Is Lindsey Graham gay? The 52-year-old lifelong bachelor has been the subject of these rumors for years. Still, now that anti-gay politician Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, has resigned after pleading guilty to disorderly conduct for allegedly soliciting sex in an airport men’s room, the internet is buzzing with talk about who’s next, and people are dying to know what’s going on in Graham’s bedroom.
Is this South Carolina’s latest attempt to find the light switch in its mighty political closet? Or the inevitable label of “closet-hanging self-hater” that any happy bachelor has to deal with?
Most of the time, the mainstream media doesn’t ask older, single politicians what they do in their spare time. Even though there had been rumors about Craig for 25 years, The Idaho Statesmen didn’t send a reporter to the story until blogs said he was looking for women in D.C. bathroom stalls. Even though the story didn’t come out until after Craig’s arrest, some people still said the paper was behind a witch hunt.
Graham was not rude or mean when GQ asked him about it last year. He said that he isn’t gay; he’s just a loner. But that doesn’t stop people from being interested in the question again. After Craig’s arrest, blogger Michael Signorile (www.signorile.com) writes a post about who will come out of the closet. In the post, he first points a questioning finger at Graham.
Signorile says, “Let’s really look into the rumors about South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who’s been said to be gay for years.” “Like Larry Craig, Graham has voted against gay people, including for the federal marriage amendment. People in South Carolina and Washington have been talking about what some say is an open secret for a very long time.”
Graham isn’t the first politician from South Carolina to be asked these kinds of things. Other names aren’t in this story because they aren’t the subject of national rumors (thank your lucky chinos, boys) but are in some of the most powerful positions in state politics.
Charlie Smith is a real estate agent in West Ashley who has run for office twice as an openly gay man. He thinks it’s funny when activists say that gay South Carolinians should show political leaders they’re the same as straight people. He says, “They know what it means to be gay.” “They don’t have any morals,” I said.
Lucky for them, they have a gay community happy to talk about rumors at cocktail parties and not on the front page.
Smith says, “I don’t believe in going out.” “People should be able to deal with this when they are ready.”
He has also missed chances to question these officials about their sexual orientation. “Putting people in a corner can be bad in politics,” says Smith. “Even when they do bad things for them and me.”
Still, he warns that these politicians are walking a thin tightrope and that their positions that hurt the gay community could lead activists to call them out on their hypocrisy, just like they did with Craig. Smith says, “They know we’ll fight back.”
The criticisms of Graham are not new, but they haven’t gotten this much attention since Graham was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2002. Early in the campaign, the head of the state Democratic Party, Dick Harpootlian, said that Graham wasn’t “tough enough to fill Strom Thurmond’s shoes.” He later said he didn’t know what it meant to be “too light in the loafers.” He also didn’t know what “too thick in the head” meant.
During a debate, Democratic candidate Alex Sanders framed a question about Rudy Giuliani’s support as an attack on Graham’s personal life. “His wife told him to leave, so he moved in with two gay men and a Shih Tzu. Does that sound like South Carolina? I don’t believe that.”
Jack Bass, a political science professor at the College of Charleston and co-author of Strom: The Complicated Personal and Political Life of Strom Thurmond, says that the new push to question Graham’s sexuality won’t hurt him with South Carolina voters.
“I think South Carolina voters care a lot more about how well politicians do their jobs than they do about privacy issues,” Bass says. “I think South Carolina voters look up to Lindsey Graham as an independent voice who stands up for what he believes in.”
Graham will probably not have to worry about gay-baiting from Democrats next year since there are many calls for a primary opponent to run against Graham. Many in the Democratic Party are happy that Sen. Craig, who has been against gay rights for a long time, is leaving because of a scandal. Still, the loudest calls for him to leave came from his party, including presidential candidate John McCain, Graham’s best friend in the Senate.
The pattern seems to be that you don’t come out until you’re in trouble, like when New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey hired his girlfriend when Congressman Mark Foley went after his former page, and when pastor Ted Haggard paid gay hookers for “massages” and meth.
But a GOP smear campaign got the word out about David Schwacke, who used to be the Solicitor for the Ninth Circuit. When anti-gay GOP leaders found out Schwacke was gay, they tried to get him to quit. When he said no, they said he was using office computers to look for sex online, which he denied. The accusations turned out to be false, and Schwacke kept his job until he lost his seat in the Republican primary. Schwacke says that when he looks back, it did lead to something good: his freedom. He says, “I probably wasn’t going to come out alone.” “At least not when it happened.”
Truman Smith, president of the South Carolina Log Cabin Republicans, says that since the state banned same-sex marriage, gay politicians have a good reason to stay in the closet. But he says that politicians won’t have to hide that they are gay or lesbian when the next generation comes to power and doesn’t have the same problems with gays and lesbians (or potentially asexual loners, for that matter).
“Politicians don’t lead the way on most issues; they’re usually behind,” he says.