Hear Me Out
|Complicity in Hypocrisy
The closeted, anti-gay mayor of Spokane had plenty of accomplices helping him shield the hypocritical divide between his public policy and his 'private life.'
Hypocrisy was the word of the day when the Spokesman-Review, a daily newspaper in Spokane, Washington, recently published the findings of a three-year investigative effort that proved the mayor there lead a secret gay life.
But the burden of hypocrisy isn't reserved alone for Mayor James E. West, the 54-year-old Republican with a history of fervently anti-gay political behavior.
In two decades of political deceit in which West was a zealous opponent of gay rights, he had plenty of accomplices to help him keep his tawdry little secret.
Today, in Mr. West's downfall, at least part of the shock should be reserved for those who waited so long to publicly ask the most basic questions.
Those included a political system that long knew of the fervently anti-gay politician's private life but chose to look the other way; a cowed gay community that dared not cross a powerful political foe; and even the newspaper that eventually ended up exposing Westbut only when the charges against him included abuse of minors.
"It's the worst-kept secret in Washington [state] politics," Christian Sinderman, a top Democratic political consultant, told the Spokesman-Review.
Why, then, was Jim West never questioned about how his public policies deviated so drastically from his apparently well-known private life?
West gave the political establishment, gay activists and journalists plenty of opportunity to question how he could be so publicly homophobic while leading a closeted gay life.
As far back as 1983, when West was elected to the Washington House of Representatives, he aligned himself with conservatives specifically by taking extreme public stands on hot-button social issuesincluding gay rights.
In 1985, West was among the state's most vocal politicians in criticizing then-Governor Booth Gardner for issuing an executive order banning discrimination in state hiring based on sexual orientation.
In 1986, West was one of 15 Republicans who sponsored a bill that would have prohibited gay men and lesbians from working in schools, day-care centers, and some state agencies. The bill included provisions for screening for gays, and firing employees whose sexual orientation became known.
Later in 1986, West voted against the state issuing pamphlets that contained safer sex information to help people protect themselves from HIV. He called the safer-sex information "something people go buy at dirty bookstores."
When West was elected to the state Senate and became one of the Republican's most powerful leaders, he repeatedly and vocally opposed civil rights measures that would have expanded state protections in jobs and housing to include gays and lesbians.
In the 1990s, West publicly clashed with an openly gay senator from Seattle, who tried to get a statewide gay anti-discrimination bill passed.
In 1998, West voted for the state's Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits same-sex marriage.
In 2003, West initially forced the sponsor of a Senate resolution honoring women on International Women's Day to withdraw the decree because it called for recognizing women "of all races and sexual preferences." West publicly and heatedly objected to the inclusion of sexual preference.
And most recently, as mayor of Spokane, West threatened to veto a measure passed by the city council to extend domestic partner benefits to city employees. Luckily, the city council passed the law with a 5-2 vote, strong enough to withstand any possible mayor's veto.
All this, and yet no one had the nerve to stand up and publicly ask the deceitful politician how he squared his public policy positions with his private life?
"We decided his personal life wasn't germane because his private life is his private life," Sinderman, the highly-placed Democratic consultant, told the Spokesman-Review about why the campaign of Laurie Dolan, who challenged West in the mayoral election, chose not to raise the gay issue. "It's not a public issue unless it involves the abuse of power."
Dean Lynch, a former Spokane city councilman and the town's first openly-gay elected official, told the newspaper that the gay community there had "general knowledge that Jim West is a closeted gay man," but that no one acted on it because of "the tremendous power that he wields."
Even the newspaper that eventually told the truth about West did so only after there was a question of whether or not West sought out sex with underage men, and used his position to offer favors to young men he courted online.
The mayor's apparent web of deceit unraveled when, over the past three months, he spoke online to a Gay.com chat buddy who identified himself as being 17 years old.
The young man turned out to be fictional. The newspaper hired a computer consultant to create the fictional teenager's profile, and over a three-month period, the make-believe gay youth traded flirtatious online chats and instant messages with the mayor.
In earlier exchanges with another, different fictional young manthis one who said he was 18 years oldthe mayor offered up an internship.
In the extensive expose and editor's notes detailing the mayor's exchanges with fictional young men and teenagers, the Spokesman-Review stressed that the issue with the mayor was not his homosexuality, but his abuse of power.
Current city council members who were interviewed since the story broke have expressed shock at the fact that the mayor used city computers to talk to guys online.
And yet all of this time, no one in all of these circles of power and activism have thought it was somehow wrong that James West was lying to the public through his political agenda?
It never struck anyone as immoral that a closeted homosexual was an attack-dog against gay rights?
Since when isn't political hypocrisy relevant?
It never crossed anyone's mind that James West was using his political might to hurt unknown thousands of gays and lesbians across the state simply to cover up his own lies and duplicity?
That is a far more egregious abuse of power than trolling for sex from a make-believe man on Gay.com.
Mubarak Dahir, editor of The Express, the GLBT newspaper in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, may be reached at MubarakDahir@aol.com.
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 15, No. 5 May 20, 2005