I’ve been thinking a lot about Wes Goodman in the past few days.
Who’s that, you wonder?
Goodman’s scandal got lost in the media whirl of the Roy Moore teen sexual assault allegations, the everyday escapades of President Donald Trump, and the fall of many other powerful and famous men, from Harvey Weinstein to Kevin Spacey.
Goodman is the formerly up-and-coming Ohio Republican, a married, evangelical “family values” state representative who abruptly resigned in the last weeks of November, after it was revealed that he’d recently had consensual sex with a man in his office. He’d aspired to eventually run for Congress. And for years he’d dutifully pushed the party’s anti-LGBTQ agenda, including while he worked in Washington for the influential member of the U.S. House’s Freedom Caucus, Rep. Jim Jordan, a Republican from his state.
In private, he exchanged salacious texts and emails with gay men he met on Capitol Hill, and sent sexually suggestive messages to young men he met through conservative circles who were too intimidated to publicly complain, according to three people who knew him when he worked in Washington.
The Washington Post then reported that Goodman had sexually assaulted an 18-year-old man in a hotel room on the night of a fundraiser for his own campaign in the ballroom of the very same hotel. Evangelical leader and Trump booster Tony Perkins, president of the virulently anti-LGBTQ Family Research Council, reportedly promised the teen’s parents that there would be ramifications when they informed him about the assault. Perkins asked Goodman to end his candidacy, but stayed silent after his request was ignored.
It appears the #MeToo movement has created a cultural shift regarding what is acceptable to report on, even if it suggests an individual’s sexual orientation.
Goodman then went on to win his Ohio House seat in last year’s election, running as a “family values” crusader. Apparently, many of his own House colleagues and other prominent Republicans knew then and since that he was secretly involved sexually with men in extramarital, consensual affairs, while sexually harassing others and having allegedly sexually assaulted the teen.
And just last week, Goodman, now out of a job and completely disgraced, was still allegedly harassing young men online, as reported by Mediaite:
After asking what kind of underwear the young man was wearing and whether he was “freeballing,” Goodman gave a candid assessment of his precarious situation.
“I’m more into dudes but not exactly into the gay lifestyle and am still very serious about my faith,” he said in a message obtained by Mediaite. “So just trying to find a way to live both authentically and biblically.”
Goodman’s saga got me thinking about how such a story would not only have been a much bigger scandal in the past, but even reporting on it would have been questionable and scandalous in itself, labeled as “outing.”
It’s true that the resignation came only after he was confronted by the Ohio House speaker (when the incident of consensual sex was reported to the speaker), and not by journalists following up on rumors of rampant sexual harassment. But the fact that so many men came forward so quickly after Goodman resigned, and that media outlets investigated their stories immediately, tells us that amid the current Reckoning it was only a matter of time before these stories became public.
As I noted a few weeks ago in writing about Spacey, reporters had been told of the actor having sexually harassed actor Anthony Rapp for years, but were fearful of reporting on it, because it might reveal Spacey’s sexual orientation and go against publications’ anti-outing polices. And so Spacey allegedly went on to harass many others over the years, while the media continued to keep his secret.
But it appears the #MeToo movement has created a cultural shift regarding what is acceptable to report on, even if it suggests an individual’s sexual orientation. I’ve argued for many years, that public figures’ sexual orientation ― or same-sex sexual activity ― should be reported when relevant to a larger story. Sometimes that larger story is about a politician’s political hypocrisy, voting against LGBTQ rights while secretly queer, or about a closeted Hollywood mogul promoting an anti-LGBTQ entertainer. And often, that larger story is about sexual harassment and abuse.
There are many reasons why powerful men sexually harass and abuse people in the workplace. For the closeted gay men among them, one of those reasons is an inability to go out in public and meet men. These harassers and abusers have always known that accusers would likely never go public, and that even if they did, the media would likely never report on it.
That’s not to say there aren’t influential and notable men accused of sexual harassment and abuse who are openly gay. But we’ve seen, over and over again, closeted Republican legislators like Goodman voting against LGBTQ people while secretly having sex with men, and sometimes engaging in abusive behavior, such as in the case of former Florida Rep. Mark Foley, who was finally exposed in 2006.
In most of these past cases, it took gay activists waging campaigns ― or a police arrest ― for the issue to go public, even if journalists had heard about the behavior for years. As Vanity Fair reported, “everyone” knew for years that Foley was gay, for example, from the Palm Beach socialites he cultivated to the Florida media and Washington press corps, even as he voted anti-LGBTQ. Yet, none would dare report on it.
The closet can warp people, particularly those who are conflicted politicians following the Republican party’s anti-LGBTQ agenda, which is inspired by religious extremism. And it can drive them to hurt many people, from those they vote against to men who work for them.
It’s reassuring to know that hypocritical and potentially harmful politicians like Wes Goodman may not survive the #MeToo movement.
Follow Michelangelo Signorile on Twitter: www.twitter.com/msignorile