The Political Closet
It is Halloween, and yet another Republican crusader for "family values" is being unmasked, this time in Washington State.
This time it is State Representative Richard Curtis (Republican - Vancouver), according to reports in the Spokane, Washington, Spokesman-Review:
"A state legislator who yesterday insisted he was "not gay" was being blackmailed by a young man he had engaged in "sexual activities" with after the two met at a Spokane Valley adult bookstore last week, court documents filed today allege. ...
The police detective's version of events is in stark contrast to the legislator's only public comment. Curtis told the Vancouver Columbian yesterday that he is not gay and did not engage in sex with the man while he was in Spokane last week attending Republican strategy sessions.
Curtis and Castagna "engaged in mutual sexual activities" at the hotel after the state lawmaker—who has opposed most gay rights legislation—rented two XXX-rated gay videos, according to allegations in a search warrant affidavit filed by Spokane Police Detective Mark Burbridge.
After the sexual encounter in the Spokane hotel room, the court documents say Castagna left with Curtis’ wallet before contacting him by phone, demanding $1,000, the affidavit says. The state lawmaker said he only had $200 and put that in an envelope for Castagna to pick up at the front desk of the Davenport Tower, the affidavit says. After picking up that money, Castagna re-contacted Curtis and demanded the additional $800.
By that point, Curtis had contacted a Washington State Patrol sergeant in Vancouver, apparently seeking help ... "Castagna threatened to publicly expose Curtis' gay lifestyle to his wife," if he wasn't paid the additional sum," the court documents allege."
Curtis deserves to win this year's top spot in the Darwin Awards for his handling of the matter, but at least he was smart enough to realize it quickly. The Spokesman-Review reported "At one point in an interview with detectives, the legislator said he 'wished he would have just paid the additional money to the suspect because he didn't wish the case to be prosecuted.'"
And the details of Curtis' downfall are, frankly, irrelevant.
This year has been a parade of closeted social conservatives being unmasked. Ted Haggard, who used to boast about his "healthy sex life" and tout "family values". Larry Craig, who elevated "wide stance" into a national joke. Bob Allen of Florida, who co-sponsored an unsuccessful bill that would have enhanced penalties for "offenses involving unnatural and lascivious acts". Glenn Murphy, Jr., chair of the National Young Republicans, a defender of "traditional values". Mark Foley of Florida, champion of keeping the Internet safe for children. Donald Fleischman, a prominent Republican party chair in the heart of the "family values" region of Wisconsin.
Larry Flynt, apparently, told FOX Business Network's Neil Cavuto that he is "hoping to expose a bombshell" about a US Senator that will stand "Washington and the country on its head" within the next week or two.
On and on, expose after expose.
The nighttime talk shows are having a field day, and the Republican "family values" conservatives are becoming an national joke: "Q: How many Republicans fit into a closet? A: All of them." At the rate things are going, Larry Rogers will soon have to offer a reward to find a "family values" Republican who is straight.
A lot of folks are beginning to ask "What in the hell is going on here, anyway?"
I'm not a social scientist, but I have an opinion about why Republicans are getting caught up in scenarios that make your head spin because they are so twisted and Democrats are not.
In my view, it comes down to this: Social conservatives are forced to live in the closet because social conservatives insist that gays and lesbians among them live in the closet. In this day and age, living in the closet is almost guaranteed to make you twisted, sooner or later. And once you are twisted, you begin to act out in twisted ways. It is just a matter of time before you get caught at it.
Why do I say living in the closet makes you twisted "in this day and age"? Haven't many gays and lesbians lived in the closet for years and years?
Yes, but the being in the closet is different these days than it used to be. Living in the closet these days is dangerous.
In the 1950's and 1960's, the government aggressively pursued a policy of oppression toward gays and lesbians.
Gays and lesbians were characterized as an invisible, menacing threat, something like a "fifth column" akin to Communists. Gays and lesbians were routinely arrested and their names and employment published in newspapers, were discharged from the military and civil service, were denied immigration, and were harassed in bars and in the streets. State and federal agencies frequently embarked upon sweeping investigations to identify and expose gays and lesbians. The businesses owned by gays and lesbians, and the businesses they patronized, were closed frequently under public nuisance laws. Gay and lesbian publications were censored and destroyed. Gays and lesbians risked arrest for dancing with someone of the same sex, asking another consenting adult of the same sex whether or not he or she was interested in intimacy, and having sex in private with other consenting adults.
It was a time of grave danger, and almost all gays and lesbians took to the closet as a form of self-protection.
Over time, beginning with the "Stonewall riots" of the early 1970's, things began to change. Gays and lesbians began to fight back, establishing "gay enclaves" in major metropolitan areas, organizing and protesting. Gays and lesbians began to challenge laws that criminalized homosexuality, police use of public decency, lewdness and vagrancy laws to harass gays and lesbians, police raids on gay and lesbian bars, and the use of obscenity laws to prevent distribution of gay and lesbian publications.
The AIDS crisis of the 1980's accelerated the change, prompting gays and lesbians -- even the silent rich, the cozy students, the quiet couples -- to band together and fight the government of Ronald Reagan for medical research and medical care. Faced with the daily reality of death and dying, gay and lesbian organizations -- ACT UP, Queer Nation and so on -- became more insistent and less accommodating.
Advances continued during the 1990's. Gays and lesbians began to make progress with employers, convincing the Fortune 500 to offer safe workplaces and domestic partnership benefits. Gays and lesbians began, near the end of the decade, to challenge discriminatory laws involving foster parenting, adoption and marriage.
Along the way, gays and lesbians came out of the closet in droves, and as a direct result, gays and lesbians became less "other" to straight Americans. During the mid-1990's, a dramatic shift occurred in public attitudes toward homosexuality. During the period from 1970 to 1990, the number of Americans saying the "sexual relations between two adults of the same sex" are "always wrong" stayed steady, at about 70%. In the mid-1990's, a shift occurred. Between 1991 and 1996, the number of Americans saying "always wrong" dropped 15%, to 55%, and the number has continued to go down.
At present, despite the backlash over marriage whipped up by social conservatives during the 2004 and 2006 elections, a strong majority -- 70% to 90%, depending on the issue -- of Americans support a wide range of rights for gays and lesbians, and it is possible, today, for gays and lesbians to live outside the closet in most areas of the country, including rural areas, without fuss or bother.
Against this backdrop, social conservatives are a throwback. Social conservatives live in the 1950's, and are determined that the rest of us should live in the 1950's, as well. Even a cursory look at the rhetoric of Sam Brownback, Gary Bauer, Tony Perkins, James Dobson and the rest of the mob reveals that (a) for social conservatives, gays and lesbians remain a menacing threat, undermining the social fabric of our country, and (b) social conservatives would, if they could, drive gays and lesbians back into the closet.
But the game is up. With the single exception of marriage, Americans aren't buying the social conservative line on gays and lesbians. And that is not likely to change, no matter how hysterical social conservatives become.
So we live, and will likely continue to live, in a country in which the closet is the domain of the selective few, mostly gays and lesbians trapped in the world view of social conservatives. Most American gays and lesbians are out of the closet, although many are not out to all an sundry.
As a result, gays and lesbians are visible in just about every community in America these days, including rural areas like the area I live in, and more and more straight Americans are coming to accept gays and lesbians as equal citizens.
So what does that mean to the closeted, at this point? Why does being in the closet, when so many are living outside, lead to such twisted folk as the parade of "I'm not gay!" Republican politicians and religious leaders caught like deer in the headlights?
The reason is twofold:
First, the closet, in and of itself, is damaging. Closeted gays and lesbians cut themselves off from much of what is best in life -- self-respect, respect from others, the sense of belonging, intimate companionship and love, all of which contribute greatly to personal happiness and fulfillment.
The closet is about hiding -- to closeted gays and lesbians conceal who they are from the people who matter most in their lives. The closet is about social isolation -- closeted gays and lesbians are often isolated from other gays and lesbians and emotionally distant from family and friends. The closet is about feelings of shame, guilt and fear -- many closeted gays and lesbians internalize anti-gay attitudes (hence the insistence by men like Larry Craig and Richard Curtis that "I am not gay!", as if that, somehow, was more disgraceful than seeking sex outside of their marriages), and closeted gays and lesbians who throw off internalized shame, live in fear of discovery and disgrace. And for all, the closet is about duplicity and deception -- lying about who and what we are is the essence of the closet for everyone who lives in it.
Second, living in the closet "in this day and age" is to know that you could live differently, because so many other gays and lesbians do so, openly, unafraid and joyfully, and the sense that "I've done this to myself ..." exacerbates the damage, because at the center, closeted gays and lesbians living today know that it is all unnecessary because there is a better way to live, a way to find freedom and happiness.
Is it any wonder, then, that social conservatives who live in the closet become emotionally twisted?
I don't feel sorry for men like Richard Curtis, Ted Haggard, Larry Craig, Bob Allen, Glenn Murphy, Jr., Mark Foley or Donald Fleischman. Each of these men actively worked to create and sustain the political and social environment among social conservatives that forced them into the closet. None are victims; all actively participated in creating the closet that twisted them. Actions have consequences, and each got what they deserved. As a coach told me once after I really screwed up, "You made your bed; sleep in it."
But I think that it is time for it to end. It is time for gays and lesbians who work in and sustain the social conservative movement to find the guts to get honest and come out of the closet. If they do so, the social conservative movement will have to come to grips with the reality that, as Pogo used to say, "We have met the enemy, and he is us."