Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Does it Matter if Elana Kagan is a Lesbian?

To some people the answer is Yes. To the Christian right-wing, some GOP and some gays it does matter for obviously different reasons. Stephanie Mencimer at Mother Jones asks, Why Do So Many People Think Elena Kagan Is Gay?

Monday, after the news leaked about Kagan's nomination, religious conservative groups took to the Internets with multiple calls for Kagan to out herself. Gordon James Klingenschmitt, a court-martialed military chaplain who now runs an anti-gay website, circulated a press release citing anonymous student reviews on Epinions as proof that Kagan is gay. Peter LaBarbera at Americans for Truth About Homosexuality blasted out a press release calling on Kagan to answer the question: "Are (or were) you a practicing homosexual?" He wrote, "in an era of ubiquitous pro-gay messages and pop culture celebration of homosexuality, it's ridiculous that Americans should be left guessing as to whether a Supreme Court nominee has a special, personal interest in homosexuality. Given the important homosexual-related issues coming before the Supreme Court, Kagan should say so if she has a personal interest in lesbianism."

But it wasn't just homophobic right-wingers calling on Kagan to address her sexual orientation directly. Atlantic blogger Andrew Sullivan spent a good part of the day suggesting that the administration is defending the closet by not answering questions about Kagan's sexuality, and then defending his suggestion that Kagan come out. Sullivan, who's openly gay, wrote, "Is Obama actually going to use a Supreme Court nominee to advance the cause of the closet (as well as kill any court imposition of marriage equality)? And can we have a clear, factual statement as to the truth? In a free society in the 21st Century, it is not illegitimate to ask. And it is cowardly not to tell."

What is it that tweaks some peoples' curiosity?
It's her hair, right? Or perhaps her stout physique? It's hard to pin it down exactly, but there is something about Obama's latest Supreme Court pick that has made the "alleged lesbian" label stick, despite unambiguous statements from the administration that Elena Kagan is most definitely straight. [...]

Overall, the case for her gayness seems to rest on a pretty thin argument that goes something like this:
  • She kicked military recruiters off the Harvard Law campus because of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."
  • She looks like a lesbian.
  • She's single and childless, has been known to smoke cigars and play poker.
  • She looks like a lesbian.
  • Jeffrey Toobin won't say whether she brought a date to his wedding.

That's it. You could make a better case that Kagan is simply a celibate workaholic, given the paucity of information that's leaked out about her personal life thus far.

Similar whisper campaigns swirled briefly around Justice Sonia Sotomayor when she was nominated last summer. Like Kagan, Sotomayor was also single and childless. But Sotomayor had a few things going for her to help quash the rumors. For one, she had once been married to her high school sweetheart. But she also had the rather embarrassing experience of appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee during her 1997 confirmation hearing for a spot on the 2nd Circuit and gushing profusely about Peter White, whom she introduced as her fiancé. She was reportedly devastated when the relationship fizzled.

But really, what powerful woman in Washington hasn't been accused of being a lesbian? Condoleezza Rice, Harriet Miers, Janet Napolitano, Janet Reno—they've all at one time or another been the victim of whisper campaigns about their sexuality. And of course there's Hillary Clinton. Wingnuts have been accusing the Secretary of State of secretly lusting after women for decades now.

As Richard Kim notes, Kagan's sexual orientation is irrelevant.

Just once I'd like to see this double-standard—complicated in Kagan's case by the perception that she's in the closet—applied to straight white men. Tell me, Judge Roberts, about your heterosexual life experiences? How do you think your bountiful virility will affect your opinions about privacy?

It shouldn't matter if Elana Kagan is heterosexual, homosexual or asexual. It is her mind we should be inquiring about not her sexuality. Once again, we need to take the government out of our bedrooms.

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