The recent repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell will likely leave Sen. John McCain’s congressional legacy as one of a crotchety old miser. As his wingman, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) could also see his maverick rep reshaped in the aftermath of the gay rights victory. Graham’s angry defense of the 17-year congressional ban on out gay service members has renewed attention on what’s in his closet.
The question has come up in interviews, and Graham has politely maintained that he’s a straight, content bachelor. But he can’t seem to shake questions about why he’s never put a ring on it. For a short time last week, it appeared there was some traction in the is-he-or-isn’t-he speculation. Now, the trail has cooled, but blogger Michael Rogers is still on the case. Well known for busting open closet doors in Washington, as well as 2009 claims that Lt. Gov. André Bauer was gay, Rogers suggests he’s still got a target on Graham.
More than 13,000 service members have been discharged under the DADT policy. Those who continue to serve do so through espionage. They use code words in messages home to loved ones to mask affection or they abandon relationships altogether to avoid discharge. Graham’s been largely dismissive of these issues, and it has pissed off gay people and their straight allies.
In the hours before the vote on Dec. 18, Graham stood on the Senate floor to suggest a repeal would harm battlefield effectiveness, citing concerns from the Marine Corps. “Some will say this is a civil rights issue of our time, the day has come, we need to move forward as a nation, the Marine Corps does not have that view,” Graham said. “It is up to the members of the body to determine who is right and who is wrong. To be cautious or to boldly go forward.”
The Senate boldly went forward, but Graham’s fierce opposition prompted Rogers to update Twitter followers on his investigation into Graham’s personal life. “I wonder if Lindsey Graham knows I have pictures of a man who spent the night at his house,” Rogers stated, followed by a note that he’d be talking to his lawyer about releasing the pictures.
Speculation swept through the more salacious political blogs, but Rogers walked back expectations on Dec. 21. “I never said I was outing Lindsey Graham today,” he wrote, telling readers that he had contacted Graham’s office to seek a comment on what he had. We also contacted Graham’s office about Rogers’ claims, but have not received a response. Come Christmas, Rogers again tweeted that he wasn’t outing Graham “for the moment at least. I know better than to waste news on holidays.”
Graham isn’t new to the gay whispers. In 2002, former state Democratic Party Chair Dick Harpootlian said then-candidate Graham was “a little too light in the loafers to fill Strom Thurmond’s shoes.” After Larry Craig’s toe-tapping airport incident in 2007, radio host and blogger Michelangelo Signorile called for an investigation into Graham and “what some say is an open secret for a long, long time.”
Rogers’ claims aren’t just about revealing a hypocrite — those votes are in the past. It’s about revealing a gay senator, so he doesn’t have to protect his secrets with anti-LGBT votes, someone who could boldly go forward without reservation on issues like federal benefits and marriage.
We got a dose of the right-wing response to such a senator earlier this year, courtesy of William Gheen of Americans for Legal Immigration, who told an Upstate crowd that Graham needed to come out of the closet. “As our U.S. senator, I need to figure out why you’re trying to sell out your own countrymen, and I need to make sure your being gay isn’t it,” Gheen said.
Graham’s sexuality won’t be answered by Gheen’s schoolyard goading or Rogers’ houseguest pictorial. It would take an embarrassing revelation from an airport bathroom or a memoir-worthy confessional. And, if there’s one thing we do know about Graham, it’s that he won’t get caught with his pants down and he’ll keep his private life private.