"Politics ain't beanbag," as the saying goes. The rough-and-tumble aspects of politics are not unknown -- just ask future former Virginia state Senators Marty Williams and Benjamin Lambert. Or remember that, a year ago, nobody knew what "macaca" means.
The din and discord of political life may, in fact, be a major attraction for those of us who become involved in it. So we know what to expect.
Denizens of the blogosphere know, however, that sometimes people cross the line from assertive to meanspirited. Even in Virginia, there are some bloggers who use words like "pervert" when they refer to their gay neighbors. And the list of examples, on line and off, of those who call conservatives "fascists" is too long to repeat.
That said, in most cases the targets of abuse are seasoned veterans who can endure it. They have been through college and law school, have settled into a job, put a few campaigns under their belts, learned a bit about equanimity and how to handle passionate moments -- in other words, matured.
All this comes by way of prefacing my anger about an episode in Michigan that came to light on Wednesday, and in turn lit up the blogosphere -- particularly the left blogohemisphere.
A few weeks ago a conservative blogger named Joe Sylvester mentioned in passing, in a short item about the summer whereabouts of young Michigan conservatives, that
Tyler Whitney is also working in DC on a Presidential campaign. The brash young paleo-libertarian will be spending his weekend with gay conservatives and libertarians in Dupont Circle for the City's Gay Pride Festivities. Tyler is said to have relocated to DC permanently.It is not clear from the context -- and I do not know enough about Sylvester to ascribe motives to him -- whether this was an innocent remark about something he thought was common knowledge or whether it was a deliberate attempt to force Tyler Whitney out of the closet.
Whatever the case, that little item was picked up by a Michigan gay newspaper, Between the Lines, and published on its web site.
An article by Todd A. Heywood begins:
An 18-year-old leader of Young Americans for Freedom and a conservative campaign operative is coming out of the closet.One thing you have to give credit to Heywood for -- at least he, unlike Sylvester, multiple-sourced his report.
Tyler Whitney, the immediate past chair of Western Michigan University YAF, the chair of the Michigan Teenage Republicans, or TARs, and the current webmaster for the Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colorado) for President website, has been telling other conservative activists for about a month of his coming out journey.
"Yes I am aware of that," said Joanna Varnavas when asked if she knew Whitney was coming out of the closet. "He told me about a month ago."
She said he confirmed it again last week in a text message exchange.
Varnavas was the spokesperson for Michigan State University Young Americans for Freedom until November, 2006 when she resigned because of the hate-speech of the group. The Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Project later listed the group as a hate group.
Other conservatives have confirmed Whitney has told them he is gay, but would not go on the record.
So far there is not much to be concerned about. The problem came when gay bloggers like Michelangelo Signorile and Dan Savage wrote about Mr. Whitney, eliciting vitriol from their readers like nothing seen since Stalin fumed about Trotsky.
The way these bloggers had it, Tyler Whitney is the second coming of Joe McCarthy, Sheriff Clarke, and Jesse Helms rolled into one. Signorile, in particular, engages in character assassination based on guilt-by-association. Calling this 18-year-old, low-level campaign worker a "high profile" staffer who is a "rising star" in the Republican party, the man who turned outing into an art form wrote:
Whitney was handpicked to run a YAF chapter at Western Michigan University by the leader of the MSU chapter, Kyle Bristow. Bristow, who has championed "Catch an Illegal Immigrant Day" and appeared on The O'Reilly Factor, has said that “homosexuality kills people almost to a degree worse than cigarettes… these [pro-gay rights groups] are complicit with murder.” (Michigan Republicans actually defended him after this, something Democrats criticized them for.) Bristow calls gays "deviants" and says he's "against the notion that deviants deserve extra rights." According to Between the Lines, "Bristow has opined that if he had a gay son he would kill him, and that homosexuals should be in prison."Advice columnist Dan Savage, meanwhile, suggests that hypocrisy of higher ups is reason enough to breach the privacy of underlings:
Bay Buchanan, Senior Advisor to Tancredo, says Whitney’s “sexual preference is a personal matter,” and that it should have “nothing to do with the campaign.”The comments from Savage's readers, however, are truly vile. Some examples:
Sorry, Bay, but gay-bashing conservative thugs—people like you, your horrible brother, your vile candidate—can’t have it both ways on the gay issue. If Whitney’s sexual preference is a personal matter, if Whitney’s sexual preference shouldn’t have anything to do with the campaign, then neither should mine—or the sexual preferences of any other Americans. Until your candidate lays off the gay bashing, until the GOP stops attacking the rights and humanity of gay and lesbian Americans, then Tyler Whitney’s sexual orientation—it’s not a preference, Bay, and you know it—is fit for public debate.
I don't have any sympathy for Tyler Whitney. We've all got mistakes in our past, but seriously: What. An. Asshole.I am appalled by the cruel comments made here and elsewhere. (And I just gave the most family-friendly sample I could ooze out of the mud on Savage's blog.)* * *
Out the bastard. The little sh*t should be dragged kicking and squealing from his padded red closet. Junior can hate himself all he wants, but once he starts spraying his execrate all over normal people, it's open season. Actions have consequences.* * *
There's a sadistic, hateful streak at the core of the Republican Party, and this junior Karl Rove needs to be taken down a notch.* * *
Whether or not he is too ignorant to understand, he is being used to perpetuate hate. He needs to learn the hard way that what he is doing is far, far beyond unacceptable.
No sympathy for tools of hate. If he needs to learn, then let us and the rest of the world teach him.
You would think that none of these people had never gone through the anxious, raucous, frightening, unpredictable process of coming out. Their comments suggest that a kid fresh out of high school has as much maturity in his political/philosophical/social views as a 30-year-old law-school graduate.
Granted, Tancredo would not be my choice to support (today or when I was 18), but the offer of a job on a presidential campaign at that age has to be enticing. Talk about a resume-builder.
But that's only the most cynical view of why he might have taken this job. Has anyone thought about the possibility that a job in Washington was Tyler Whitney's ticket to liberation? It took him away from a hostile environment (if what Between the Lines describes about YAF chapters in Michigan is true) and offered him a chance to go to a big city with an active, welcoming gay community that includes conservatives as well as liberals, libertarians as well as socialists.
A Tancredo campaign is not likely to last very long, is it? But to use it as a stepping-stone to another job in a cosmopolitan area, rather than remain behind in a more stultifying environment -- that is a clever move. (And who knows? Maybe Tyler was following not just his political bliss, but his romantic dreams too. Could there be a boyfriend attending Georgetown or George Mason to whom he wanted to be nearer?)
It wasn't that long ago that most of us -- liberal and conservative alike -- were facing the daunting prospect of inching out of the closet. As for myself, it took many years. A few friends knew about me when I started college, but the rest of the world -- including my family -- was not told until I ran for the Virginia House of Delegates in 1991. I was 32 years old before most people knew I was gay.
Luckily for me, in that time of my life when I was working at conservative think tanks, there was no Michelangelo Signorile or John Aravosis to force my closet door open before I was ready. The consequences of that would have been very grave for me; I know that for others they could potentially be deadly.
Have any of these gloaters thought about the personal consequences for Tyler Whitney, the consequences that any one of us might have faced had we come out to the wrong person or at the wrong time? How will it affect his relationship with his parents, his grandparents -- or even, perhaps, with his boyfriend (if he has one)? Could he be disowned, disinherited, sent to an ex-gay treatment facility where he would be scarred by psychotherapeutic quacks?
People like Tyler Whitney need sympathy and support, not opprobrium. I'm tempted to say he should be given a chance to grow up -- since his detractors have obviously not taken the time to do so.
P.S.: What's with this left-wing obsession with Young Americans for Freedom chapters in Michigan and Tyler's connection to them? Anyone who understands the conservative movement knows that YAF is a spent force, and has been for years. It has none of the influence that it once had in the 1960s. The infamous St. Louis convention took care of that, and YAF has since been superseded by several other groups. So Tyler Whitney's critics are not just cruel, they are ignorant and uninformed.
Update, 8:48 a.m.: Thanks to Matt Comer, a North Carolina advocate for LGBT youth (and himself just 21 years old), for linking to this post and for offering his own sensitive, sympathetic analysis of the Tyler Whitney situation.
Further update, 8:55 a.m., June 15: GayPatriotWest was unaware of this news item until I brought it to his attention. He has posted his views on Tyler Whitney's outing, with an active conversation among his readers in the comments section.
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