A congressman’s fast fall out of the closet
Now that he is America’s best known internet sexual predator — compelling him to resign his House seat — Foley took a page (so to speak) from Jim McGreevey’s playbook and improved on it by declaring himself an alcoholic, a victim of sexual abuse at the hands of a priest, and gay. Foley finally came out just when no one wanted him to.
It is scoundrel time in Washington, D.C. and this scandal threatens to bring down the Republican leadership on Capitol Hill. This cabal, led by Speaker Denny Hastert, has survived a bungled war in Iraq, tax cuts for the rich, shredding the Bill of Rights, ignoring the separation of church and state, and cynical gay-bashing votes on a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. They are being done in by lust — a lust for power, a lust so strong that they tolerated Foley.
The web in this case is intricate, starting with Foley. It is a rogue’s gallery of the powerful and their enablers. It makes the McGreevy story look like an after-school special. And there is plenty of blame to go around.
Foley, a West Palm Beach center-right Republican, voted for the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which banned federal recognition of same-sex marriages and allowed states to not to recognize legal gay nuptials performed in other jurisdictions. Foley did not support the anti-gay marriage amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Foley earned an 88 percent rating in 2004 from the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) — the same percentage given to New York’s Senators Chuck Schumer and Hillary Clinton. That rating came in a Congress that was rarely permitted to vote on gay bills. HRC gave thousands to Foley in recent campaigns, ignoring the fact that he contributes to a Republican majority whose stock-in-trade is gay bashing.
HRC did not return a call from Gay City News seeking comment on the Foley case. On Tuesday, Joe Solmonese, the group’s president, issued a written statement condemning Foley’s “horrible behavior,” but he, like some other gay leaders, will not confront the role the closet played in Foley’s misdeeds.
“It’s a tragedy for him and his family,” Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, told the Miami Herald. “I don’t want to get into the pain of the closet. It’s irrelevant if he’s gay or not.”
Patrick Sammon, executive vice president of Log Cabin Republicans told Gay City News, “I don’t think it has anything to do with the closet, but with bad character.”
Andy Tobias, the out gay treasurer of the Democratic National Committee, said, “As somebody who has met Foley personally and has mutual friends, I am sad for Mark and I hope he doesn’t go to jail. The last time I saw Mark, he was 19 years into a relationship. That was sad that it had to be hidden.”
Of course, millions of people have come out of the closet. Some have served in Congress. Foley’s Republican colleague, former Rep. Jim Kolbe of Arizona, came out in 1996. Democratic Rep. Barney Frank came out in 1987 and was fully supportive of gay rights going back to his days as a state legislator
As for the view that the closet played no role in Foley’s downfall, J. Jennings Moss, who covered Foley and Kolbe for The Advocate ten years ago, wrote this week, “By staying so deep in the closet and browbeating others to keep his secret for him, Foley probably thought he was invincible. But secrets have a way of bringing down the powerful.”
Out gay New York State Assemblymember Daniel O’Donnell (D-Upper West Side) gets it.
“There is a high price to pay for being closeted, whether compromising your judgment or acting out in ways that are dangerous to you and your health and well-being,” he said. “I feel fortunate and blessed that I did not get into politics until I felt comfortable in my own skin.”
Dr. Jack Dresher, a gay psychiatrist and author of “Psychoanalytic Therapy and the Gay Man,” said “The closet creates some very unsavory types. The problem with people hiding something fundamental to who they are is that it takes a lot of psychic energy to lead double lives. They will often take very anti-gay positions like the late mayor of Spokane, Jim West.”
Drescher said, “You also see it among kids while struggling with their sexuality they will point the finger at other gay kids.” If they stay closeted into adulthood, “when they think no one is watching they make tremendous errors of judgment,” he added. It can be even worse for closeted people in power.
“They confuse the powers of office with personal power and become convinced they can do no wrong or suffer consequences, “ Drescher said. He extended his analysis to the Republican leadership.
“They protected Foley for over a year and now they’re turning on him,” Drescher said. “They’re all in the same position. Gay people aren’t the only ones with closets and secrets.”
Indeed. Hastert read a statement on Monday condemning Foley then walked away while the press corps shouted questions at him. What did Hastert know and when did he know it? He then gave an interview to Rush Limbaugh and blamed the scandal on Democrats and the pages themselves.
Tom Reynolds, the Buffalo-area congressman who heads the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee is saying that he told Hastert about the Foley instant messages months ago, conversations the speaker claims he cannot recall. At a public event this week, Reynolds surrounded himself with children in an effort to avoid questions on Foley.
Reynolds claims to have had no knowledge that his out gay chief of staff, Kirk Fordham, a former chief of staff to Foley, was helping Foley with damage control last week and tried to cut a deal with ABC News, which broke the story of the scandal, to stop the network from going public. Fordham resigned on October 4.
Conservatives are now leaning on Hastert. House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) threw Hastert overboard, telling a Cincinnati radio station, “I believe I called the speaker and he told me that it had been taken care of. My position is it’s in his court, it’s his responsibility.”
Some rightwing spin meisters prefer to lay the blame elsewhere. Newt Gingrich went on Fox News to say that the Republican leadership was worried that had they been “overly aggressively” in their initial response “they would have been accused of gay bashing.” Family Research Council chief Tony Perkins told the Christian News Service that members of Congress “did not want to appear ‘homophobic.’”
NGLTF’s Foreman responded with “Cut me a break!” in a press statement and said “the Republican leadership in the House has never hesitated to attack gay people.”
Democrats are perhaps overeager to use the issue. They are overplaying their hand, often referring to the pages as “children,” when they were teenagers. And journalists call Foley a pedophile, a term for people who have sex with pre-pubescent children, something that is not alleged against Foley.
“Mark Foley wasn’t a pedophile,” Johnson said. “He’s a repressed gay man and because of that repression, his sexuality played out in dangerous ways such as acting like a predator.”
If only Foley had spoken with his colleague Barney Frank (D-MA). The lesson of the Foley case, he said on a visit to New York, is “don’t be closeted. I lived it myself. You cannot deny your physical and emotional needs.” He added that he was “way too cranky” when he was in the closet.
Or Foley could have listened to Doug Jennings, a 19-year old gay activist from Utah.
“It’s a choice to be in the closet,” he said. “If I can live in conservative southern Utah and be out since I was 14 and have a great high school and social and family experience and be OK, then Foley has no excuse and neither does Jim McGreevey…I’ve never had the emotional energy to be who I’m not.”