Lindsey Graham's queer predicament
Why the South Carolina senator's sexual orientation is a story for journalists
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Let’s begin with Aaron Schock, while I have your attention.
First elected in 2008, he’s the disgraced, former Republican congressman from Illinois who stood against LGBTQ rights — including voting against “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal, and coming out against marriage equality — though it was an open secret in Washington and in queer circles that he was gay throughout that entire time. There was discussion that he was gay even before the White House picnic in 2010 and the photo of him in white pants, teal belt and pink gingham shirt that went viral, but he’d denied it in 2004 in an interview.
The youngest person elected to Congress when he took office in 2009, Schock was allowed to present himself in the media as a bachelor whose college friends had all married while he was too busy in politics — but who would presumably marry when the right woman came along.
And yet, the open secret persisted. Schock denied he was gay again when I asked him on the floor of the Republican National Convention in Tampa in 2012 for a response to those who believe he is gay and that he had voted against his own people.
“Those questions are completely ridiculous and inappropriate,” he said, becoming tense. When I asked if he was thus confirming that he was not gay, he replied, “I’ve said that before and I don’t think it’s worthy of further response. I think you can look it up.” Then he stormed off.
Schock resigned in 2015 after a report about his Downton Abbey-inspired office set off a chain of investigations about his lavish lifestyle using taxpayer dollars and campaign funds. He was eventually indicted on 24 counts ( though, with a good lawyer, he struck an outrageous sweetheart deal in which all charges were dropped if he paid back the IRS and his campaign).
Then, this past March, Schock finally came out as gay, after living it up as a private citizen for some time, visiting gay vacation destinations and party spots, enjoying the very liberation that he worked with our enemies to try to destroy.
Twitter lights up with #LadyG
Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, too, has been discussed as gay for years, with those on both the left and the right hinting at it or saying it outright. He, too, has denied he is gay, most recently in 2018. (To be fair, some of the attacks on Graham that have relied upon gay innuendo — from both the left and the right — have been homophobic, and I’ve defended against that myself.)
And yet, the discussion persists — as it did with Schock — and over the weekend, as reported by Towleroad, Twitter lit up with claims that an army of sex workers may be coming forward to speak out about Graham having hired them in the past, after gay adult film actor Sean Harding tweeted on Friday that it was time to reveal the truth about a “homophobic Republican Senator who is no better than Trump,” whom he referred to as “LG.” Harding claimed “every sex worker [he] know[s] has been hired by this man.”
“LadyG and “LadyGraham” — the alleged nicknames used by the sex workers — were soon trending, and tweets went viral that came from people claiming they had evidence, some of them claiming it was first hand. Harding, overwhelmed with inquiries, eventually set his Twitter feed to private, and on Sunday he tweeted:
Due to death threats against me and my family — and having my mom call me pleading to make it stop I will no longer be commenting on the LG story here. I know one individual has spoken to two prestigious media outlets with evidence but I'm not sure when that story will break.
It would be nice to think that mainstream media — or as Harding put it, “prestigious media outlets” — are finally getting it right, though I’ve learned not to hold my breath.
That’s why I began this discussion with Aaron Schock. He’s the perfect example of a man who was deceiving the public in so many ways, and eventually the world would see it fully. The closet, for powerful politicians, becomes a sort of practice run at the art of deception on a grander scale. And when you will sell out your own kind, there’s really no telling how low you will go.
Had journalists at mainstream outlets with vast resources, legal teams and researchers, been pursuing Schock for the hypocrisy of his anti-LGBTQ votes — and revealed that he was gay, with clear-cut evidence — it wouldn’t only have likely stopped an anti-gay hypocrite; it would likely have brought down a man who was spending campaign and taxpayer dollars to live in grand style and luxuriously travel around the world.
Back in 2006 when Mike Rogers, the founder of the site Blogactive — which exposed a slew of hypocritical, closeted gay politicians — revealed with detailed sources that Idaho GOP senator Larry Craig was gay, much of the mainstream media wouldn’t go near it.
They refused to follow up or track down the story further. It wasn’t until nine months later when “wide-stance” Craig was arrested for trying to have sex in an airport men’s room in Minneapolis that the mainstream media was all over it. Craig was then forced to resign, and the hypocrisy of the anti-LGBTQ Republican Party was on display.
But like Schock’s criminal activity, Craig’s arrest is the only thing that brought him down. If not for that action, involving criminal charges and thus a public record, he might still be in office, still railing against LGBTQ people. For much of the mainstream media, exposing a homophobe isn’t worth their time and effort — nor the resources of their newsrooms.
Even now, when the media is taking more seriously the issue of sexual harassment and tracking down stories of assault against women by powerful men, stories they once ignored but rightly now are focusing on — even when a story turns out to lose credibility — they still don’t see the story of the closeted hypocrite as one to investigate and report on.
Let me be clear: I’m not equating sexual harassment and assault with sexual orientation: I’m equating hypocrisy, deception and abuse of power that affects marginalized groups.
"Outing” really doesn’t exist
I’ve not used the word “outing” here, by the way, because there really is no such thing. This term was coined in 1990 by the late William A. Henry III, a closeted bisexual Time magazine cultural critic (whose wife revealed his sexual orientation to me after his death, responding to an article I wrote), who had his own self-interest in demonizing me and many other gay journalists who were challenging the media’s cover-ups and distortions about queer public figures.
There is only “reporting.” As I wrote in a Twitter thread last week, sometimes reporting about public figures is gratuitous and unnecessary. Other times details are relevant, even when a public figure doesn’t want those details published. If this particular characteristic, like other characteristics about public figures, is relevant to a larger story encompassing their work, their role, their power, their influence, and is something the public should know — then it should be reported.
Certainly if they are engaged in hypocrisy, working against the LGBTQ community, it is relevant to report.
Too much of the media hides behind a “privacy” facade when it comes to queer public figures while editors and reporters tell us private details about other politicians all the time (sometimes when they’re not very relevant). They prioritize what they think we need to know about, and queer lives often are not valuable enough for them to expend energy on or take criticism on — and these stories always come with criticism.
Some heterosexual people, and that includes editors and reporters, also see reporting on homosexuality as equivalent to reporting on their own sexual fetishes and tastes — which of course is not a valid equivalency. We’re not asking anyone to report on sexual acts or positions or whatever — simply orientation. It’s certainly not an issue of privacy to ask a politician about their heterosexuality — or to report on aspects of it even if they haven’t stated it. And to view homosexuality as something not to report on unless the person has “admitted” it is both patronizing and homophobic.
Many LGBTQ people don’t get it either, and many heterosexual journalists take their cues from them. Some queer people don’t realize this isn’t about indiscriminately “outing” the average person, the private citizens just trying to live their own lives. It’s actually about protecting them from the corruption of those who are public figures — people who go into public life knowing their lives will be open for discussion — who want to deceive people to benefit themselves and their benefactors.
Senator Lindsey Graham has promoted a horrendously anti-LGBTQ agenda and now is one of the strongest defenders of a president who is the most anti-LGBTQ president in history, rolling back rights that have been won.
Editors and reporters should be investigating Graham’s hypocrisy the way they investigate public figures’ hypocrisy all the time — and that means following up on reports about his sexual orientation.
To do otherwise is to diminish the importance of LGBTQ rights while papering it over with high-minded ideas that just don’t hold up in 2020.