Washington's Gay War

4.13.2008

By Charles Kaiser

The tradition of gay Republicans working against gay causes was typified by Terry Dolan, whose National Conservative Political Action Committee raised millions of dollars to help Republicans gain control of the Senate in 1980. Five years later, at the height of the AIDS crisis, gay firebrand Larry Kramer recognized Dolan at a gay cocktail party in Washington and threw a drink in his face. 'How dare you come here?' Kramer demanded.

'The nature of D.C. is nobody wants to rock the boat,' a Democratic political consultant tells me. 'Larry told Terry, 'You're a leather-queen power bottom trying to destroy all of us.' But nobody in D.C. had the balls to do this after the Republicans were ascendant in 1994. Everyone knew it went right up to Ken Mehlman [who served until two years ago as chairman of the Republican National Committee]. And closeted gay Republicans are a much bigger national security threat than [openly gay] Democrats'because people in the closet can still be blackmailed.'

The cease-fire between gay Democrats and gay Republicans ended abruptly in the fall of 2006, when another congressman named Foley managed to provoke all out civil war within Washington's gay establishment. Mark Foley, a Republican representative from Florida, was forced to resign in September 2006 after ABC News publicized the sexually suggestive e-mails he had been sending to teenage male former congressional pages.

Gay Democrats who had been disgusted for years by Republican efforts to win elections by demonizing gay people seized the moment to skewer their opponents. After the Republican leadership tried to blame gay staffers for protecting Foley from exposure, gay activists poured gasoline on the fire by circulating a list of 13 top Republican gay staffers on Capitol Hill'nine chiefs of staff, two press secretaries, and two directors of communication.

Recipients of the list included every right-wing organization the Democrats could think of, including the Christian Coalition, Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council, the Alliance for Marriage, and the Southern Baptist Convention. The activists said their goal was Republican 'voter suppression.'

'Maybe now social conservatives will realize one reason why their agenda is stalled on Capitol Hill,' one Democrat told the blog Tennessee Guerilla Women.

There was an instant reaction from the radical right. Don Wildmon of the American Family Association told The Nation magazine that a secret gay Republican 'clique' was responsible for covering up Foley's follies with the pages. 'They ought to fire every one of them,' said Wildmon. Family Research Council president Tony Perkins echoed Wildmon, 'Has the social agenda of the GOP been stalled by homosexual members or staffers?'

Democratic bomb throwers reveled in the success of their strategy. A Pew Research Center poll reported one month before the 2006 election that only 57% of white evangelicals planned to vote for Republican congressional candidates -- a 21-point drop from 2004. And everyone agrees that the Foley scandal was a key element in the Democrats' success in retaking both houses of Congress that November.

Meanwhile, gay Republican staffers were more terrified than ever that they would be outed by their Democratic rivals. The attacks of right-wing Christian leaders were equally upsetting. Patrick Sammon, then head of Log Cabin Republicans, told Cox Newspapers that closeted Republican staffers felt 'under siege' because 'antigay groups have used this awful situation to push their divisive agenda.'

Eighteen months after it was circulated, roughly half the people on 'the list' had left the Hill -- either because their members had been defeated or they had decided to join the private sector.

There was a terrible irony to the gay Democrats' strategy: The truth was, the only people who had made a serious effort to curb Mark Foley were gay Republican staffers, whose warnings were ignored by straight aides to Republican House speaker Dennis Hastert. The final report of the House Ethics committee whitewashed the responsibility of the Republican leadership, but it confirmed that two key gay Republicans -- Foley's former chief of staff, Kirk Fordham, and Jeff Trandahl, the former House clerk'had repeatedly warned Hastert's office about Foley's behavior.

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