Right Weighs in on ’Outing’ of GOP Congressman

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Thursday January 7, 2010

Does the public have a right to know about the private lives of elected officials? Some in the GLBT community believe so, at least in cases where closeted gay lawmakers support legislation harmful to gay individuals and their families. But some on the anti-gay right think so, too--because, they argue, gay politicians can be "blackmailed" if they're in the closet, and even if they're not, they might be likely to "foist" GLBT-friendly laws on the people.

Such was the upshot of a Jan. 6 article appearing at Townhall.com. Author Sandy Rios, writing about Illinois Rep. Mark Kirk, outlined the story: Congressman Kirk is running to fill the Senate seat that Barack Obama left when he was elected president. But fellow GOP Congressman Andy Martin, also in contention for the seat, has claimed that Kirk is gay, running radio ads to that effect and eliciting a backlash from the media and the GOP--against Martin.

Gays and lesbians may be divided as to whether a candidate's sexuality should be seen as having any bearing on whether he or she is the best choice, but for some on the right the prospect of a gay Senator raises red flags. Wrote Rios, "It was reported in the press that Kirk had a lengthy meeting with Nancy Pelosi before voting for Cap and Trade. His subsequent excuses for voting for this economically disastrous measure were vague and contradictory. Was he blackmailed into support? And if he was, then how could we be sure he wouldn't be in the future?"

Rios continued, "It is reported that Kirk has been living with another Congressman, also strongly rumored to be gay. Is that true? Is anyone investigating this? Are we just waiting for the Democratic opponent, Alexi Giannoulias to pull out the long knives and rush to victory in November ... or for Mark Kirk to take the seat and vote like any other Leftist in the chamber?"

Anti-Jennings Slurs Redux

Rios went on to justify that position by repeating a baseless claim much in vogue among the fringe right: that Obama Department of Education appointee Kevin Jennings, who founded the national GLBT youth advocacy organization the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network (GLSEN), and who has worked tirelessly to promote safe schools, approves of pedophilia. The right has based that claim on an erroneous report that twenty years ago, Jennings ignored a sexual relationship between a 15-year-old boy and an older man. In fact, the student was 16 at the time--and he was not sexually involved with the older man in question. Anti-gay pundits on the right then attempted to portray Jennings as sympathetic to the cause of pedophiles, even though Jennings has never made any such statement. Nonetheless, Rios repeated those calumnies, saying that Jennings "has lived out his endorsement of sex between adult men and boys," and going on to characterize Jennings' work to promote safe school environments for all students as "Queering Elementary Education."

Rios then took aim at hate crimes laws that cover GLBT Americans, who are at higher risk of being targeted for violent crime than others, due to their sexual orientation or sexual identity. FBI statistics show that in recent years GLBT Americans are increasingly being targeted for violent crime; Rios dismissed hate crimes protections, saying that they enhance penalties for violent crimes carried out against gays, while making no similar provisions when violence targets "a grandmother or a young child," but neglecting to mention that crime stats show gays are more likely to be attacked. Rios also repeated another fringe-right claim: that hate crimes protections will lead to the criminalization of anti-gay speech, a claim that has been vociferously and frequently repeated by anti-gay Christians who see themselves as on the verge of being persecuted for religious beliefs that teach that gays are "sinful" and "immoral." "And that too will be decided by elected officials," Rios wrote, as a reason for outing gay politicians.

Rios also listed marriage equality as an imminent danger justifying the outing of gay officials, even though 31 states now have constitutional amendments denying gay and lesbian families legal marriage, and voters in two states have rescinded marriage equality.

Rios presented a list of McCarthyesque questions that she suggested Kirk should answer, including, "Are you gay?," "Have you been living with another homosexual Congressman?," and, "Were you sued by another male staffer... for sexual harassment?"

"If the answers are 'yes' then Illinois voters who embrace homosexual rights can give him the opportunity to represent those rights in the U.S. Senate," wrote Rios. "If the answer is 'no' and subsequent investigation confirms it, the worry that he can be blackmailed or threatened will be removed." Rios also implied that gay and lesbian politicians cannot be blackmailed if they are open about their sexuality, and if their constituencies are less concerned about the mechanics of their personal arrangements than the integrity of their professional lives. "Homosexuality has now been mainstreamed and de-stigmatized. Any reason not to be open and honest has now been removed," she wrote.

A Jan. 6 article at the Huffington Post quoted Martin as calling Kirk a "de facto pedophile," based on claims that Kirk knew about illicit relations between GOP Congressman Mark Foley and teenaged male pages. The article noted that the Illinois State Republican Party Chairman, Pat Brady, denounced Martin's assertions, but also noted that Brady has generated controversy with inflammatory remarks before, including statements to the effect that Barack Obama kept his own grandmother locked up in a closet because she was white. Martin has also made anti-Semitic remarks. Brady was quoted in a Dec. 29 Chicago Tribune article as saying that Martin's claims "are consistent with his history of bizarre behavior and often times hate-filled speech which has no place in the Illinois Republican Party." Brady sent on to announce sanctions against Martin, saying that, "Mr. Martin will no longer be recognized as a legitimate Republican candidate by the Illinois Republican Party."

Indeed, Martin's anti-Kirk radio ads are eerily similar to the claims that the fringe right has made against Jennings. The ads have drawn condemnation in the blogosphere: a Jan. 6 posting at The Chicagoist declared, "Martin hits a new nadir when, in the ad, he makes clear that, 'Kirk is not a pedophile,' but then feels compelled to add that since Kirk helped to 'cover up' Foley's trysts, that makes Kirk 'a de facto pedophile.' No. Really. He says that."

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.