Politics

White House handling of Kagan rumors angers gay activists

The White House’s handling of rumors about Solicitor General Elena Kagan’s sexuality are “patently offensive” and “insulting to the gay and lesbian community,” say some gay rights advocates.

The White House refuted the rumor that Kagan is a lesbian in mid April, when CBS published a piece arguing that Kagan would be the “first openly gay justice.” Just hours after the post was published, says the Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz, “an administration official, who asked not to be identified discussing personal matters, said Kagan is not a lesbian.” Former White House staffer Anita Dunn told Kurtz that CBS had “enabled” people who insist on “applying old stereotypes to single women with successful careers.”

Since then, the White House has asserted more and more aggressively that Kagan is not sexually attracted to women. “We are going to defend the nominee that the president has chosen,” Robert Gibbs told The Daily Caller’s Jon Ward when asked why the White House pushed back so aggressively against the rumors. That same day, Ron Klain, chief counsel to the vice president and a key figure in the White House legal team, said, “Elena went through the same vet that everyone else goes through for the Supreme Court is all I’ll say.”

Both responses are offensive, contend the Log Cabin Republicans, a gay group. “That they felt that there had to be clarification is a tacit acknowledgement that for her to be anything other than straight is a political liability,” said Charles Moran, the organization’s spokesman. “And that’s insulting to the gay and lesbian community.”

Some on the other side of the political spectrum agree. “If the White House is rebutting it for political reasons—and what other reasons are there to deny that someone is gay?—I think the approach is patently offensive to the LGBT community,” says Amanda Hess, a sex and gender columnist at the Washington City Paper and the proprietor of the popular Sexist blog. “‘Just so you know, our Supreme Court nominee isn’t gay!’ doesn’t sound very good,” Hess wrote in an email, “because a statement like that is motivated by homophobia.”

But Hess also said that the White House is in a tough spot. “If you refuse to confirm or deny the rumors that she’s a lesbian, you anger the gay activists who are angry about a nominee being kept in the closet. If you confirm the rumors, you risk a heated battle from religious conservatives—and you out a woman who has apparently preferred to keep her sexual orientation close to the vest.”

Moran agrees that the White House may have stumbled into “a trap.” Conservative and liberal groups, he said, “are going to use this entire situation to raise money and the Obama administration completely fell for the bait” by first rebutting the rumors about Kagan.

“It’s no secret that they’ve had some public scraps with the GLBT constituency,” Moran added. “Issuing a statement clarifying that Kagan is ‘straight’ and not a lesbian–did that hurt some more feelings in gay and lesbian circles? You bet.”