Out of the closet and into the fire: unraveling the Mark Foley scandal.
By Steve Kluger
October 11, 2006
Thirty years ago this January, former singer, beauty queen, and human being Anita Bryant sat before Florida’s Dade County Metro Commission and vehemently demanded the repeal of the recently passed human rights ordinance that prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
“Homosexuals cannot biologically reproduce children; therefore, they must recruit our children,” she warned. With those few words, we lost our brand new civil rights—and it took us 20 years to get them back. What we really needed was somebody in the Sunshine State who was on our side.
Enter Mark Foley instead.
Theoretically, it’s always easy to spot the politician whose mailing address is the closet—he’s usually the one who’s gleefully foaming over the most Draconian of anti-gay measures at the same time he’s supporting, say, a jockstrap fetish, an itch to hang around truck stops, or a Calvin Klein model he’s got stashed in a secret Brazilian love nest. (God, we’re hoping that Rick Santorum doesn’t fall into this category. He already dresses like Faye Dunaway.)
Foley was no different. From the day he was sworn in as the representative from Florida’s 16th District, all he was missing was Anita Bryant’s hair. There was the matter of his very public Christianity, his endorsement of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (which, incidentally, puts adult same-sex couples who wish to pledge lifelong fidelity into a category with national security threats), his authorship of numerous Internet restrictions to protect children from homosexuals and others online, and his repeated use of the word “revolting” to describe the rumors that he was gay.
Then he became Anita Bryant’s worst nightmare. And ours, too.
Mark Foley appears to be a sexual predator who exploited the adolescent thrall he engendered in House pages by pursuing 16-year-old boys through explicit e-mails. He’s also an unwitting poster boy for all gay men and lesbians who envision a career in politics: If you’re ready to run for office, you’d better be ready to come out. And act like a responsible grown-up while you’re at it. Spot Barney Frank in a gay bar on P Street and nobody’s going to bat an eyelash. But if you’re a married governor of New Jersey like Jim McGreevey who’s discovered to have his clandestine male lover on the payroll, or gay-bashing Spokane mayor James West who secretly prefers his male interns young and cute, you’d better start checking out Craigslist under “Employment Opportunities.”
And yet, what else do you do when your entire career hinges on pretending you’re something you’re not? The religious fundamentalists and their political pod people may not always see eye-to-eye, but they all agree that the decline of Western civilization (and perhaps even the recent shaming of Pluto) is due exclusively to homosexuals and Bill Clinton. Indeed, if Foley’s e-mails had been sent by a straight Congressman to a 16-year-old girl—16 being the age of consent in Washington, D. C., and in 33 states, by the way—the television anchors would have been sure to remind their audiences that “though the young lady was legally of age….,” and the word “pedophile” never would have flashed across cable news—or anywhere else, for that matter.
Yet Foley can’t be let off that easily. When cornered with his fingers on the keyboard, he thinks it’s enough to come clean. “Okay, you caught me. I’m gay.” But that’s not what being gay is about. In fact, not only is Mark Foley’s behavior the excuse that’s been used over and over again to deprive accountable gay adults of their human rights, his glib defense soils even his own community. “I’m also an alcoholic.” “And a priest abused me.” “The Devil made me do it.” Shame comes in many disguises. Foley has worn all of them.
“Being right-handed or left-handed doesn’t dictate whether you punch or steal,” says Jennifer Pizer, senior counsel at Lambda Legal, the nation’s oldest gay rights law firm. “Your behavior is your choice. There’s nothing shameful about being gay. But abusing power to seduce teenagers is wrong whether they’re male or female, and whether you’re a lefty or a righty.”
So who’s really responsible for the Mark Foley mess? Foley himself? The Republicans? The Religious Right? The closets in capitol buildings across the country? All of the above?
Ah, hell. Let’s blame Florida. Again.