Pennsylvania house representative Babette Josephs said this week that's she's outed her Democratic primary opponent, Gregg Kravitz, as straight:
"I outed him as a straight person," Josephs said during a fund-raiser at the Black Sheep Pub & Restaurant, as some in the audience gasped or laughed, "and now he goes around telling people, quote, 'I swing both ways.' That's quite a respectful way to talk about sexuality. This guy's a gem."
I don't see what's particularly disrespectful about his way of talking about sexuality. Colloquial, definitely. But disrespectful?
Several straight media sources were touting this earlier this week as progress on LGBT issues. Here's the title TPM ran with the story:
Now That's Progress
Philadelphia Gay News's editor:
"We've hit a new high point when candidates are accused of pretending to be gay to win a seat," said Mark Segal, publisher of the Philadelphia Gay News and a pioneering civil rights advocate.
"I've been doing this for 40 years, and I never have heard of this kind of charge in any race in the nation," he said. "I take that as flattery. It shows how far we've come."
Did he pretend to be gay? I thought "swing both ways" meant bisexual, not gay. Segal modified his quote for The Advocate, the first media source I saw that saw this as a bisexual issue, not a gay and lesbian issue (this is why we still need community media):
"This is probably the only race in America where a candidate who is claiming to be a member of the LGBT community is actually being questioned by members of the LGBT community and other candidates if he is," said Segal.
Most likely because he's bi instead of gay.
Anyway, this isn't progress. This is the old and tired idea that bisexual people don't exist, that everyone (especially men) are either gay or straight or lying, and that bisexuals can't be trusted because they're either dishonest or frivolous.
Bisexual people do exist. If you're looking for proof of male bisexuality, you can enlighten yourself in the privacy of your own home (link NSFW). As always, I don't see any reason for people's sexuality not to be taken at face value if they don't give any indications otherwise. Considering it's impossible to disprove someone's bisexuality, you've got to wonder why a candidate would make such an accusation.
Phillips says that Kravitz said he was gay to her and then she spotted him with a woman so now he's saying he's bi. He says that he's never talked to her about his sexuality. It's impossible to know what happened in that private conversation. But it is telling that he knows how to discuss biphobia like a real-live bisexual:
"As an openly bisexual man, I was subjected to some horrific things you would never ask a straight or gay person," he said. "People asked me, 'How many sexual partners do you have? Who do you prefer to have sex with more?' Literally. How does someone prove they are bisexual?"
A candidate's sexuality shouldn't be of any importance, but it is. Phillips wouldn't have brought this up if she didn't think she could score points with this. But I'm guessing the system probably works and voters won't care.
Every article about this has been toting Phillips's voting record on LGBT issues, but that doesn't mean that what she says is going to please everyone in the LGBT community (or that she has to). She's probably great on LGBT legislation, but she put these statements on the table and they should be discussed. The discussion here isn't about whether she should win or lose or whether she's a good person or a bad person or about whether Kravitz is really bi or not. Those are all important topics in their own contexts, I'm sure, but what does it say about all of us when we're at a place, in 2010, when a politician says they're bisexual and their opponent calls them a liar because she saw him with a woman?
Also bothersome is that outing someone as straight, as if there's an advantage to being queer in an election even in a very liberal district, is teetering really close to "post-gay" rhetoric that implies that homophobia is behind us and everyone actually wants to help those queers get ahead of hard-working straight people because they get everything so goddamn easy. But I don't live in that district, so I wouldn't know.
Here's the bottom line on the race from someone who lives there:
By way of context: this is a downtown, highly liberal district (it includes my office) in which every two years like clockwork, some young local progressive challenges Rep. Josephs in a primary -- more because of the desire of young ambitious activists to serve in Harrisburg than any particular fault of Josephs'. Thus far, every time the challenger has fallen short, though coming as close as 237 votes in 2006.