Gay Rights? We Still Have a Long, Long Way To Go…
It’s a sad day when all people can whisper about is whether or not a single woman in her early 50’s and who is the next Supreme Court nominee, happens to be [or not be] a lesbian. Just when I think we’ve come so far, these reminders pop up:
Elena Kagan is not a lesbian, one of her best friends told POLITICO Tuesday night, responding to persistent rumors and innuendo about the Supreme Court nominee’s personal life.
“I’ve known her for most of her adult life and I know she’s straight,” said Sarah Walzer, Kagan’s roommate in law school and a close friend since then. “She dated men when we were in law school, we talked about men — who in our class was cute, who she would like to date, all of those things. She definitely dated when she was in D.C. after law school, when she was in Chicago – and she just didn’t find the right person.”
Walzer, half amused and half appalled to be discussing her friend’s sexual orientation, agreed to be interviewed after Kagan’s supporters decided they should tactfully put an end to the rumor, which White House officials had already tried to squelch in background interviews with reporters. She said she decided to talk to POLITICO because the discussion of Kagan’s personal life has become a “distraction.”
“It’s taking away from substantive discussion of the issues from a really substantive person who deserves to be given the opportunity to address the substantive issues,” she said.
Another friend, former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, a member of Kagan’s social circle at Princeton University, wanted to make the same point as Walzer. “I did not go out with her, but other guys did,” he said in an email Tuesday night. “I don’t think it is my place to say more.”
The rumor about Kagan has circulated for months on gay blogs and became a matter of controversy when it was cited as fact by a conservative blogger on the website of CBS News, drawing a sharp White House rebuttal. It has, since, been a source of particular fascination in some socially conservative circles and particularly among gay and lesbian political observers, some of whom objected volubly Tuesday to a Wall Street Journal cover image of Kagan playing softball, which they perceived as a jab at a stereotype of lesbians.
The result has been an awkward dilemma for the traditional media, for whom reporting about homosexuality has always been considered to be off limits. Reporters and bloggers have debated, publicly and privately, the propriety of asking whether Kagan is gay. But Walzer – who has spoken regularly to the press this week – said that in a series of interviews with reporters she had been asked only obliquely about the nominee’s “social life.”
This is a photo that accompanied a story about Kagan in the Wall Street Journal yesterday:
Now, I know we all realize that all women who have played softball are not lesbians but we also know about the stereotype about women who play softball. The point is, of all the photos the WSJ could have chosen from Kagan’s past, they pick one of her playing softball? In light of the fact that the gay rumors have reached a crescendo over the past few days, I can’t help but think their motives were not benign.
Whether Elena Kagan is or isn’t gay has nothing to do with her fitness to serve on the SCOTUS. And I will say, while any person has a right to proudly declare their heterosexuality in the face of false rumors that they may be gay, there is a point where all the vociferous denials coming from the White House and now Kagan’s friends, start to be a bit condescending or offensive to gay people because at times these denials can seem to suggest that there is something wrong with being gay.
Unless a public official has put their sexuality at issue- for example a member of Congress who has made a career out of opposing gay rights who turns out to be gay (or a homophobic co-founder of a group like the Family Research Council which claims to be able to “cure” people of their homosexuality, hiring someone from RentBoy.com to accompany him on vacation) I don’t think such rumors are newsworthy.
And if she is a lesbian? More power to her! But it’s not our business unless she chooses to make it our business and the mainstream media needs to stop acting like Entertainment Tonight and start focusing on substantive issues like her legal views, what she did during her tenure at Harvard and as an adviser for President Clinton etc.