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December 15, 2006
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Volume 34
Issue 50
 
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Co-opted by the closet
Co-opted by the closet
The two Gay staffers who knew Mark Foley the best were trapped by his closet, focused more on protecting their friend than the House pages.

by Chris Crain - SGN Contributing Writer

The House ethics committee finally came out last week with its report about the Mark Foley scandal and how GOP leaders in Congress, including Speaker Dennis Hastert and his staff, willfully ignored the Florida Republican's "page problem."

The same can't be said for the two Gay staffers who saw the way Foley lavished attention on young male interns, pages and even custodial staff. Jeff Trandahl, who was chief clerk of the U.S. House, called Foley a "ticking time bomb" and warned him multiple times over almost a decade to maintain a professional distance from the pages.

"Here you had & a closeted Gay guy who was putting himself in a situation of being one on one with young people," Trandahl told the ethics committee in sworn testimony. "If an accusation is made, he would be immediately presumed, in a political light, guilty unless he could prove himself innocent. So my counseling to him was, you don't need to be in the middle of this community of children."

Trandahl wasn't the only Gay man giving Foley that sage advice. From the time Foley first came to Congress in 1995, his chief of staff Kirk Fordham lectured his own boss to steer clear of the young males who worked on Capitol Hill.

"I went in to the boss and - very uncomfortable conversation to have - I reminded him that because, you know, he is Gay - most of his colleagues had figured that out, even though he hadn't announced that he was, you know, people were watching what he did," Fordham testified. "[They're] paying attention to his behavior, and he needed to be more conscious of how he interacted with younger staffers, interns, pages."

Trandahl and Fordham could see Foley was ignoring their advice, showing up drunk outside the page dormitory and sending an "overly friendly" email to a former page, asking him to "send a pic" of himself and describing how another male former page was in "great shape."

But there were limits to what the two of them, or anyone else, would do in response. The committee concluded, "Some may have been concerned that raising the issue too aggressively might have risked exposing Rep. Foley's homosexuality, which could adversely affected him personally and politically." Those who saw the Foley "ticking time bomb" had been effectively co-opted, however involuntarily, by the Florida congressman's closet. It's a danger faced by anyone who deals with Gay people who are closeted or even semi-closeted - out in part of their lives but not in others.

It doesn't matter how out and proud you are personally. Once you learn that someone like Mark Foley is Gay and closeted, acting on any information connected to his sexual orientation carries with it the freight of "outing" him as well. If you're semi-closeted yourself - both Kirk Fordham and Jeff Trandahl were out within the Washington, D.C., Gay community but not generally or publicly - then outing someone else can carry a great personal risk as well.

That is why, faced only with warning signs and no direct evidence of sexual misconduct by Congressman Foley, both Trandahl and Fordham come off as concerned more that "where there's smoke someone might see it," rather than "where there's smoke there's fire." Their primary concern was for Mark Foley, not for the pages, because worrying about the closet - your own or someone else's - has a way of distorting reality.

We've all been there, right? I forced my first boyfriend to live by the "right-turn-only rule." When he picked me up for dinner, we could only turn right from my apartment complex, toward the suburbs, because a lefthand turn was toward the Gayborhood, and I was too afraid I would be seen in the company of an out Gay man.

My boyfriend put up with my closet for three months because he liked me and hoped I'd grow out of it. Perhaps because both Fordham and Trandahl liked and wanted to protect Foley, they did not imagine him to be the predator he turned out to be.

So they did not press him with the 64-thousand-dollar question: Was there actual fire behind the smoke? Was this middle-aged congressman having sexually explicit contact, in the virtual world or real world, with young males he befriended through the page program?

It's a warning we should all heed, whether we are asking others to protect our closet or agreeing even implicitly to protect theirs. It's one thing to make allowances for the time it takes to come out; it's another to let someone else's closet co-opt us from doing what we know is right.

Chris Crain is former editor of the Washington Blade, Southern Voice, and Gay publications in three other cities. He can be reached via his blog at www.citizencrain.com.

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