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
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
'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
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
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