Former congressman accused of sending sexually-explicit messages to 16-year-old checks into rehab
As the Republican Congressional leadership scrambled to determine the true scope of the sex scandal surrounding former U.S. Rep. Mark Foley and at the same time distance themselves from the Florida Republican, GLBT and progressive activists condemned what they characterized as the anti-gay bent of the response from both office holders and right-wing leaders.
Foley resigned abruptly on Sept. 29 after ABC News disclosed he had sent sexually suggestive e-mails and instant messages to a 16-year-old male former Congressional page.
Foley, 52 and never married, checked into an alcohol rehabilitation center over the weekend following the revelations. In a statement released on Monday, his attorney, David Roth, said Foley accepted full responsibility and apologized for his actions, but said that Foley had never had sex with a minor.
Roth also said Foley is gay, and that he had been sexually abused by a clergy member as a teenager.
The scandal has started a firestorm of criticism with House Speaker Dennis Hastert at its center. Hastert and Rep. John Shimkus, who oversees the page program, have acknowledged being told as early as last fall that Foley had been exchanging “inappropriate” e-mails with a 16-year-old boy from Louisiana.
But Hastert said Monday that he knew nothing of the more sexually explicit instant messages between Foley and another former page until they were revealed by ABC News the previous week. He said that Shimkus and Rep. Rodney Alexander, a Louisiana Republican, had followed the wishes of the first boy’s family, Louisiana residents who wanted the questionable e-mails to stop but did not want the matter pursued further.
Hastert, who has rejected calls that he resign as House speaker over the matter, has written a letter to Florida Gov. Jeb Bush asking for an investigation into whether Foley violated any state laws. The FBI has also begun an inquiry into Foley’s computer contact with pages, bringing up the possibility that the former congressman could be charged with violating a law he helped author that protects children from Internet predators.
Kirk Fordham, chief of staff for Republican Rep. Tom Reynolds and former chief of staff for Foley, was reportedly fired Wednesday for allegedly urging Republican leaders not to raise the issue of the questionable e-mails with the full Congressional Page Board. The board includes two Republicans and one Democrat.
People familiar with Fordham’s story, however, say Hastert was using Fordham as a scapegoat and that Fordham had repeatedly warned Hastert’s staff about Foley’s interaction with the pages.
Many gay rights and progressive activists, while criticizing Republicans’ handling of the situation, are even more incensed at efforts by the GOP and right-wing leaders to deflect attention from Republican officials by linking pedophilia to homosexuality.
Ralph G. Neas, president of People for the American Way, said “right-wing leaders have wasted no time in turning the Foley-Hastert scandal into an attack on gay Americans and advocates for equality.”
He pointed as examples to comments such as those by Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, who said, “When you hold of tolerance and diversity, this is what you end up getting. [neither Republicans nor Democrats] seem likely to address the real issue, which is the link between homosexuality and child abuse.”
Linda Harvey, writing in World Net Daily, described Foley’s behavior as “typical behavior for homosexuals,” and Peter LaBarbera, president of Americans For Truth, said the scandal “illustrates the dangers of the GOP’s growing flirtation with pro-homosexual policies,” according to a report on the Christian Newswire.
LaBarbera listed Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., former Rep. Gerry Studds, D-Mass., and former Rep. Bob Baughman, R-Md., as “outed or openly homosexual male Congressmen” who have been caught in sex scandals in the past.
“Three homosexual Congressmen have been involved in sexual seductions of minor boys, yet “‘gay’ activists ridicule anyone who suggests there is a predatory component to male homosexuality,” he told the Christian Newswire.
Frank’s former boyfriend had used the congressman’s Washington, D.C.-apartment as headquarters for a male prostitution ring, without Frank’s knowledge. Studds was censured by the House for having consensual sex with a 17-year-old boy. Bauman was charged with soliciting a 16-year-old boy for sex in 1980.
Studds and Frank were both re-elected after the scandals broke.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a Republican, told FOX News Sunday’s
Chris Wallace that if GOP leaders had been “overly aggressive” in responding to initial reports about Foley’s behavior, “they would have also been accused of gay bashing.”
“It is disappointing but hardly surprising that anti-gay zealots are trying to protect Republicans’ political power and deflect attention from these failures of personal and institutional responsibility,” Neas said. “It is reprehensible that they are fanning the flames of anti-gay bigotry with despicable and dishonest charges that have long been discredited.”
Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said language from “high-level conservatives” about the Foley scandal has been “deeply troubling.”
“They continue to try and dodge responsibility for their cover up, instead opting to do what they do best by blaming gays,” Solmonese said. “It is completely unacceptable, regardless of party or sexual orientation, for an adult to engage in this kind of behavior with a minor. If the Republican leadership cared about the well-being of our country, they would level with the American people and call this what it is, inexcusable behavior that has nothing to do with one’s sexual orientation.”
Craig A. Bowman, executive director of the National Youth Advocacy Coalition, an advocacy organization for LGBT youth, said Foley’s “behavior is like that of a predator who should be arrested and prosecuted for his criminal behavior, and those around him who knew and did not act to stop him are just as guilty.”
“Some may believe this is a gay issue. It is not,” Bowman said. “This is an issue about protecting children from those who seek to do them harm. It should be a priority for our country. Somehow it seems to have gotten lost.”
Jo Wyrick, executive director of National Stonewall Democrats, also criticized Republicans for focusing on anti-gay rhetoric.
“This is a scandal about the individual actions of Mark Foley and the overall inaction of the Republican leadership of the U.S. House of Representatives,” Wyrick said. “Voters should be appalled by the behavior of Republicans and their anti-gay apologists, who have attempted to blame all parties but themselves for their own actions. It is time for the Republican leadership, the anti-gay special interests who defend their actions by attacking gay families and Mark Foley to stop blaming others and finally take personal responsibility for failing the American pubic and jeopardizing the safety of children.”
Log Cabin Republicans, however, said blame for the anti-gay rhetoric sits squarely on the shoulders of anti-gay groups who hope to use the scandal for their own benefit.
“This is a political scandal and a personal scandal, but it should not be used to denigrate gay and lesbian Americans,” said Patrick Sammon, Log Cabin’s executive vice president. “The anti-gay groups appear more interested in using this situation to score political points than in figuring out exactly what happened in this terrible situation.”
Sammon added, “Millions of gay and lesbian people go to work, pay taxes, raise families and make this country a better place to live. Their lives and character shouldn’t be demeaned because of Mark Foley’s disgusting behavior or the congressional leadership’s response to it.”
Sammon noted that Perkins and fundamentalist evangelist and broadcaster Pat Buchanan both said, on the “Hardball with Chris Matthews” news show, that gay men are more likely than heterosexual men to molest young people. But, Sammon pointed out, a study published in 1998 in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that 98 percent of male pedophiles are heterosexual.
“These people should spend more time holding our elected officials accountable for their behavior and less time scapegoating gay Americans,” Sammon said.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, October 6, 2006.