Failed SC Candidate Cites 3 Pols, Stirs Up ’Outing’ Controversy

by Kilian Melloy
Thursday Jun 11, 2009

Openly lesbian South Carolina politician Linda Ketner lost her bid to unseat Congressman Henry Brown last year in a race close enough for GLBT equality activists to be encouraged.

But in a recent interview, Ketner stumbled into one of the toughest political questions facing the GLBT community: when, if ever, is it acceptable to "out" closeted gay politicians? And what are the criteria for determining what constitutes an "outing" and what is merely spreading rumor?

The question has gathered some momentum in recent years, and social and political issues around GLBT equality, including family equality issues such as marriage and adoption, continue to create friction.

A recent documentary, "Outrage," by filmmaker Kirby Dick, examines the phenomenon of politicians who support legislation harmful to gay and lesbian families, only to come out as gay later on--or not; the film traffics in allegations concerning a number of prominent politicians and their sexuality.

On camera, some of Dick's interviewees defend outing as a means of shutting down closted gay people in positions of power whose fear of being found out leads them to inflict legislative injury on Americans whose only reason for being targeted is that they are openly gay or lesbian. It's a compelling argument, especially when it's bolstered by the testimony of people like former New Jersey governor Jim McGreevey, who speaks to the deeply twisted and comprehensively corrosive effect that living in two parallel universes (as McGreevey puts it) has upon the psyche, and the moral judgment, of a closeted politician.

But outing can also carry a risk of blowback, as Ketner discovered.

A June 10 op-ed piece by Chris Haire in the Charleston City Paper related how Ketner's allegations were made public June 1 as part of an interview with blogger Howie Klein at the site Fire Dog Lake.

Ketner stated, "We have more gay people serving in South Carolina than probably in anyplace in the United States; they're just not out of the closet."

Ketner went on to mention several names, saying, "We have an awful lot of people in the closet--[Sen.] Lindsey Graham, Glenn McConnell who's our Senate president pro tem, [and] our Lt Governor" Andr? Bauer.

Wrote Haire, "Now, I couldn't care less about who is gay and who isn't. I'm more fascinated by political gameplay, and in this case, Ketner should have known better than to go spreading rumors, especially to some hack who doesn't know the difference between off-the-cuff smack-talking and printable fact.

"And besides, Ketner simply isn't in a position to know whether any of the three men she cited is gay, straight, or Byronic."

Haire extended his critique to the interviewer, saying, "Klein had to know as much. But he didn't care."

A June 3 article (updated June 9) at Q Notes reported that Ketner backed off here earlier assertions, saying that she had considered her remarks to be off the record.

"I've always been resolute about never outing anyone, believing strongly that every person gets to decide when or if he or she comes out," Q Notes quoted Ketner as writing at her blog.

"I let myself and others down in a recent off-the-record chat with a reporter," Ketner continued, adding, "I obviously don't have knowledge of the sexual orientation of any individuals mentioned.

"What I do have is respect and appreciation for their service to this state."

Ketner offered her "sincerest apologies to any of you rightfully upset with me."

The Q notes article noted that the three politicians mentioned by Ketner, all Republicans, had been the subjects of rumors positing their closeted homosexuality, and reported that in the case of Lt. Gov. Bauer, "In 2002, a divorce action between Bauer and his wife allegedly accused the official of having an affair with another man."

However, Q Notes added, "No documents ever surfaced to confirm that rumor."

Haire speculated that the comments might damage Ketner politically. If so, the "outings" would serve as an ironic coda to a close contest in which the openly gay candidate's sexuality didn't seem to slow her momentum.

Noted a June 6 article at Chicago "Linda Ketner's narrow loss to Brown heartened South Carolina gay politicos who never expected such a tight race.

"A longtime businesswoman and community activist, Kerner's clear leadership attracted strong support from a community mostly cool to gay rights," the Chicago Pride article continued.

"In 2006, a large majority (78%) of South Carolina voters approved a gay marriage ban in their state constitution," noted the article.

The article noted the anti-gay records of the three politicians, ranging from Graham's "zero" rating by the Human Rights Campaign in relation to G:BT equality issues to McConnell's "family values" reputation and Bauer's ties to Mike Huckabee, an anti-gay politician who enjoyed a brief candidacy for the Republican nomination in last year's presidential race.

Graham was the subject of speculation in a Sept. 12, 2007 article that appeared at the Charleston City Paper.

The item noted that Graham has always been single, and noted that rumors about the senator's sexuality had been ongoing for a quarter century.

The article also quoted from Michelangelo Signorile's blog, in which the radio host and writer demanded "a real investigation of the rumors about South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who," Signorile wrote, "has been rumored to be gay for years."

The article noted that Signorile's post drew parallels between Graham and former Idaho senator Larry Craig, who pled guilty after his arrest two years ago for allegedly approaching an male undercover officer for sex in a men's room.

"Like Larry Craig, Graham has voted antigay," noted Signorile, "including for the federal marriage amendment--while people in South Carolina and Washington have discussed what some say is an open secret for a long, long time."

The article also quoted openly gay politician Charlie Smith, who was twice a candidate for the state legislature, losing both races.

Said Smith, "I'm not a believer in outing.

"People have a right to deal with this in their own time."

Added Smith, "It can be very detrimental in politics to back people into a corner. Even when they're acting against their own self interests and mine."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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