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  WINDY CITY TIMES

VIEWS Liberace Candidate Michelangelo Signorile
2003-06-04

This article shared 3306 times since Wed Jun 4, 2003
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Right-wing Republicans are fond of attacking equality for gays and lesbians by claiming that gays are seeking 'special rights.' Florida Republican Congressman Mark Foley seems to believe in special rights for himself though. While it's generally accepted that candidates for public office should have their much of their lives open to the media—from their tax returns to the images they offer up of their families—Foley is demanding certain aspects of his life remain obscured.

It's not a coincidence that these particular aspects of his life are the type that would infuriate the Christian right, a strong force in Florida's Republican Party. Foley is about to make a play for the U.S. seat currently held by Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., who is running in the 2004 Democratic presidential primaries. Foley says he'll run for the seat even if Graham changes his mind and seeks re-election to the Senate.

Just in case you've blocked out those dark days of two and a half years ago, Foley was among George W. Bush's staunchest defenders in the land of the hanging chads. Foley, who hails from West Palm Beach, took to the airwaves during the recount, attacking Al Gore and the Democrats right up until the Supreme Court selected Bush as president. Since that time, Foley has been a loyal soldier, praising W's every move with the voting record to prove it. Now, Foley's trying to stop the press from focusing on his own sexual orientation, despite the fact that he lives in a glass closet. And he may just get his way.

Certainly, the accommodationist Washington gay groups, whose mission is supposed to be all about fostering openness among politicians, aren't demanding that Foley be forthright, and they recently even defended his deception. Foley's sexual orientation—and the claim that he is gay and rather open about it to those around him—was discussed in the Broward-Palm Beach New Times by columnist Bob Norman. Foley went on the attack, responding to the article by holding a bizarre press conference in which Florida reporters thought he was going to come out. Instead, Foley called the discussion of his sexual orientation 'revolting' and refused to say if he is gay or not. He then claimed he'd been set up by unnamed Democratic Party conspirators.

Meanwhile, the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, a bipartisan group that supposedly promotes the idea that gay political candidates should be open about their sexual orientation, played right into the Republicans' hands. Their press flack Jason Young called the New Times story 'dirty,' which is a pretty scurrilous charge. A politician allegedly lies and deceives the public—with the full knowledge of a small clique around him—and it is those who expose it who are 'dirty?'

We're not, after all, talking about a deeply closeted married man who is having secretive homosexual sex in a public rest room. We're actually not talking about sex at all, at least not as in the case of Bill and Monica. We're talking about identity—how one defines oneself and is known to family and friends. We're talking about someone who is 48 years old, unmarried and is, according to the New Times, quite comfortably known to be gay to many people in politics on both the right and left, and whose own boyfriend has been out with him in public, as described by the gay military hero Tracy Thorne.

Back in 1992, Thorne, a Navy lieutenant, famously declared on Nightline that he was gay, a disclosure that helped bring the issue of gays in the military to the forefront. Now Thorne has told the New Times that Foley's homosexuality is common knowledge and that Foley brought his boyfriend to Thorne's family home in the Florida Keys.

'The relationship was obvious,' Thorne said. 'It was no big deal. By refusing to be honest about who he is, Foley is sending a message to gay kids and his fellow Republicans that being gay is something to be ashamed of.'

The glass closet has been utilized for decades among certain entertainment figures. Rosie O'Donnell lived in it. Richard Simmons is locked in it, bouncing off the walls but probably destined to stay there forever. Liberace was inducted into the glass closet hall of fame. It may have seemed obvious to many that the famed glitzy pianist was gay, but, because he never said it, upon his death due to AIDS in 1987 there were little old ladies across America who wouldn't believe it.

For a politician, the glass closet could be a useful tool when the little old ladies happen to be among the Christian right's soldiers in Florida's Republican Party. Foley's glass closet has been quite resilient—more like plexiglass. He's been outed before, but he's always managed to keep it on the down low. Back in 1996 The Advocate reported on the sexual orientation of Foley as well as fellow Republican Congressman Jim Kolbe of Arizona, after this shady duo voted for the viciously antigay Defense of Marriage Act. Kolbe freaked and came out of the closet on his own just prior to the article release.

Foley took a different tack, deciding to duck the issue and ride it out (though he actually stated a couple of years earlier that 'I like women'). The story eventually died down. Foley's strategy since then has been to try to ensure that his sexual orientation never becomes a story again. He began voting in favor of gay rights, even as he lurched to the right on most other issues in the past two years, supporting the president, whose brother Jeb he will need if he wants that GOP nomination for the Senate.

But can Foley and his backers now keep his sexual orientation out of the media? After Foley held his press conference, most of the Florida media reported on the controversy, with headlines like 'Foley Denounces Reports That He Is Gay.' Going on the offensive like that might just put the fear of God into reporters. Gay groups wimped out, and the Democrats too are running for cover, a signal that the entire affair could soon evaporate.

'It is ironic that Congressman Foley answered one uncalled for accusation with another,' the state Democratic Party chairman, Scott Maddox, said in response to Foley's charge that the New Times story was part of a Democratic smear campaign.

Why is it an 'accusation' to say that someone is gay? Why is it so terrible to report on facts relevant to Foley's candidacy? If Foley were a heterosexual man quietly dating an Hispanic woman—in a state where Hispanic issues and the Hispanic vote are important in local politics—the media would be all over it, no matter how much Foley tried to keep it under the radar. And no one would call such reports an 'accusation.' Throw in the fact that Foley is making a Senate run in a party in which one Senate leader just compared homosexuality to adultery, polygamy, bigamy and incest—comments Foley himself has yet to speak out on—and that the very president whose ass Foley kisses has refused to condemn the statements. The Rick Santorum debacle alone offers every reason why Foley's sexual orientation should come up at every campaign stop between now and the 2004 election. And if gay activists in Florida and elsewhere have any backbone at all, they'll make sure it does.

Signorile hosts a national show each weekday from noon to 3 p.m. EST on Sirius Satellite Radio, stream 149. www.signorile.com .


This article shared 3306 times since Wed Jun 4, 2003
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