alerted that Foley's sister Donna Winterson had arrived at the congressman's office, totally unaware of the meltdown. He ran over and found Winterson sitting on the sofa, "looking like she was in a coma." Her life, having been devoted to her brother's campaigns, would be crushed, too. It took Fordham five minutes to get her composed enough to walk back to the house, where they would finally have to swallow the bitter pill.
    "You have to get out," Fordham told Foley.
    "You mean I have to drop out of the re-election race?
    "No, you need to resign your seat in the House. Today. Now."
    Fordham says that Foley dissolved into hysterics. His sister wrapped her arms around him, and they rocked together, in tears. Foley wailed to his sister, "I'm so sorry I've done this to you." Fordham says, "He thought he'd ruined everyone's life."

    The article sheds no new light on whether a "thin pink line" of gay Republicans who knew something about Foley's "page problem" — including Fordham, Arizona Congressman Jim Kolbe, then chief House Clerk Jeff Trandahl, and perhaps one or more of Speaker Dennis Hastert's top aides — kept the matter "in house" in hopes of protecting one of their own. The article touches on Foley's mysterious decision to drop out of the 2003 campaign for a U.S. Senate seat, despite a fund-raising lead and state party support, but offers only wild speculation that Karl Rove shut Foley down because he caught wind of the page problem.

    With almost nothing new of substance to report, the VF piece instead engages in a pretty shocking leap from the known facts about Foley's own teenage abuse at the hands of a Catholic priest. With precious little evidence to support their conclusion, VF's reporters Gail Sheehy and Judy Bachrach remarkably assume that Foley enjoyed the sexual attention:

    The formative experience of [Foley's] passage through puberty, as the world now knows, was his seduction by an authority figure whose attentions may have been a guilty pleasure. A priest at the Sacred Heart Catholic School took him biking and skinny-dipping and massaged him in the nude, often bringing him to saunas for fondling. Unlike a peer of his who ran away from another priest's overtures, young Foley apparently did not resist.

    The attentions of a predatory priest "may have been a guilty pleasure"? Foley "apparently did not resist"? And on what do they base these conclusions? Why, from the assurances of the predatory priest, of course!

    The Reverend Anthony Mercieca, who was 17 years older than Foley, claims they became "attached to each other .… almost like brothers." … The priest rejects Foley's latter-day charge of abuse and defends their relationship as one of "naturalness.… For some people, it's molestation. Maybe for other kids, it's fun, you know?" This arrested sexual development, with its titillating mix of secrecy and shame, Foley would reproduce in his adult years.

    Perhaps VF assumes Foley enjoyed being abused because he turned out to be gay himself, or because he subsequently repeated the cycle, albeit only by virtual means. Neither assumption is justified; in fact, both are as irresponsible as it would be conclude Foley "became" gay because of the abuse or engaged in abuse because gay men are predatory.

    Sexuality is an incredibly complex phenomenon that doesn't reduce itself nicely to a Vanity Fair "thought piece" that bases its conclusions on the confession of an admitted priest-predator. Perhaps more real information will emerge from the congressional ethics probe (doubtful) or ongoing FBI investigation (still more doubtful). Until then, here's hoping the VF armchair psychology doesn't catch on as accepted fact.

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    November 09, 2006


    Posted by: Chris

    Lane_1 Lou Chibbaro at my old alma mater the Blade scored an exclusive interview this week with the gay blogger who first posted questionable e-mails sent by Mark Foley to teenage males he met as pages. Lane Hudson stays on the defensive for most of the conversation, swatting away Net-inspired conspiracy theories that he was working surreptitiously for HRC or Democratic candidates when posted the e-mails on his anonymous blog, StopSexPredators.com, for purely partisan reasons:

    Hudson said he started the Stop Sex Predators blog about two months before he began work in September as a Michigan field organizer for the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest gay political organization.

    He said he learned of Foley’s interaction with pages and his frequent e-mail exchanges with them through sources and contacts he declined to disclose.

    "I heard more stories about it and just the stories that I heard made it clear to me that it was a long history of his behavior and that it wasn’t isolated incidents," he said. …

    He said HRC and the gay-supportive Democratic Party candidates that he campaigned for in Michigan as an HRC field organizer knew nothing about his Stop Sex Predators blog, which Hudson said he created and operated anonymously.

    I can't imagine HRC being in on Hudson's scheming. For one thing, the e-mails "out" Foley as a gay man and in a very unflattering light. HRC has always opposed outing, and would never want to see a gay member of Congress forcibly outed by accusations of pedophilia, whatever his party affiliation.

    Markfoley Hudson, now 29, says he actually met Foley back when Hudson worked as a White House intern in the mid-'90s, and gave the Florida congressman his e-mail address after he asked for it. There was "nothing explicit, nothing very salacious," about their subsequent communications, he said.

    Hudson admits he's a Democratic partisan and very active politically, but he nonetheless swears there was no partisan motive to his activities:

    "The criticism is moot," he said. "It only serves to distract from the real issue here. And the real issue is that there was a predator in Congress who, over the course of his 12 years of service, was continuously seeking out pages with unethical, immoral and inappropriate intentions. And now he’s not there," Hudson said.

    "And anyone who wants to say anything different is endorsing the idea that these activities should have continued."

    Errrr, riiiiight. As much as I believe that HRC and the Democrats had no advance knowledge of Hudson's plan to hatch Foley-gate, I don't buy for a second his protestation to have acted to protect the pages. If that were really his goal, he would have taken the communications to law enforcement authorities or the House ethics committee.

    Hudson would be better off following the lead of Denver call-boy Mike Jones, who at least admitted his political motive in outing evangelist Ted Haggard as a philandering, meth-abusing "john."

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    November 08, 2006

    A day of big victories

    Posted by: Chris

    Here's what HRC had to say about the election results:


    Here's my complete run-down on yesterday's election results:

    The national wave that swept Democrats into power in the U.S. House and perhaps the Senate has brightened the prospect for gay rights legislation in Congress and thrilled activists by knocking off one of the country's top anti-gay incumbents.

    Gays also celebrated the defeat of a broadly worded ban on gay marriage and civil unions in Arizona — the first time that's happened in 25 states where such measures have been tried.

    "Symbolically, [the Arizona result] is as important as the Massachusetts marriage decision," said Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign.

    Ballot measures banning marriage and civil union passed in five other states, though activists in Colorado held out hope until Wednesday that a pro-gay domestic partnership might eke by after votes were counted from Denver, where massive problems with ballot machines slowed the process.

    Haggardpoints_2 Some hoped that the spectacular fall of Colorado Springs evangelist Ted Haggard, accused by a male escort in Denver of paying for sex and crystal meth, would turn the tide against the ban, but former Colorado Gov. Bill Owen (R) told Fox News on Wednesday that he think the scandal "may have actually helped it pass."

    "The whole issue of a male prostitute and the seedier side of that story made some people think, 'You know, I don't want anything to do with that,'" said Owen, who backed the marriage ban and opposed the D.P. initiative.

    Efforts to defeat marriage bans came tantalizingly close in South Dakota (52 to 48 percent) and Virginia (57 to 43 percent), two traditionally "red" conservatives states. In past elections, such ballot measures have typically passed by lopsided support at 70 percent or higher.

    "It's clear that fear-mongering around same-sex marriage by the GOP and the extreme Christian right is fizzling out," said Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force. "It doesn't have the juice it had just two years ago — people are getting sick of it."

    The most crushing defeat was in Wisconsin, where an amendment banning marriage, civil unions and perhaps other legal recognition for gay couples passed easily, 60 to 40 percent, even as Democrats there took back the state Senate and handily won a contested gubernatorial race.

    The Task Force cheered the passage of a local non-discrimination ballot referendum in Ferndale, Mich. — the third attempt since 1991 to pass a human rights ordinance. A city charter amendment banning bias based on sexual orientation and gender identity passed by a lopsided margin in Corvallis, Ore.

    Moderate Republicans fare poorly in House races

    The Democratic takeover of the House could dramatically brighten prospects for gay rights legislation, including on hate crimes and a new version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act that also includes protections based on gender identity.

    The GOP House leadership deposed by voters on Tuesday has been markedly more conservative and opposed to gay rights legislation than their Senate counterparts. Republicans expected the resignation from leadership and even from Congress of House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), who has been under fire for how he responded to complaints about inappropriate contact with pages by Republican Mark Foley of Florida.

    Nancypelosi Nancy Pelosi, the San Francisco Democrat expected to be the first-ever female speaker of the House, has a strong pro-gay record, though she has not mentioned ENDA or hate crimes as among her earliest legislative priorities.

    The Democrat takeover of the House came at the expense of a number of moderate Republicans backed by both HRC and the Log Cabin Republicans. Two Connecticut incumbents — Republicans Nancy Johnson and Rob Simmons — were among the casualties, though longtime gay rights supporter Chris Shays (R) survived a close vote.

    Only two out of eight embattled Republican House members backed by Log Cabin won on Tuesday, although 11 other Republican veterans backed by the gay GOP group won handily.

    Races were too close to call in the two House districts where HRC endorsed Democrats challenging Log Cabin-backed GOP incumbents: Pennsylvania Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick (R) is trailing his Democrat Patrick Murphy, while Rep. Deborah Pryce (R-Ohio), who was caught up in the Foley scandal, has a narrow lead over her HRC-endorsed challenger.

    "Foley-gate" cost Republicans the once safe seat formerly held by the disgraced gay congressman. Voters chose Democrat Tim Mahoney over Foley, whose name remained on the ballot although his votes went to Republican Joe Negron.

    Jim Kolbe, the other openly gay House Republican, announced his retirement months before he learned he also faces investigations into whether he had inappropriate contact with congressional pages. His seat flipped to the Democratic side as well.

    The two openly gay Democrats in Congress — Barney Frank (Mass.) and Tammy Baldwin (Wis.) — easily won re-election.

    Openly gay candidates fared well in races at the state and local level. Some 67 candidates backed by the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund won on Tuesday, including 34 elected to state legislatures. A lesbian was also elected in a statewide race to the Oregon Supreme Court.

    "This is the tipping point election for openly gay candidates," said Chuck Wolfe, the Victory Fund director. "We're proving that qualified, well-prepared candidates matched with committed donors means gays and lesbians can move from having a stake in policy to actually making policy. There's no reason to sit on the sidelines with our fingers crossed anymore."

    Santorum defeat cheered

    SantorumconcedesGay rights supporters nationwide savored the defeat of several high-profile anti-gay incumbents, and no prize was larger than Republican Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, who lost by double digits to moderate Democrat Bob Casey. (Concession photo via Wonkette).

    Santorum, the third-ranking Republican in the Senate, was a leading proponent of a federal marriage amendment and made headlines three years ago when he warned that a Supreme Court ruling that struck down sodomy laws would lead to legalization of "man on dog" sex.

    Marilyn Musgrave, the Colorado Republican who has been the lead House sponsor of a federal marriage amendment, survived a strong Democratic challenge backed by gay groups.

    Three other House Republicans targeted by HRC for their anti-gay records were ousted by voters on Tuesday, including Congressman Clay Shaw of Florida. The race was too close to call in another race, where HRC-backed challenger Patricia Madrid was slightly trailing GOP incumbent Heather Wilson of New Mexico.

    Another leading anti-gay incumbent, John Hostetler of Pennsylvania, was defeated after a controversial campaign where he aired ads warning voters, "Nancy Pelosi will then 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."

    Log Cabin said social conservatives like Santorum and Hostetler within the GOP bore responsibility for the party's dismal showing on Tuesday.

    "Social conservatives drove the GOP's agenda the last several years," said Patrick Sammon, interim director of the gay GOP group. "Their divisive agenda alienated the mainstream Republicans and independents who determined this election's outcome."

    Lincolnchaffee Elation over Santorum's defeat was dampened by the loss of the Senate's most pro-gay Republican. Lincoln Chaffee of Rhode Island (pictured), the only GOP member of Congress to back full marriage equality, was defeated by Sheldon Whitehouse. The Democratic challenger also supports full marriage rights.

    Elsewhere in the contest for the Senate, gay activists cheered the defeat of anti-gay Republican Sen. Mike DeWine in Ohio. His Democratic challenger, Congressman Sherrod Brown, has a very strong record in support of gay rights.

    All eyes now are focused on Virginia, where control of the U.S. Senate may ride on whether voters there have ousted Republican incumbent George Allen, who jettisoned a moderate gay rights record in the last several years to back a federal marriage amendment and oppose even employment protections and hate crime laws.

    His challenger, moderate Democrat Jim Webb, was leading by three-tenths of one percent, and an expected recount could take weeks. Webb was backed by HRC, and is largely supportive of gay rights, though the former Secretary of the Navy for Ronald Reagan opposes repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

    HRC stayed out of Senate races in Montana and Missouri, where anti-gay Republican incumbents appear to have gone down to defeat by small margins.

    Pro-gay candidates win races for governor

    Devalpatrick_1 In gubernatorial races, two Democrats who back full marriage equality won their races on Tuesday. Activists hope Deval Patrick, the first-ever African American governor of Massachusetts, will help beat back efforts to amend that state's constitution to reverse the marriage victory won three years ago there.

    Gov.-elect Elliot Spitzer has vowed to introduce gay marriage legislation in New York, where the state's supreme court upheld laws there limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples.

    The Task Force also cheered the election of pro-gay Democrat Ted Strickland as Ohio governor, against anti-gay Republican Ken Blackwell.

    "We saw Republicans and Christian right extremists trying to use an anti-gay family amendment to help win Ohio for Bush-Cheney in 2004," said Foreman. "Yet in 2006, Ohio voters have rejected the politics of division and elected a moderate who opposes scapegoating gay and lesbian families for political gain."

    Incumbent Democrat governors who are pro-gay were also re-elected despite strong challenges in Wisconsin, Michigan and Oregon.

    Log Cabin cheered the re-election of several moderate Republican governors, including Jodi Rell, who signed Connecticut's civil unions law, and Arnold Schwarzenegger of California, who has signed several gay rights bills, though he vetoed a landmark gay marriage law passed by state's legislature.

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    November 07, 2006

    No 'boy pages' for Harold

    Posted by: Chris

    Haroldford787453 As a native of Memphis, Tenn., I was originally pleased by how Harold Ford, Jr., has been a rising star in the Democratic Party. Racial division has long plagued politics in Memphis, which has fallen far behind its cross-state rival Nashville for largely that reason.

    Now Ford is running for the seat vacated by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a craven anti-gay Republican, and yet Ford is proving just as craven in his gay-baiting, proudly trumpeting his two votes in favor of federal marriage amendments.

    Today, on MSNBC, Ford couldn't stop talking about how much he loves Jesus, his risen Savior. Yes, the GOP ads that smeared him for the Playboy parties were revolting; but so is his self-righteous response.

    And then this gem, totally unsolicited by interviewer Tucker Carlson, on how he'll bring his Christian values to bear if elected:

    "You dont have to worry about me hitting on boy pages on the Senate floor."

    Nice, Harold.

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    November 03, 2006

    Two depressing predictions come true

    Posted by: Chris

    I wish either one of these had turned out differently:

    1.    Just yesterday, discussing the prospects that New Jersey's Legislature might adopt full marriage rights, I wrote:

    A Zogby poll commissioned by Garden State Equality showed a majority already favoring
    marriage equality, 56 to 39 percent. Two big caveats, however: The poll was taken before the Supreme Court opinion, which might have crystallized opposition to marriage among some, and because it was commissined by the gay rights group, the question was no doubt worded to elicit the highest possible positive response.

    Now this morning comes this from the Philadelphia Inquirer:

    Support for banning same-sex marriage in New Jersey grew in the days after the state Supreme Court ruled that gay couples should have the same rights as married heterosexuals, according to a poll released yesterday. A little more than half of the Rutgers-Eagleton poll's 809 respondents favored changing the state constitution so that gay marriages would be banned. In June, a poll showed the opposite, with a little more than half opposing such a constitutional amendment.

    The news from New Jersey isn't all bad, however. The same Rutgers-Eagleton poll still showed most people (54 to 37 percent) agreed with the court ruling, and most still favor civil unions (40 percent) or even full marriage (29 percent) over overturning the ruling (16 percent). Since support for a constitutional amendment banning gays from marrying topped 54 percent though the court didn't even require it, we can only imagine the straits we'd been in if the court ruling had been right on the law.

    2.    A week ago, I wrote about how the House Ethics Committee investigation into Foley-gate actually provided those involved with a convenient way to hide the crucial facts from voters until after Election Day:

    Because the whole Foley matter is "under investigation," all these principle players have lawyered up and clammed up, in classic Washington style.  Meanwhile, there is an election in two weeks which ought to allow the American public to pass judgment on all 435 members of the House on this and many other issues.  But no one expects the House panel to reach any official conclusions by then.

    Now this from today's Washington Post:

    The House ethics committee has been working hard to determine whether Republicans covered up Mark Foley's electronic messages to male former pages, but even 12-hour workdays will not bring conclusions by Election Day. The lack of a report by Tuesday leaves voters to sort through conflicting Republican accounts in deciding whether GOP leaders did not protect the teenage pages.

    The committee should be pressed to release the testimony, even if a report isn't ready, or those who testified should come forward with what they said. Otherwise, the phony Washington investigation game will once again have obscured the truth from voters, rather than clarified it — just like those damning investigations into pre-war intelligence about Saddam Hussein released after President Bush was safely re-elected.

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    October 29, 2006

    Also in the news…

    Posted by: Chris

    Michaelpiazza *    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.

    Gaycruises *   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.

    Britainmapclipart28_1 *    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. 

    George_w_bush *    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."

    Rev_anthony_mercieca *   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.

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    October 28, 2006

    Moving forward fairly

    Posted by: Chris

    Patricksammon_1 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.

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    October 26, 2006

    The great gay election scapegoat

    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.

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    October 24, 2006

    Investigating what exactly?

    Posted by: Chris

    Dennishastert 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:

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    October 23, 2006

    When ideology trumps fact

    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.

    Reaganclinton 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:

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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:

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    October 19, 2006

    Trandahl finally speaks

    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.

    Trandahljeff 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:

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    October 15, 2006

    Where there's smoke, there's…smoke

    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.

    Kolbejim 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.

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    October 13, 2006

    Will they ask 'the question'?

    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.

    Fordhamkirk 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.

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    October 12, 2006

    HRC and reverse gay-baiting

    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.

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    October 11, 2006

    'Ass of the Year'

    Posted by: Chris

    Elephantass 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).

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    Barney weighs in on 'the thin pink line'

    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.

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    October 10, 2006

    A Huff and a puff…

    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.

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    Kolbe's 'corrective action'

    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.

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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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    October 06, 2006

    The road to authenticity

    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.

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    October 04, 2006

    A 'thin gay line' to protect Foley?

    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.

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    Inquiring minds want to know…

    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…

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    What was Foley's fatal flaw?

    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.

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