Rick Santorum’s Flip-Flop on Bias

Gender PAC celebrated his support for non-discrimination pledge, but his office backtracks

Senator Rick Santorum, the Pennsylvania Republican trailing Democrat Bob Casey, Jr., the state treasurer, in his re-election bid, surprised but did not move LGBT leaders last week when he allegedly became the 170th member of Congress to sign a statement vowing that he will not discriminate in his Senate office on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity and expression.

Santorum’s purported agreement was announced in a press release issued last week by the Gender Public Advocacy Coalition, or Gender PAC, which works to challenge gender role stereotyping and the discrimination it leads to. However, by August 9, Santorum’s out gay communications director, Robert Traynham, said that the statement was signed by an aide on Santorum’s behalf under the misapprehension that it was “consistent with our office manual,” which he said does ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, but not gender identity or expression.

Traynham said they have “legal issues” with the inclusion of protections for people of transgender experience. “It is not something we would accept,” he said, adding that Santorum still does not believe federal law should protect people based on sexual orientation.

When Mike Rogers of Blogactive.com first reported that Traynham, a staffer for eight years, was an out gay man, Santorum said, “It is entirely unacceptable that my staffs’ personal lives be fair game by partisans” and stood by him.

Santorum’s name is inextricably linked with his anti-gay crusades. When the Supreme Court moved to strike down state anti-sodomy laws in 2003, he said it would lead to the legalization of polygamy and “man-on-dog sex.” The second term senator, who also served four years in the House, is a lead sponsor of the failed Marriage Protection Amendment to the U.S. constitution that would ban same-sex marriage or the benefits it would entail. He called the amendment “the ultimate homeland security.”

The original commitment from Santorum’s office was secured by Adrian Shanker, 19, a student at Pennsylvania’s Muhlenberg College who was meeting with a Santorum aide on behalf of the Union for Reform Judaism. Shanker, a gay man who has done “gender youth advocacy” with Gender PAC, said he told the aide that “it is public that the senator has openly gay staff” and while he was cognizant of the fact that the senator was a “lost cause” when it came to supporting the LGBT rights agenda, he hoped Santorum would take the symbolic step of signing the anti-bias statement.

The non-discrimination pledge, which has been circulating for three years now, has been signed by 25 senators including New York’s Hillary Rodham Clinton and Chuck Schumer, but not by Pennsylvania’s moderate Republican Arlen Specter, who claims not to discriminate but avoids signing pledges of any kind.

The August 3 Gender PAC release trumpeting the Santorum conversion neither provided any mention of the senator’s long record of opposition to LGBT rights nor any statement from his office about why he had signed on. Riki Wilchins, executive director of the group, said in the release, “We welcome Sen. Santorum’s signature affirming the need for basic equality in his own hiring practices. It puts him in good company with 169 Members of Congress who signed this statement.”

Gender PAC, called several times since last Friday, has failed to make any comment on the omissions in its press release and the group did not make a promised returned call by press time regarding Santorum’s rescinding his signature over the issue of gender identity.

As Gay City News was going to press late on Wednesday, Gender PAC issued a press release expressing “regret” for Santorum’s about-face and included facsimiles of his original pledge signature and his rescission letter August 9, but the group offered no further context about the Pennsylvania Republican’s hostile anti-LGBT posture.

Even before it was learned that Santorum had flip-flopped on signing the non-discrimination policy for his office, LGBT leaders were not buying the conversion. Out gay state Senator Tom Duane, a Chelsea Democrat, said it amounted to “the teeniest, too-late step,” and noted, “It is not enough not to discriminate against the people who work for him. He needs to support non-discrimination in every workplace.”

John Marble of National Stonewall Democrats said, “Hopefully, it will only be a policy in place for the next six months” in anticipation of Santorum’s defeat this November. It turns out it was in place for just six days.

Brad Luna of the Human Rights Campaign said even if Santorum had signed on, it wouldn’t “negate years of anti-gay legislation and some of the most heinous anti-gay rhetoric ever heard on the floor of the Senate.” And Renee Gilinger of Liberty PA, a statewide group trying to elect Democrats, said that the move wouldn’t have picked up any gay support for Santorum given Casey’s longstanding opposition to anti-gay discrimination.

Patrick Sammon, executive vice-president of Log Cabin Republicans, said that the club withheld its endorsement from Santorum—the group does not endorse Democrats—and wished instead that “he supported a federal law stopping people from firing people because they’re gay.”

Right-wing groups also derided their champion Santorum when word spread that he had signed the statement. Joe Murray, who once served in the Pat Buchanan for President campaign, wrote in the Agape Press, that it was a “propaganda pledge” that ought to be called “the Coco Peru clause,” accusing Gender PAC of seeking to “rewrite the laws of nature, tamper with Mother Nature’s recipe, and turn biblical gender standards on their heads.”

The latest Morning Call/Muhlenberg College poll has Casey leading Santorum 45 to 39 percent. Other polls show Casey with a double-digit lead.

Gay sex columnist Dan Savage, who has defined the word “santorum” as “the frothy mix of lube and fecal matter that is sometimes the product of anal sex,” tried to give a $2,100 donation to Casey but had it returned. “Casey is worried that Santorum’s flying monkeys will spot my name on his campaign-finance reports and raise holy hell about it,” Savage wrote. Undaunted, Savage gave the money to Philadelphians Against Santorum.

Responding to criticisms that Casey is against abortion rights, Savage wrote that “electing one or two pro-life Dems is the price we’re going to have to pay to put reliably pro-choice Dems in power all over the Senate.”

The Philadelphia Daily News reported last week that anti-choice and anti-gay activists are donating thousands of dollars to the Green Party candidate in the Senate race, hoping to draw votes away from Casey.

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