News & Politics

Coming Out Strong

In the wake of DeLay's indictment, David Dreier -- one of the three Republicans who moved up in the power chain -- will likely face greater scrutiny from GOP allies for his closeted sexuality.
It's being reported everywhere: "A Texas grand jury on Wednesday charged Rep. Tom DeLay and two political associates with conspiracy in a campaign finance scheme, forcing the House majority leader to temporarily relinquish his post." And with that, joy on the faces of thousands of activists and organization leaders who have poured millions of dollars into taking the House Majority Leader down. The face of Republican scandal may soon be framed in a mugshot resting on Texas prosecutor Ronnie Earle's desk.

And as DeLay retreats, who will "temporarily" replace him as Majority Leader of the House? It looks like a triumvirate will share DeLay's responsibilities: Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), and House Rules Committee Chair Rep. David Dreier (R-Calif.), with Blunt holding DeLay's title, Cantor taking on the Whip role, and Dreier "taking a broader role in coordinating the work of other committees."

All three are your typical corrupt House Republicans. Dreier though, is a close ally of DeLay's (Blunt has had some scuffles with DeLay in the past), and he has been a stalwart defender of DeLay in his time of need: Dreier donated $5,000 to DeLay's legal defense fund, and in his capacity as Rules Committee Chair Dreier recently sent a letter to House members indicating that he plans to further obstruct the unweildy ethics complaint filing process.

But Dreier also represents another archetype of the dark side of the GOP: The closeted gay man. If ever there were an opportunity to expose the hypocrisy of the Grand Old Party on gay issues, it is now.

Dreier was outed by activist blogger Mike Rogers of BlogActive, and John Byrne of Raw Story. Long-time gay rights author Doug Ireland nailed the story down with an article in L.A. Weekly.

It is widely assumed that Dreier's partner is none other than his chief of staff, Brad Smith. Janice Nelson, Dreier's Democratic opponent in 1998 and 2000, was aware that Dreier and Smith were living together at the time, saying, "Brad was like an invisible presence. They really have the routine down slick." As Byrne of Raw Story discovered, Smith makes $156,000 a year -- only $400 less than Andrew Card, who runs George Bush's shop in the White House. It's also been reported that Dreier and Smith traveled to 25 countries together using taxpayer funds. Doug Ireland provided a corollary to this kind of arrangement: "New Jersey Democratic Governor Jim McGreevey was recently forced to resign when it was about to become public that he had put his boyfriend on the public payroll at a salary slightly less than the one which Dreier pays Smith."

Is it right to out a closeted gay politician? Doug Ireland follows the openly gay Democratic Congressman Barney Frank's (D-Mass.) rule: "Outing is only acceptable when a person uses their power or notoriety to hurt gay people."

And David Dreier's record fully qualifies him for public exposure. Ireland writes:
He opposed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would have banned discrimination against gay people in hiring; voted for the gay-bashing Defense of Marriage Act; voted for banning adoption by gay and lesbian couples in the District of Columbia (3,000 miles away from Dreier's district); voted to allow federally funded charities to discriminate against gays in employment, even where local laws prohibit such bias; and voted against the Hate Crimes Prevention Act.
Informed of Hastert's recommendation, Doug Ireland told me, "Because the corporate media, with the exception of Frank Rich of the New York Times, have consistently refused to cover the outing of a rather significant number of Republican leaders, Dreier has been able to get away with the hypocrisy of being in the closet as a gay man, while continuing to vote against legal equality for gay people.

"If Dreier is elevated to Majority leader, it simply means that the Republican Party is comfortable with the hypocrisy of its closeted gay leadership."

When I asked BlogActive's Mike Rogers, a former development director for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and current editor of PageOneQ.com, he was effusive. "This is an exciting moment in American history," he said. "Having a gay man assuming responsibilties of the Majority Leader -- one who opposes the Federal Marriage Amendment, no less -- is a coup for the gay community as it all but nails shut the coffin of amending the constitution to same-sex civil marriage equality."

Just think, how can the party of Family Values explain to its only grassroots bulwark, the Christian Right, that it will punish the "homosexual agenda" when it has a gay man co-managing the third-most powerful organ of our federal system? We'll find out soon enough. As Rogers put it, "Thanks to Denny Hastert for looking beyond the extreme members of his party to elevate a gay man to help lead the House."
Jan Frel is an AlterNet staff writer.
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