By Steve Charing
Senior Political Analyst
Senior Political Analyst
"Lurid." "Salacious." "Disgusting." "Despicable." "Perverted."
Those were the most common characterizations heard by innumerable outraged citizens across America in response to the content of suggestive and sexually explicit e-mail and instant messages that former Representative Mark Foley (R-FL) sent to a 16 year-old congressional page. But they could also be the same terminology that unfortunately so many use to associate with the lgbt community and its attendant "lifestyle."
This development and the way the GOP-led House of Representatives mishandled the original notification of the events have dealt the Republicans another blow. They were seen as "protecting the congressional seat, not the children." The fallout indicates the Republicans forfeited their lock on the so-called cultural values issue and dampened any remaining enthusiasm from religious conservatives for the upcoming mid-term election.
Some Republican supporters desperately reasoned that going after Foley sooner would have been seen as "gay bashing" or "politically incorrect." Spare me. All they do is trash gays to comply with their innate bigotry or to win votes.
As much as I was delighted to see another Republican misstep during an unprecedented period of errors, incompetence and pre-election free-fall, I fear the impact of this highly publicized episode will have on our efforts to achieve equality and on our community itself.
On the heels of defeats in the judiciary regarding same-sex marriage in Washington and New York (and now most recently in California) and several states poised to amend their constitutions to ban same-sex marriage, this scandal didn’t come at a good time. Indeed, it led to verbal attacks on the gay community by religious conservatives, reinforcing the animus that prevails throughout much of straight America.
The anti-gay fervor that was fanned by the Republicans in 2002 and most prominently in 2004 appeared to have quelled to a degree as the rulings from the recent court decisions generally tamped down the fear of "gay marriage." Moreover, some pro-gay progress was beginning to at least be viewed as a possibility. The repeal of the military’s odious "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" policy, for example, was gaining traction even among some Republicans.
But the old stereotypes re-surfaced with the breaking news of the Foley Folly. Traditionally homophobic Christian conservatives were quick to link pedophilia to the gay lifestyle. While these charges did have some resonance briefly, lgbt supporters had denounced them as statistically invalid and reprehensible for attacking an entire segment of the population for the misdeeds of one troubled closet case.
Gays have been blamed for the misdeeds in the Catholic Church, as well as such disasters as tsunamis and hurricanes. But in the Foley case, when efforts to pin any wrongdoing by the Republican administration or Congress on Bill Clinton or the liberal media failed, they turned to their other favorite scapegoats: gay people.
They denounced gay men as predatory. Well that is true to some extent. Young gays constantly complain in blogs and in chat rooms about the "old pervs" hassling them online or in clubs. But straight men and males of all species are sexual predators—males typically are the aggressors.
Our opponents, however, like to claim that we are all child molesters. But the Journal of the American Medical Association found that although 90 percent of pedophiles are men, 98 percent of those men are heterosexual. That doesn’t matter to these homophobes. Their mindset is that gays are perverts, and that’s the comfort zone of straight society.
We were set back in many ways by this scandal and the roaring voices raised by our opponents. In a letter written to Speaker Dennis Hastert, Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solmonese wrote, "When extremists in your party go on national television and assert claims that a person's sexual orientation is responsible for immoral and inappropriate conduct, it sends a clear signal to the American people that they are more interested in pushing their anti-gay agenda than they are in holding our elected officials accountable."
As wrong as Foley was to use his position in Congress to harass and make unwanted sexual advances to vulnerable high school-age pages, there is little evidence that it constituted pedophilia. Even if he had sex with the page that launched this scandal, the age of consent in Washington D.C. is 16. But that is the legal matter; our community still has been tainted with Foley’s foibles.
The general anger was loud and clear and rightly so. But I question if the intensity of the reactions would have been comparable had the former Congressman sent similar e-mails to a female page. There would have been some outrage to be sure, but not to this extent. Man on boy sexuality is a huge taboo. That’s what angers the citizenry most.
As this scandal continues to unfold, the impact on the mid-term elections will not be known for certain until after November 7. Should the GOP lose control of both houses of Congress and the Foley affair is seen as the principal cause (Hello, forget Iraq?), they will really target gays more than ever, if that’s possible. And gay Republicans will particularly be in the crosshairs.
The fallout will also show that this affair impeded our ongoing attempts to convince the rest of America that we are mainstream like everyone else and deserving of equal benefits and rights. We will have yet another mountain to climb.