You have to, er, hand it to Larry Craig. He found a way to milk homosexuality for all it's worth--if you happen to be a deeply closeted, anti-gay public figure: political gain and sexual gratification too. If only out gay Americans enjoyed the same kind of two-for-one deal.
"I am not gay," Craig told a gathering of reporters yesterday, "I have never been gay." Really? Never? Well, whatever the senator did or didn't do in college or one wine-soaked evening with an Idaho National Guardsman with piercing blue eyes is really of little interest to me. If we are to believe the police report leading to his guilty plea, Craig is just another closet case messed up enough [pdf] to combine clandestine queer sex with public and professional homophobia.
It's the circumstances under which Craig and Florida state representative Bob Allen have been busted that pique my curiosity. Ever since the Democratic mayor of Fort Lauderdale, Jim Naugle, announced that a plague of "homosexual sex in bathrooms" warranted a re-design of the city's public restrooms, I've been wondering who in the hell meets strangers for sex in a public bathroom. It's not really the sort of place you go to for the ambiance.
According to the Fort Lauderdale police, the answer to my question is... virtually no one. Counter to the mayor's claim, the local police told the press that sex in public bathrooms was "not much of a problem," and that they had made just two arrests since November 2005. That's only one arrest per spring break. Naugle has refuted that number, of course. And I, for one, have doubts that those incidents involved out gay men. (Just think what the heterosexual taste for public sex has contributed to popular culture: without it there'd be no such thing as the Mile High Club, roll-out bleacher stands at high schools, or--if my parents are to be believed--me.)
After the Fort Lauderdale police debunked their mayor's case of homosexual panic, I went about my life as I had before: happily convinced that gay sex in men's room was a faded relic from the olden times, when homosexuals lurked in the shadows of restroom stalls, patiently waiting for the next poor paperboy to stumble upon their trap. At least, that's what they told us in school. After all, the modern gay man, always at the forefront of fashion trends, knows that marriage is in, while anonymous public sex has gone the way of "the Farrah."
If only Florida State Representative Bob Allen spent as much time talking to gay men as he does (allegedly) chasing queer sex. Allen contended that fear of African American men somehow compelled him to offer one $20 for oral sex in--you guessed it--a public restroom. Well, I can't argue with his flawless reasoning. It's a well-known fact that one is less likely to be assaulted by a stranger if they offer him cash for gay sex. But there was something about the way he lisped while insisting, I'm not gay, I'm just racist that made me doubt his story. It's also worth noting that one would have to really love performing fellatio to think engaging in it with Bob Allen could be anything short of a four-figure gig. Even if they're "bad at it."
And now we have Craig's pitiful attempt to cover up his dual penchant for public homophobia and public sex. The US senator from Idaho, who was arrested for apparently flashing the toilet sex equivalent of the bat signal to an undercover cop, pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct when arrested. Of course, his cover story is that the cop merely misunderstood his "wide stance," and that Craig pleaded guilty just to make the charges go away. Again, I'm just not buying it. And not just because Craig spent two minutes peeking at the undercover officer through a crack in the toilet stall door, settled down next to him to play some very advanced footsie, and er, pleaded guilty.
My hunch is based largely on the fact that Craig clearly knew why he was being arrested. How on earth would he even know to yell, "No," when the cop flashed his badge, if he wasn't up to no good? I, for one, wave my hand under the wall of a bathroom stall when I'm asking for toilet paper, not preparing to plead guilty to disorderly conduct. If I saw a badge, my reaction would be confusion, not denial. (Note: this gesture will be discontinued now that I know what it might signal to the closeted Republican homophobe next to me.)
Through quick math and my own very unscientific methodology, I am forced to conclude that the people having gay sex in public restrooms seem to be anti-gay politicians. And Jim Naugle, I'm keeping an eye on you.
But, public sex isn't the real problem with this picture. To be honest, as a public menace, it ranks fairly low. I don't know about you, but I really don't want to see people use public restrooms for their intended use, either. Basically, anything that happens in there, I don't want to see.
No, it's the fact that Craig and Allen were seeking to legislatively deny LGBT people our rights while trying to get away with having anonymous queer sex that burns me. In reality, Craig has paid a small price thus far for the way chose to, shall we say, express his sexuality. He has been placed on unsupervised probation and must pay a small fine. Compare that with the political rewards he's reaped from promoting anti-gay policy for years, thanks to the good voters of Idaho, and Craig's still coming out well ahead, even if he resigns tomorrow.
Other gay and lesbian Americans, who were home trying to build their families while Craig was learning the secret sign, aren't nearly as lucky. We've never had a real taste of political respectability: our relationships are denigrated by candidates of both parties. Our second-class citizenship status goes beyond lacking basic marriage rights, which affects our ability to make medical decisions for the people we love or even share health insurance without the "gay tax" (it also means that we get clobbered at tax time). Discrimination in education and employment means that we experience higher rates of poverty, while widespread bullying in our schools means that too many LGBT youths do poorly or fail to graduate. And our legislators team their unwillingness to protect us with their unwillingness to pass and enforce hate crime legislation. The list goes on and on.
So long as they're not hurting anyone, I say politicians can live their lives the way they want. But if their idea of a consolation prize in the battle for gay marriage is a blow job from Bob Allen or Larry Craig, I think I speak for the vast majority when I say, we'll pass.