Was Mark Foley's harassment of male congressional pages allowed to continue because he was known to be a homosexual? So far, no one in the media has asked this question. They ought to.
The scandal, which involved sexual harassment through e-mail and instant messaging of young male House pages, had allegedly been reported to House leadership, who are now being accused of allowing it to continue. If House leadership did indeed know the true nature of Foley's behavior, then why would they not have done something about it?
In order to answer this question, it is necessary to ask another one: What would have happened if a man who was widely known to be gay was accused (in the absence of a media feeding frenzy) of chasing after young boys? What happens in general to anyone who says anything about any connection at all between homosexuality and sex with children--or, for that matter with any kind of sexual predation?
One of the things we know without any question is that anyone who is politically reckless enough to suggest that there is any kind of connection between homosexuality and sexually predatory behavior is immediately and unceremoniously read out of polite society. A brief survey of several past sex scandals involving children is all that is required to establish the fact.
The controversy over Boy Scout policies on scoutmasters is one recent example of the anger and outrage that can be generated by the suggestion that homosexuals might be interested in boys. Policies barring homosexuals from being scoutmasters were put in place because of actual incidents in which boys were molested by older males. But opponents of these policies have responded with spluttering indignation at the suggestion that gay men can in any way be blamed for this.
Being gay and being a male pedophile who abuses boys, the public is assured, are two entirely different and unrelated things. In fact, the Scout policy is considered so out of bounds that Scout troops all over the country face threats of defunding by corporations and municipalities because of it.
The other example, is, of course, the sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests. Although the secular-minded media showed little restraint in reporting the issue, and seemed content enough to see the Church's reputation marred by the scandal, how did it handle the facts of the case? Most significantly what did it do with the fact that the vast majority of the abuse was of boys rather than girls?
The answer is, it did its best to underplay it. And when it was suggested that the problem could stem from the overabundance of gay priests coming from Catholic seminaries, the response consisted mostly of shock and indignation.
Despite their protestations, gays haven't helped themselves on this issue. Homosexual rights groups have a history of supporting laws to reduce the age of consent for sexual activity. They also have a long history of relationships with groups openly supportive of pedophilia. In fact, it took a lot longer for gay rights groups to expel open advocates of pedophilia from their midst than it did for the Republican Congressional leadership to come to terms with Mark Foley.
The bottom line is this: male on male pedophilia--or any other predatory sexual behavior, because it threatens the image gays have carefully cultivated of themselves in recent years, is something you simply try to talk about as little as possible.
What does all this have to do with Foley?
When Foley's attorney spoke to reporters the day after the story broke, there were three things he said Foley wanted the public to know. The first was that he was abused by a clergyman in his youth. The second was that he was an alcoholic. The third was that he was a "gay man."
Pop quiz: What does that last of these have to do with the first two? Answer: it is an excuse that Foley perceived would somehow help mitigate the culpability of his actions. It was an implicit way of saying, "I'm gay, and therefore I can't be a sexual predator, since, as we all know, homosexuality and sexual predation have nothing to do with each other."
Politicians caught in sexual escapades know instinctively that they can latch on to the polished public perception that gays are no different from heterosexuals when it comes to pedophilia and promiscuity. When Gov. James McGreevey of New Jersey resigned in the wake of revelations that he had had an affair with a former male aide, he quickly announced he was a "gay American." Why? Because he thought he could find protection in the prestige of the gay persona in the media.
Being perceived as "gay" is the last refuge of a sexual predator.
Of course, when politicians do this, they tarnish the reputation they bank on, which is why gay advocacy groups cringe every time a politician tries to cash in on their slick public persona. Just as gays tried to shun James McGreevey, they are now shunning Foley, and not so quietly grumbling that their image will be tarnished.
So, if you're in leadership in the U.S. Congress and you are faced with the decision of whether to accuse a colleague who is known to be gay of being a sexual predator, are you going to do it? The answer is that you would probably have to think about it a little longer than you otherwise would.
Let's call it "the gay pass": the idea that, if you're gay, you get extra political capital that you can spend when it is discovered that you are a sexual predator. Rep. Gerry Studds redeemed his pass in 1973 when he had an affair with a 17-year old male page. So did Rep. Barney Frank when it was discovered in 1990 that a male prostitution ring was being run out of his Washington townhouse. Both Studds and Frank were quickly forgiven and subsequently reelected.
One of the questions being asked in the wake of the Foley episode is whether Republicans should be held to a higher standard when it comes to sex scandals because of their family values rhetoric. They probably should. But it is also legitimate to ask whether gays are held to a lower standard in such circumstances, and whether the tendency to do just that was what reduced the enthusiasm around the Capitol to do something about Foley.
© 2006 by Martin Cothran. All rights reserved. No part of this article may be published without the express written consent of the author. These comments are the personal opinions of the author and should not be interpreted as representing the official opinion of any other persons or organizations.