In some parts of the country, any issue involving “gay” is not something to be discussed among polite company. Take, for instance, the recent gay rumors involving South Carolina’s right-wing lieutenant governor, Andre Bauer. Ever since a mini scandal erupted this summer over the 40-year-old bachelor’s love life, Bauer and most of the South Carolina press have gone silent.
The sordid story involving Bauer all began when South Carolina’s GOP governor Mark Sanford made national headlines in June after mysteriously disappearing for almost a week. The truth soon came out regarding his whereabouts -- the married Sanford was canoodling with his self-described “soul mate” (a.k.a. mistress) in Argentina.
Pressure mounted on Sanford to step down. To encourage Sanford’s resignation, Lieutenant Governor Bauer -- who supported Mike Huckabee in the 2008 presidential election -- offered to forgo running for governor in 2010 so that he could take over for Sanford and focus on governing instead of future elections and campaigns.
But Sanford refused to resign.
Things got infinitely more complicated on August 31 when Mike Rogers, a blogger who outs antigay politicians, reported that Bauer was a closet case.
“So, what is the deal with Bauer?” wrote Rogers. “I have confirmed and spoken to four individuals who I have no doubt are telling me the truth. These men have been hit on by Bauer, with one of them telling me it happened at least five times since Bauer's election in 2003. Then another call came in and I met with the source while he was visiting D.C. recently. ‘He's gay,’ the source told me. ‘How do you know?’ I asked. ‘Because I've had sex with him on two separate occasions.’”
Bauer hasn’t said a word about the allegations, but in a June interview with the South Carolina newspaper The State, the reporter asked him if he's gay. His response: “One word, two letters. No.”
Bauer’s office didn’t respond to repeated calls for comment from Advocate.com.
The story grew even more salacious in early September when South Carolina state senator Jake Knotts -- a longtime Sanford enemy -- wrote a letter to his state’s legislature that repudiated the gay reports surrounding Bauer and accused Sanford’s camp of spreading them. Knotts elaborated on his feelings in an interview with CNN. “I have known Andre since he was 8 years old,” Knotts said. “Ain't a homosexual bone in his body. That boy is a good boy. It's just an attempt to prevent Andre from becoming governor.”
He continued, “Every time I have seen Andre and as long as I've known him, he's always had a pretty girlfriend. They love him, he treats them well, he treats them nice, he treats them with respect. He doesn't hang out in bars and go from woman to woman. Everybody that knows Andre knows for sure he ain't been seen hanging on to no damn man.”
Ben Fox, Sanford’s communications director, has refuted Knotts’s claims that the governor is responsible for the gay rumors.
“This letter is simply wrong and in that regard, as bizarre as many of the other claims and attacks of recent weeks," he said in a statement to Politico in September. “Some have even argued this indeed points to an obsession with slandering anyone who tries to change the ‘good ol’ boy’ system of politics in Columbia. South Carolina is facing serious challenges, and the governor is dedicated to addressing these challenges alongside other members of the Legislature committed to the same. We have a state capital with too much spending, too little transparency, and as shown by this letter, at times too many political attacks.”
Since the claims have come out, Bauer has been asked several times for answers about the allegations over his sexual orientation, to no avail. In the interview with The State mentioned above, Bauer said that even asking whether the rumors were true was inappropriate.
“We’re a long way from where we were a week ago,” Bauer said, referring to talk about Governor Sanford’s possible departure from office following the Argentinean fiasco. “We have diverted what the real topic should be here: Is the governor capable for carrying on the duties for which he was elected?"
And while mainstream websites like Politico and The Huffington Post picked up on the story, Bauer's allegations that this is nothing more than a smoke-and-mirrors attempt by the Sanford camp to deflect attention seem to have satisfied the South Carolina press...for now. Even a Wikipedia entry on Bauer that once had an entire section titled “Allegations Regarding [Bauer’s] Sexual Orientation” has had that chapter excised.
Like many a closeted politician before him, Bauer seems to be rising through the ranks while shrouding his speculated private life, and his willingness to have key allies vouch for his straightness, while purporting a conspiracy that Sanford and his camp are out to get him, may well help him in the short run.
As for the long run, well...that's one for the blogs.