Sue Kerr

Rick Santorum & the Lesbian Intern Who Got Away

Filed By Sue Kerr | January 19, 2012 10:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: conservative Democrats, Santorum gay aide, Santorum influence in Pennsylvania

Much ado has been made in recent weeks about the re-emergence of gay Santorum apologist, Robert Trayham. From Signorile to my own Pittsburgh based blog, Santorum's former Communications Director has been repeatedly vilified for defending Thumbnail image for santorum-caricature.jpg(or attempting to defend) the former Senator's positions on LGBT issues.

I am fairly certain he's not won over pretty much anyone who didn't believe in the "man on dog" mentality prior to his resurgence. My personal opinion is that Traynham's communications skills (and natty attire) would be best put to use with the inexplicable attempt to sell sweater vests as a fundraiser. Honestly, who thinks the phrase "sleeves hold you back" is good sell during a New Hampshire January?

Santorum's "triumph" among evangelical Christians is amusing as I pour through the increasing number of email messages/tweets and other "whispers" of the apparent gay mafia set loose in Pittsburgh after Rick's fall from the Senate. The magnitude of the betrayal of the LGBT community by these gay men of privilege is sobering if even one-third of the individual reports are accurate. But closeted LGBTQ political officials are nothing new to this neck of the woods, Republican or otherwise, we are not unfamiliar with turning a blind eye.

I am actually hoping to meet with some of these folks through my Republican contacts and have a chat. Why would they meet with me?

Well, I was an intern in Rick Santorum's then-Congressional offices for six months (pre-Traynham). I was assigned, I was not out (to myself even) and I was terrified enough to run away to graduate school rather than pursue a career on Capitol Hill. Graduate school terrified me enough to send me hightailing for a career in social services, but that's another post.

The proof is after the break.

What did it mean to intern with Rick Santorum in 1991? Well, it was a bit odd because my family was from his district and I was struggling to reconcile blue collar, working class values with his perspective. SantorumSueIntern1991.jpgHe was actually kind and respectful to the interns. I drove him to the airport several times and he was friendly, asking me about my studies. I played with his daughter when she came to the office.

The staff was another kettle of fish. My fellow Dem intern and I often joked that it was like a cult. They were absolutely "true believers" - nice enough, but wedded to the cause and the cause often seemed to involve a fetus. I may have been "waffling on the life issue" myself, but the zealotry I experienced during the six months sent me spinning to the left because it was so cold.

My relationship with Rick taught me some valuable lessons about politics and Capitol Hill. It also has provided a great line on my resume that never ceases to catch employers' attention when juxtaposed against my social justice professional work.

To be fair, I didn't come out until 1997. Setting aside the debate about whether I was in denial about my identity, I had bigger fish to fry in 1991. So it is purely farcical to compare myself with Robert Traynham. While I would like a $400,000 home and a cushy talking head job on Roll Call, that's probably not in the works.

But imagine if I had succumbed? Imagine a lesbian - daughter of five generations of steelworkers, Catholic to the core (no longer), daughter of the Mon Valley (with the asthma to prove it) and ardent social workers - supporting Santorum? Justifying him? Apologizing for him?

Nah. I'm pretty angry that his escapades "thieving" public school dollars to pay for his kid's cyber charter school education have missed the point that charter schools do a lot of evil and might destroy public education in Pennsylvania. His racist comments about food stamps horrify me, especially as Pennsylvania just butchered asset deductions for the SNAP program that will hurt many vulnerable people. I'm also pretty irate that he sets the bar so incredibly low for offensive, mean, reckless behavior that Pennsylvania Dems are making unbelievably unethical decisions on a regular basis.

I'm sure there are other gay ex-pats from the Santorum reign. The power and influence they've collected give them access to the high end Gay Inc life and no accountability to the working class queers. I'm not to out them. I'd like to dialogue with them and try to understand, but it is enough that we know about Traynham.

Santorum's lesson in southwestern Pennsylvania is that the local Dems are far from reliable on progressive issues. We lurch along with baby steps in pockets here and there, but with the rise of even scarier Republicans like State Representative Darryl Metcalfe, we can't afford to write off the impact of Santorum's success to date.

If he survives South Carolina, it is a call to action to southwestern Pennsylvania's LGBT community to take a deep look at the Democrats we support and ask ourselves how much we'll sell out before we end up parsing "gay marriage" from "gay sex" on Hardball?

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