In December 2010, the gay blogosphere was fixated on rumors that anti-gay U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R–S.C., was about to be outed as gay.
Gay provocateur Mike Rogers, who seems to have focused his life’s mission on outing anti-gay leaders, ginned up the rumor mill. He announced via Twitter that he had evidence of one of cracker Graham’s boy toys leaving the lifelong bachelor’s home after spending the night there.
“I wonder if Lindsey Graham knows I have pictures of a man who spent the night at his house?” Rogers tweeted.
Rogers, who serves as executive director of LGBTNetworksConnect.org and vice chairman of RawStory.com, claimed to have a 100-percent track record at outing anti-LGBTQ closet cases. But in January, he went silent.
Although no solid evidence about Graham emerged, the gossip continued. It amplified after Graham decided to bunk politically with Donald Trump, who’s been designated by the Human Rights Campaign as “the worst president on LGBT issues ever.” Trump has reversed many of the legal gains the queer community made under Barack Obama.
A new buzz
Now the rumor mill is once again humming about the sex life of one of the Senate’s most sexless members. The renewed interest in Graham’s life between the sheets comes at a critical point in his political life. A three-term U.S. Senator, he’s facing unexpectedly strong competition from his opponent, South Carolina Democratic Party chairman Jamie Harrison, on Nov. 3.
Sean Harding, a gay porn star and a Black Lives Matter activist, reignited speculation about Graham last week when he fired off a salvo via Twitter.
“There is a homophobic republican senator who is no better than (Trump) who keeps passing legislation that is damaging to the LGBT and minority communities,” Harding tweeted. “Every sex worker I know has been hired by this man. Wondering if enough of us spoke out if that could get him out of office?”
Harding, who refers to Graham as “Lady G” — an epithet that’s trending on social media — claimed he’s aware of more than 100 male sex workers who’ve been hired by Graham. None of his accusations have been verified or corroborated.
But his claims have brought the issue to the forefront again. In the last few weeks, many thousands of people have googled the words "Graham" and "gay." A few thousand have viewed a 2010 news brief that wisconsingazette.com ran on the subject.
Many LGBTQ people reject outing as an inherently homophobic act. Forcing people out of the closet with trumpets blaring casts a carnival-like atmosphere over the whole community. It legitimizes the shadowy lens through which homophobes view the so-called “gay lifestyle,” and it reinforces the lie that queer people are unhappy and ashamed of the sexual orientation they acquired at birth.
Outing people who are unprepared to deal with it can be emotionally devastating to the point of suicide. It takes away the inherent right that everyone deserves to speak their own truth in their own time.
But a significant number of community members and their allies draw the line at closeted hypocrites who use their power to inflict damage on other queer people. They believe that Graham, who has opposed same-sex marriage and a host of other advancements for LGBTQ Americans, is one of those people.
Longtime gay activist, author and SiriusXM radio host Michaelangelo Signorile summed up the argument for outing homophobic people like Graham in a recent blogpost. “Senator Lindsey Graham has promoted a horrendously anti-LGBTQ agenda and now is one of the strongest defenders of a president who is the most anti-LGBTQ president in history, rolling back rights that have been won,” he wrote. “Editors and reporters should be investigating Graham’s hypocrisy the way they investigate public figures’ hypocrisy all the time — and that means following up on reports about his sexual orientation.”
If Graham is outed, he might pay a huge political price. The three-term U.S. Senator is up for re-election in November, and he faces what promises to be a fight to the finish.
Recent polls have shown that Graham and his Democratic opponent Jaime Harrison are nearly tied. The former chair of South Carolina’s Democratic Party, Harrison’s fundraising has been remarkable for a Democrat in a blood-red state.
The outsized role that evangelicals play in South Carolina politics, along with Graham’s repeated insistence that he’s not gay, would create problems for him if he was outed. The state’s Republican voters are already uncomfortable with Graham’s duplicity concerning Trump.
Graham was one of the president’s most critical adversaries during the 2016 Republican nomination battle and, after dropping out of that campaign, he became an ardent “never Trumper.”
After Trump’s election, however, Graham did a 180-degree turn at warp speed and joined the ranks of the president’s servile Republican bootlickers. Graham's sharp criticism of the pre-presidential Trump has given way to effusive praise on everything Trumpian, from his golf club greens to his leadership of the Defense Department.
Graham's obsequious, over-the-top worship at Trump's altar has demeaned his image and turned off many of his critics and former supporters alike. As Frank Bruni wrote in a column for The New York Times, "Maybe more than any other figure on Capitol Hill, Graham personifies his party’s spastic, incoherent, humiliating response to Trump across time and its fatally misguided surrender. ... Graham has too often and exuberantly played the flatterer, and where did it land him? In a shithole. Or a shithouse. Either way, he’s soiled."
In a February 2019 interview with The New York Times, Graham said his conversion to the cult of Trump was motivated by the need to remain relevant. But some of his detractors speculate that there might be a more intriguing motivation: Was Graham’s attitude adjustment the result of a deal he’d made to ensure Trump would bury evidence of the senator’s sexual behavior in exchange for Graham's vociferous support?
As far-fetched as that conspiracy theory might be, it’s gotten a lot of exposure on social media. In January 2018, comedian, actor and talk show host Chelsea Handler posted a profanity-laced tweet to Graham, suggesting Trump was blackmailing him: “Hey @LindseyGrahamSC what kind of dick s**king video do they have on you for you 2 be acting like this? Wouldn’t coming out be more honorable?”
A year later, Broadway diva Patti Lupone also threw some shade at Graham on Twitter, writing: “Lindsey Graham you are a disgrace. On a personal note, why don’t you just bite the bullet and come out. You might just come to your senses.”
Handler and Lupone were condemned by many LGBTQ community leaders. "When we start using this as a political tool, it takes away from the beauty of somebody celebrating their sexuality and coming out, even though there is sometimes legitimate difficulty with that and legitimate strife," Jerri Ann Henry, executive director of Log Cabin Republicans, told the Washington Blade after Handler's tweet.
But whether outing is worth the price in this case will likely remain an open question for many LGBTQ people, as well as their Republican adversaries.
The answer won't come until Nov. 3.