By now, we’ve all heard about the inappropriate, lurid conversations, instant messages, emails, and possibly encounters of now-former Rep. Mark Foley, R-FL. The scandal has raised significant issues about accountability in Republican leadership and the oversight of the page problem in general. But many conservatives have been quick to characterize the problem differently- as one of an inherent problem with homosexuality, and in particular, a problem resulting from the granting of gay rights. Rather than seeing Mr. Foley as a troubled man, living in the closet (though he was outed in gay media in 1997), and abusing his power in a completely inappropriate way, members of the right wing are holding up Mr. Foley as an example of all gay men- and furthering the baseless accusation that gays are more likely to pursue relationships with children.
On one prominent right-wing blog sponsored by the inappropriately named “Accuracy in Media”, Editor Cliff Kincaid takes the media to task for not ascribing Mr. Foley’s behavior to his homosexuality, and takes the Republican Party to task for “protecting” Foley’s homosexuality, which he calls a perversion. The veritable Family Research Council has gone even further, saying that “Pro-Homosexual Political Correctness” is to blame for Rep. Foley’s behavior, saying that political correctness (or what we refer to as basic human rights and dignity) has come at the expense of child safety.
Disappointingly, these myths are being propagated by usually more reasonable right-wingers. The Wall Street Journal editorial page is claiming that Rep. Foley’s actions gives credence to the Boy Scouts of America’s anti-gay discriminatory policy. Ben Stein, former host of “Win Ben Stein’s Money” and Nixon Administration official, writes in the American Spectator, “I hope it won't come as a surprise to anyone that a big part of male homosexual behavior is interest in young boys.”
As a practicing male homosexual, I will be honest- it surprises me. Homosexuals, like heterosexuals, have a wide range of tastes in sexual partners. To say all male homosexuals have an “interest” in young boys is as absurd as saying all male heterosexuals have an interest in retired senior citizens from South Florida. Others are saying that the fact that Rep. Foley found 20-year old men attractive should have been signs of trouble. Many older heterosexual men find 20-year old women attractive—that doesn’t mean they’re pedophiles. The double standard is fairly clear.
Stein also argues that LGBT individuals aren’t expressing their support for Rep. Foley as they have for other gays involved in scandals. But there is a difference between supporting someone’s homosexuality and ability to openly express it, and supporting their inappropriate behavior. Had Rep. Foley simply “come out”, he surely would have had as much support as any other politician who has decided to cease hiding his sexuality.
If anything, the continued repression and subordination of LGBT Americans likely had a greater influence on Mr. Foley’s behavior than “political correctness.” I do not condone Mr. Foley’s behavior in any way, but the fact that Mr. Foley’s homosexuality is part of the “news” at all is a sad commentary on the state of affairs in this country. If the circumstances of his affair were exactly the same, but merely concerned female pages instead of male pages, Mr. Foley’s behavior would have been as inappropriate and unacceptable. However, the sad truth is that the scandal would likely be considered more forgivable if the pages involved were female.
The only sympathy that Mr. Foley deserves today is due to the fact that he could not be openly gay throughout his tenure as a legislator. (Currently, there are only 3 openly gay members of Congress- .6%) In fact, when rumors started swelling around his 2003 Senatorial run, he left the race rather than admit that he was a gay man- facing the choice between being himself openly and his career- a choice that too many LGBT Americans face daily. To save face, Mr. Foley even went so far as to say “I like women…” and call it "revolting and unforgivable" that people were openly speculating that he was gay.
The good news is it seems unlikely that the majority of Americans will buy the argument that treating LGBT Americans with respect, dignity, and the equal protection of the laws “caused” Mark Foley’s immoral, condemnation-worthy behavior. Mark Foley’s inappropriate behavior towards pages cannot be used to justify discrimination towards LGBT Americans. LGBT Americans deserve to be treated with equal rights, and Mr. Foley’s actions are condemnable regardless of his sexual orientation. If anything, Mr. Foley’s inability to live openly as a gay man should remind us of the need to protect LGBT Americans, not rollback their civil rights.
Labels: Article I, Bill of Rights