CAUTION! If You've Been Talking With "Top Man!" On Grindr, You've Got A Closeted GOP Freak On Your Hands
In 2010, California state Senator Roy Ashbury, a leader of the most contemptibly aggressive gay haters in the state legislature, was outed. Patt Morrison interviewed him for KPCC immediately after he was busted, drunk, with a young male prostitute in his car. Listening to Morrison's interview made me sad for Ashbury and for all the GOP closet queens that infest our political system.
For decades you worked so hard to keep your sexual orientation under wraps. This must have been a torment, but in another sense, was there an element of relief?North Dakota state Rep Randy Boehning (R-Fargo), a 52-year-old homophobic closet case, isn't in the closet any longer. He says he's relieved to have been outed because he no longer has to lie to the world about who he is. He was outed because he sends dick shots to young men on Grindr.
I'm sensing relief now. I had not consciously decided to come out, but there's no doubt looking back that I had become increasingly bold about attending gay events, like pride festivals, and going to dance clubs and bars. Last year I attended Las Vegas Pride and San Diego Pride.
Were you looking over your shoulder?
A little more in San Diego than Las Vegas.
...At some point, you must have realized a public career was incompatible with being open about your sexual preferences.
Something happened that I guess caused me to realize that. When I was in sixth grade, the police had a raid in the sand dunes [near San Luis Obispo] and a bunch of gay men were arrested, probably charged with indecent activity. That sticks in my mind-- the publicity and the shame around it. One of my teachers was one of the people. The talk among the kids, the talk among the adults, the talk in the community, the press-- at that time the choice was pretty clear: If you were gay and open, it was a life of shame, ridicule, innuendo about molesting and perversion. It was a dark life. Given that choice of whether you come out or whether you're in secret, I mean, there really wasn't a choice.
You worked for members of Congress, then were elected to public office yourself from Kern County. Were your sexual preferences in the back of your mind, or did you just go about your business?
The answer is both yes and no. I was married and had children. And I had a career and a passion. I also had a huge secret. But given my circumstances and my responsibilities, it wasn't an overwhelming issue for me. The desires were always there, but my focus was primarily on-- well, pretty selfishly-- on me and my career and my family.
Barry Goldwater had a gay grandson and didn't think government had any business in anybody's bedroom. But the recent brand of Republicanism has championed anti-gay issues.
I truly believe the conservative philosophy as embraced by Goldwater: that the government has no role in the private lives of the citizens. In the 1980s, there was a coming together of the religious right and the Goldwater right, sort of a marriage of convenience. It propelled Ronald Reagan to the presidency. Reagan never repudiated that but-- this is just my view-- I don't think he really embraced it either. In no way do I want to put down people of strong religious convictions; I happen to have very strong religious beliefs myself. But it was a merger of those two, and the religious [right's issues] were about same-sex rules, same-sex marriage, abortion, gun rights, these sort of core, litmus-test issues.
Did you feel uneasy with that combination? You did help to organize and speak at a rally in 2005 against a legislative bill sanctioning same-sex marriage.
How I ever got into that is beyond me. I was very uncomfortable with that, and I told one of my confidantes, "I'm never doing that again." It was not what I wanted to do, it wasn't me, but I helped to organize and lent my name.
A lot of people, gay or straight, are probably wondering why you voted even against issues like insurance coverage for same-sex partners.
The best I can do is to say that I was hiding. I was so in terror I could not allow any attention to come my way. So any measure that had to do with the subject of sexual orientation was an automatic "no" vote. I was paralyzed by this fear, and so I voted without even looking at the content. The purpose of government is to protect the rights of people under the law, regardless of our skin color, national origin, our height, our weight, our sexual orientation. This is a nation predicated on the belief that there is no discrimination on those characteristics, and so my vote denied people equal treatment, and I'm truly sorry for that.
When it comes to marriage, I'm getting the feeling that you're mulling over whether government ought to be in the marriage license business at all.
It's a very complicated issue, marriage, but it seems to me that the government's role is to protect a civil contract, whether it's to purchase a home together, enter into whatever financial or legal arrangement, including marriage. The whole issue of marriage as a 5,000-year-old tradition, a religious context, a historical context-- what government's role is, is the sanctification of the legal bond. Then it seems to me a matter for a church or some other societal organization but not for government.
What have you been talking about with the gay groups you've been meeting with?
The same things we're talking about. I don't have an agenda. I don't have a plan. I don't have an expectation. I just want people to know who I am and what's in my heart. I kept that from people. I concealed it from everyone for almost all my life, so I'm [now] privileged to work with people from all aspects of life, including organizations devoted to advancing the rights of gay and lesbian and transgendered individuals.
Recently in the Senate you spoke in favor of a resolution calling on Congress to repeal "don't ask, don't tell."
For that day I knew I had to say something. I already had prepared what I was going to say about serving in the military, and I actually had it written out because I wanted to be precise. But I had to preface it with something else, to give context to why all this time in elective office and being so deeply hidden, why was I now standing and speaking on this subject matter, and so I did.
...You're divorced, with four daughters and grandchildren. So here's where I ask about your family, and you can tell me to buzz off.
The things we're talking about were my choices. It was my choice to keep it secret; it was my choice to be a gay man and be married and have children. It was my choice to build a life on lies in order to conceal myself. That obviously had a big effect on my marriage and my children in ways that I don't fully comprehend, but it's my responsibility and not something to be talked about in interviews.
State Rep. Randy Boehning, a 52-year-old Republican legislator from Fargo, says a Capitol employee told him a fellow lawmaker vowed to out him as gay if he continued to vote against bills granting gays legal protections against discrimination.
Boehning refused to identify at this point who he believes is behind the purported political payback for his vote against Senate Bill 2279, the third such bill defeated in the past six years by North Dakota legislators.
The exchange came to light when Dustin Smith, a 21-year-old Bismarck man with no known connections to the Capitol, contacted The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead earlier this month, saying he recognized Boehning from a gay dating smartphone app called Grindr. Chatting under the user name Top Man!, Boehning sent Smith sexually suggestive messages and, in the early morning hours of March 12, an unsolicited photo of his penis, according to exchanges reviewed by The Forum.
"How can you discriminate against the person you're trying to pick up?" Smith said in a recent interview.
When first questioned about the messages two weeks ago, Boehning declined to comment on whether he sent the explicit photo and messages.
But on Saturday he confirmed he was Top Man! and said he doesn't think sending a graphic photo of himself to a stranger is a lapse in judgment, as Grindr is an adult site where users often exchange such images.
"That's what gay guys do on gay sites, don't they?" Boehning said. "That's how things happen on Grindr. It's a gay chat site. It's not the first thing you do on that site. That's what we do, exchange pics on the site."
Boehning, who is not married, said there are people who know he is gay, but many of his family members and friends do not. He said Saturday he is also attracted to women and was relieved to come out because he no longer has to worry about being outed.
"The 1,000-pound gorilla has been lifted," he said. "I have to confront it at some point."
...Outing closeted gay politicians who cast votes seen as anti-gay is divisive in the gay community and has many critics. But while Smith and Boschee said they regret that Boehning was forced to come out of the closet, they believe it points out an important discrepancy between Boehning's vote and his personal life.
For his part, Boehning said coming out under these circumstances was both a personal relief and a political struggle.
"This has been a challenge for me," Boehning said. "You don't tell everyone you're going to vote one way and then switch your vote another way-- you don't have any credibility that way."
Boehning, a self-employed general contractor, said he has voted against multiple attempts to extend protected-class status to include sexual orientation because he doesn't believe his south Fargo constituents support it. Also, he has problems with the bill's language, which would protect people who are "perceived" to be gay.
If "perceived" was removed from the bill, he might vote in favor of it, he said.
Asked whether he would be personally concerned about being discriminated against in the areas of housing, workplace or public accommodation, Boehning, who lives in a rented Fargo apartment, said landlords have the right to do as they see fit.
He said many members of the Legislature find themselves allying and clashing on a variety of issues, regardless of party.
"Politics makes strange bedfellows," he said.