From an LGBT perspective, there were no winners this week in Alabama state politics.
It all started on Tuesday when, as AL.com reported, Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Dawson criticized incumbent Republican Governor Kay Ivey over the fact that LGBT anti-violence organization Free2Be, which stopped operating last week, had received money from the state during Ivey‘s term.
Ivey, who is running for re-election, responded by saying that the Free2Be money was “federal funding” and that it was “a mandate from the feds that monies be paid this way.” Ivey, though, went a step further with her comments on Free2Be.
“I certainly don’t agree with the agenda or the values of that organization,” she said.
Later that night, as AL.com noted, outgoing Representative Patricia Todd, the only openly LGBT state legislator in Alabama, implied on social media that Ivey is a closeted lesbian, linking to the story about the governor’s response to Dawson’s comments.
“Will someone out her for God’s sake,” Todd wrote on both Facebook and Twitter. “I have heard for years that she is gay and moved her girlfriend out of her house when she became Gov. I am sick of closeted elected officials.”
Ivey campaign spokeswoman Debbee Hancock told AL.com that Todd’s implication was a “disgusting lie being pushed by a paid liberal political hack,” adding, “There is absolutely no truth to it.”
On Wednesday morning, Todd tried to explain her comments to AL.com columnist John Archibald, telling him, “I hate hypocrites,” and urging him to “ask [Ivey] directly if she has ever had a relationship with a woman.”
Archibald asked Hancock if Ivey, who has been divorced twice, had ever had a relationship with a woman and Hancock responded, “No.”
To cap off an already strange week, Todd lost the Orlando, Florida-based LGBT nonprofit job she was scheduled to begin next month, as WBRC reported, after having spent 12 years in the Alabama state legislature.
“We strongly believe that coming out is a personal choice and we do not support involuntary outing,” said One Orlando Alliance chairwoman Jennifer Foster.
Todd, who has since deleted the Facebook and Twitter posts, did not respond to The Daily Beast’s questions asking whether she stood by the circulation of rumors about the governor’s sexual orientation. Instead, she noted that she will be giving a Facebook Live interview to Alabama radio host Matt Murphy Friday morning at 7 AM to “discuss this issue.”
Reached for comment by The Daily Beast, Hancock referred to interviews Ivey had already given to local television stations. In a sit-down interview with WAKA, Ivey said, “It’s disgusting. It’s false. It’s a bald face lie.”
There is no silver lining to this story: In the Alabama Republican gubernatorial primary, allowing funding to go to an LGBT anti-violence organization is apparently seen as a shameful blot on one’s record.
The state is losing its openly LGBT state legislator after she made an unethical attempt to non-consensually out the governor. And “disgusting” is certainly a loaded word to use when refuting rumors that one is a lesbian, although Ivey later told WAKA, “It’s disgusting because they’re not telling the truth.”
Ivey, who became governor last year after a six-year tenure as lieutenant governor, has long been an opponent of LGBT rights.
According to OnTheIssues.org, Ivey on her 2010 campaign website said that she “firmly believe[s] marriage is between one man and one woman,” calling it “a sacred, legal union that has been the cornerstone of civilization for centuries.”
In 2017, she signed a law allowing state-licensed child placement agencies to cite religious beliefs in order to turn away same-sex couples looking to foster or adopt.
But even if Ivey were a closeted lesbian opponent of LGBT rights—and, to be clear, there is no evidence to suggest that she is—advocates would still not approve of Todd’s tactics.
Equality Alabama Executive Director Alex Smith issued a statement saying: “Outing someone without their permission or against their will is an act of violence. Representative Todd’s comments about Governor Ivey’s real or perceived sexual orientation present rumor as fact and are reckless and unacceptable.”
Smith called the social media posts “cheap political gossip” that “does nothing to serve the LGBTQ community and only works to its detriment”—strong words, especially considering that Smith referred to Todd in an interview with the Montgomery Advertiser as “someone [he has] looked up to for so long.”
Still, Smith had some criticism for the word choice in Ivey’s denial, telling the Advertiser that the “disgusting” descriptor made him recall “all those times in [his] life when [he] was made to feel disgusting.”
In a state like Alabama, being outed as LGBT during the middle of a re-election campaign would be potentially catastrophic.
It is one of only five states in the United States—along with neighboring Georgia and Tennessee—that the Movement Advancement Project ranks as having a negative overall policy on LGBT issues. On the Human Rights Campaign’s State Equality Index, Alabama was ranked as having a “high priority to achieve basic equality”—the most dire designation in the index.
Indeed, whether Todd intended her comments as a retaliation for perceived hypocrisy or not, those deleted social media posts still leverage anti-LGBT bias to, as Smith put it, deliver “sucker punches” to a politician—a practice that is referred to as “gay-baiting,” and that can be deployed whether the politician is actually LGBT or not.
Gay-baiting is unfortunately common in U.S. electoral politics, even today.
Most recently, for example, Texas Governor Greg Abbott was accused by Houston’s OutSmart magazine of “subtly gay-baiting” potential Democratic opponent Lupe Valdez earlier this month in a television ad that includes a quote from Valdez about her partner Lindsay Brown: “My partner is a very strong, independent chiropractor. For me to try to tell her what she should do with her body, she would tell me what to do with my mouth.”
The Dallas Morning News asked if Abbott “was trying to reinforce that Valdez is gay,” and the campaign replied that the quote was meant to “remind people that [she] is anti-life,” meaning that she supports abortion rights.
So, while it’s not surprising that gay-baiting would work its way into a gubernatorial election in 2018, it’s certainly disappointing that it did. Arguably no state needs such an episode less than Alabama.