USA Today, October 11, 2006
Out of the closet and into the fire: unraveling the Mark Foley scandal.
By Steve Kluger
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 themback. 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
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
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.