Labor Union Gay Baits GOP Senator in Kentucky Race

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Monday November 3, 2008

As the election staggers to a close this week, mud-slinging and innuendo continue, and not just on the campaign for the White House. In Kentucky, a Republican senatorial incumbent has become the target of a radio ad and a leafleting blitz based on homophobia and the insinuation that the senator was kicked out of the Army in 1967 for gay sex.

Page One News reported on the story Oct. 31, noting that a union for public servants--the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees--had paid for an ad that hinted strongly at a military discharge for homosexual conduct, though without offering any evidence for the charge. Instead, the ad merely asked why Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell had refused to make public the full contents of his military record.

The radio ad mentions a number of facts and stats about McConnell, before resorting to the implication of a discharge for gay sex.

Page One News posted a transcript of the ad, which says, "Now, people in Kentucky are asking why Mitch McConnell won't release his entire military records.

"The Lexington Herald-Leader reported that McConnell was discharged after serving less than six months. But McConnell won't discuss the full details," the ad declares.

Continues the ad, "What is he hiding?"

The ad's slogan puns on the issue of sexuality, with the announcer asking, "Isn't it time for Mitch McConnell to be straight with us?"

That same wordplay was the basis of a leafleting action in which a Photoshopped image of McConnell as all of the members of the 1970s disco band The Village People was situated beneath a headline that demands, "Tell Senator Mitch McConnell To Be Straight With Kentucky!"

The story on the leaflets was a follow-up that appeared at Page One News on Oct. 31.

Beneath the image of McConnell as The Village People appeared text reading, "Was Mitch McConnell discharged from the United States Army in 1967 for committing homosexual acts with another soldier?"

Asked the leaflet's text, "Why won't Senator McConnell release his complete military records?"

At the bottom, the leaflet adds, "Kentuckians deserve straightanswers from their leaders."

Anti-gay ads and leaflets are nothing new to political campaigns seeking to smear their opponents. What irritates GLBT citizens and fair-minded heterosexual voters alike is the underlying assumption that homosexuality is somehow wrong and that voters will react to such campaigns by voting for someone other than the purported homosexual candidate.

One of the most outrageous examples of such homophobic campaign literature hit the news earlier this year when Oklahoma politician Brent Rhinehart, at the time engaged in a re-election battle to retain the office of the Oklahoma County Commissioner, self-published a crudely drawn comic book depicting Satan and his minions--a gaggle of gays--as his enemies. In the graphic opus, God appears with his angels as allies in the fight to keep Oklahoma from the forces of darkness.

The climax of the story sees an angel cheering on a Reinhart win at the ballot box. In real life, Rhinehart lost the primary in July and was scheduled to be arraigned on charges of illegal campaign finance activity in September.

In other news in Indiana, Democrat Andy Schemenaur's campaign mailed out an anti-gay flier to voters in the state's house district 33.

Schemenaur, who is running for state congress, appeared on the flier in a number of photographs showing the candidate and his family, with the mailer's text, titled Faith and Family: A Hoosier Way of Life, broken down into several paragraphs with sub-headings like, "My Church," "My Faith in God," and "The Sanctity of Life."

All those things are important to many gay and lesbian families as well as to heterosexual households, but among those blocks of text was one that took aim at non-heterosexual families: "The Sanctity of Marriage and Family."

The text of that paragraph read, "We must defend the sanctity of marriage as the pillar of family life."

While many gay and lesbian couples would agree with the general sentiment of that opening sentence, the text then took on an anti-gay tone, reading, "I support a constitutional amendment that defines marriage as existing only between one man and one woman."

Meanwhile, in a science fiction twist with a heavy dose of homophobia, a "letter from the future" distributed to voters by the anti-gay group Focus on the Family envisioned America four years from now as a place where churches were shuttered and talk radio had been forced off the air while network TV became a 24/7 loop of hardcore pornography... all because Barack Obama had been elected president.

The "letter from the future" warned evangelical voters that under an Obama administration, Christians would be jailed, denied adoption rights, and barred from working in certain jobs, such as education and health care, while a gay-friendly Supreme Court caused the disbanding of the Boy Scouts.

For gays and lesbians, those claims had a ring of d?j? vu: Republicans in decades past have sought to bar openly gay and lesbian professionals from being employed as teachers and physicians.

The so-called Briggs Initiative, named after Republican sponsor Jim Briggs, sought to criminalize gay teachers in the state of California in 1978, and during the 1988 elections the George H. W. Bush campaign sent out a mailer supporting the criminalization of openly gay doctors.

Groups such as the FOF continue even today to support legislative attempts to ban gay and lesbian adoption.

The campaign of South Carolina senatorial candidate Mick Mulvaney was reportedly behind an automated call from a fictitious group called "The Alliance for the Advancement of Gays and Lesbians."

The robo-call from the nonexistent gay rights group hailed Mulvaney's Democratic opponent, Mandy Powers Norrell for, among other things, promoting "homosexual unions and abortion rights."

Similar robocalls have been used in past elections to spread disinfomation: in 2000 John McCain was the victim of one such campaign, and in another instance of Kentucky politics resorting to homophobia, that state's Democratic candidate for governor, Steve Beshear, was targeted by a robocall claiming that Beshear had been "proudly endorse[d]" by "the homosexual lobby."

In the case of the slurs against Senator Mitch McConnell, even bloggers who wanted to see McConnell lose the election decried the union's ad suggesting that McConnell's military career ended after half a year due to gay sex in uniform.

At The Debate Link a story on the ad included a personal note from the author that read, "I want to beat McConnell. I don't like him, and the thought of a 60 seat Senate majority makes me giddy.

"But not like this."

Sam Stein, writing at The Huffington Post reported that according to a 2002 story in the Lexington Herald-Leader, McConnell was discharged from the Army due to a recurring eye condition.

Even so, renewed rumors have been seized on in the race, with Kentucky state representative Greg Stumbo, a Democrat and the state's former attorney general, saying,

"Elections should be about informed choices."

Added Stumbo, "He's obviously not proud of his record, Sen. McConnell isn't, or he would have shown it by now.

"Something isn't correct about it that might cause a lot of people, including veterans, to take a second look at him."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.