The biggest misnomer in the Mark Foley fiasco is that his transgressions were caused by the "closet." We hear that his career ended in tragedy because living in secrecy warps the mind and leads to sleaze on the sly. This, of course, is often true, as in the case of former New Jersey governor James McGreevey, but Foley doesn't fit the script.
For one, it seems every gay man in West Palm Beach has at least one Mark Foley story. For someone supposedly on the down low, Foley attended gay parties and was brazen enough on one occasion to introduce his longtime partner to a news reporter.
In Congress, if Foley wasn't officially out to the Republican leadership, it was certainly Don't Ask, Don't Tell. The congressman had been "outed" repeatedly in the gay press, and rumors swirled on the Internet. It just isn't credible to believe that in the gossip mill known as Capitol Hill, these whispers did not circulate to the top echelons of power.
The former congressman is not a victim of the closet but of naked ambition and raw opportunism. Foley began his career as a Democrat but figured his prospects were better as a Republican and switched parties. From the beginning, it was clear he stood for nothing but the attainment of personal power. This is why he had little trouble joining a party that was ascending, in part, by embracing an anti-gay "family values" platform. (Of course, given the way House speaker Dennis Hastert has handled allegations of Foley's impropriety, it appears that the GOP's party leadership is as insincere on "family values" as Foley was.)
In the same cavalier way he snookered the right, Foley consistently trampled the gay community. He saw no contradiction in parading around with his long-term boyfriend in Florida while returning to Washington to vote in favor of the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits states from recognizing same-sex marriages performed in other states. Foley was willing to give second-class status to relationships, including his own, to satisfy his lust for power.
In a final act of monumental hypocrisy, Foley was the co-chairman of the House Caucus on Missing and Exploited Children. He strutted around touting this commendable legislation while proclaiming, "We track library books better than we do sex offenders. ... If I were one of these sickos, I'd be nervous with America's Most Wanted on my trail."
Only nine weeks later we come to find that Foley has written more pages than Stephen King. The original online banter was creepy but not sexually explicit. Newly released Instant Messages reveal a deeply disturbed man who was clearly abusing his authority to try to gain sexual favors from pages.
In an effort to garner sympathy, Foley claims that his moral failures took place because he is an alcoholic. But even if he were a heavy drinker, he was still well aware that pages are high school juniors, making even this weak alibi irrelevant.
Make no mistake, Foley's disgraceful fall has damaged the gay community because it perpetuated the devastating stereotype that homosexuals are child molesters. To compound the problem, Foley's lawyer claimed that as a boy Foley was molested while finally acknowledging that the disgraced former lawmaker is a gay man. By conflating the two subjects, Foley provided fodder for every right-wing organization in the nation that claims that gays are the sinful byproduct of abuse or neglect.
The jackals on the right wasted no time exploiting the situation. "While pro-homosexual activists like to claim that pedophilia is a completely distinct orientation from homosexuality, evidence shows a disproportionate overlap between the two," said Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council.
Perkins' comments are disgustingly mean-spirited and untrue. A 2000 study by Dr. Michael R. Stevenson concluded: "A gay man is no more likely than a straight man to perpetrate sexual activity on children." A 1994 study by Dr. Carole Jenny found that less than 1 percent of the children in her study were abused by a gay man or lesbian. In 1978, Drs. Nicholas Groth and Jean Birnbaum found that none of the 175 molesters in their study had an exclusively homosexual adult orientation.
Unfortunately, perception is reality, and when Foley-gate is out of the headlines, the damage he wrought will make it difficult for the gay and lesbian community to turn the page.
Wayne Besen writes the syndicated column"Anything But Straight."