Jim West as a role model

The antigay, long-closeted, recently outed Spokane, Wash., mayor is one big bad apple, but he’s still one of us. We should condemn his hypocrisy, sure, but let’s also try to learn from his actions

BY Karel

June 16 2005 12:00 AM ET

Spokane, Wash., mayor Jim West is gay. Slice it, dice it, mince it anyway you want it, but the fact is, you can’t get much gayer than (allegedly) seducing 18-year-old guys.I know this doesn't sit well with the Log Cabin Republicans. They issued a statement almost immediately calling for his resignation before any of the allegations could be proved true or false, with LCR national president Patrick Guerriero saying, "If all or any of the allegations of sexual misconduct are true, then the Mayor should resign immediately." The National Lesbian and Gay Task Force issued a similar statement, with the mainstream media interpreting both as "Gay Groups Distance Themselves From West" according to numerous headlines at the Google News Site (news.google.com). That take also trickled into the blogosphere at www.lgbt.com, a popular gay and lesbian news blog.Everyone is having the wrong dialogue here.First, there’s the outing, perpetrated several weeks back by the Spokane newspaper, which entrapped the mayor by hiring a “forensic” computer expert to pose as a boy who was supposed to be 17 when the exposé started. I’m not for outing, usually. I know why it’s done. This guy was hurting the community, and the community—or at least the local paper—wanted to strike back and say How can you do this while you yourself are gay? Everyone look at what a hypocrite this person is.Valid. But turn the coin around. Do openly gay people like it when attacks are launched against their character by someone with an opposing political agenda? It happens all the time, and we don’t like it. Our enemies use our sexuality as a weapon of some kind. With West, the same thing is happening, except the roles of attacker and victim have been reversed.He’s right, as far as that goes. Two men identified themselves to the local newspaper in alleging they were molested as minors by West in the late 1970s and early ’80s, back when he was a sheriff’s deputy and a Boy Scout leader. Other claims have been made anonymously or in the context of accusations primarily against a fellow sheriff. Yet West is not under fire for purported pedophilia. He vehemently denies these 30-year-old allegations, which are the accusers’ words against his, and law enforcement is not only not investigating him about such crimes, it has not lifted a finger to do so, as far as we know.No, West is under fire simply for being gay—and under FBI investigation for allegedly dangling city jobs and other favors in front of potential male tricks. Essentially, he got caught doing what sugar daddies have been doing since Aristotle’s time: playing the mentor to younger men who might then have paid him back in trade. Did he abuse the power of his office? Maybe. But he wasn’t found out by real reporting; he was set up. Trapped.Again, where’s the ethics when the newspaper creates the news? They hired someone to trap this guy, and it worked. So the paper created the story. It’s exactly like undercover cops wagging their penises in bathrooms across America to pin a lewd-conduct fine of $1,500 or more on some poor guy who responds. It stinks.Now, I’m not sad for the mayor. He deserves all this negativity because he brought it upon himself through his actions. He lied, lived a double life, and condemned the very actions he was engaging in secretly. But the question is, When do we condone witch hunts against fellow gay people?The dialogue topic should be What caused this guy to be so self-loathing? How did he become such a hater of his own community that he would legislate against it, denounce it, and feel so isolated from it? Why was he so scared of his own desires that he staged a dramatic marriage proposal on the floor of the Washington state senate only to divorce the woman five years later? Why did he have so little self-esteem that he felt that the only way anyone would want to sleep with him would be to allegedly lure them with jobs at city hall? How did he end up so messed up—letting his personal secrets put his career and image at such risk?This guy is a by-product of years of bashing, of years of society—especially conservatives—saying that gay is not OK. He’s a by-product of a society that still treats sexuality as one of the most decisive issues in how people are treated, in the opportunities they are afforded, and how much they can achieve. He’s a product of the Falwell/Phelps/Bush/insert-bigot’s-name-here Generation. And yes, he’s gay.The Log Cabin Republicans denouncing him is rich indeed. This is the same group that continually lets their party bash them and gays in general on a national level, yet still wants to play with the GOP so badly that they say Thank you, sir, may I have another? At a time when their resources are badly needed by a party that accepts them, they choose to try to change the GOP from within, all the while knowing it will never happen. The Republican Party has moved so far to the Right that the only thing they want from gays is to leave the country, not take part in running it.And like it or not, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, some gays are going to mess up. They are going to do stupid things. They are going to do bad things. They are going to have contrary opinions. They may not even like other gay people. Nevertheless, they’re still gay.I pity Mayor West not because of the trouble he’s in but because of how he got there. It’s obvious the man has a miserable life of secrecy and self-loathing. If he’s done something criminal, he should be prosecuted like every other criminal. But Gov. Jim McGreevey did basically the same thing in New Jersey (minus the pedophile allegations), and six months later he’s a gay role model, complete with inspirational T-shirt derived from his coming-out press conference: i am a gay american.Why were we so quick to forgive this guy for living in the closet, dragging not one but two innocent women and their children through the mud (his), and giving a job to his allegedly would-be male lover—while we aren’t going to do the same for West? Could it be because McGreevey is a liberal?That would be a sad statement if it were true. Because gays come in all shapes and sizes and political ideologies. Even messed-up ones.Again, no love lost for Jim West. Karma is a bitch. But before we denounce him and help his persecutors drag him through the mud, let’s remember, he is one of us. Like it or not. Let’s use him as an example of what can go wrong in a pressure-cooker society more concerned with whom we sleep with than what we do in the “real” world. Let’s use him as an example of why closets are for clothes. And let’s get Lambda Legal or another organization to help him out with those sugar daddy accusations—or do we only afford lawyers to more honorable victims of witch hunts? We have gay criminals, too, you know. Do we not defend them? Not their actions; them.We are many things. Not all of them good. But from the bad we can start a dialogue about what went wrong with West and how and why. It can be a learning experience; understanding from pain. West is not Jeffrey Dahmer—he didn’t cook and eat his dates. He is accused of getting them jobs. Yes, he evidently liked ’em young. So? Many straight men his age sleep with 18- to 20-year-old girls who then end up as secretaries or interns (Ms. Lewinsky, please see the man at the counter). It’s not right, but it happens. In all walks of life.If he molested boys in the 1970s, he needs therapy and a jail cell and possibly chemical castration. If he didn’t, he needs therapy and, heaven forbid, a little understanding. We don’t have to condone what he did, but we can try and understand why he did it, and try to foster an environment where it couldn’t happen again. And we can acknowledge that there are messed-up gays just like there are messed-up straights. If we want to be truly equal, we have to acknowledge our barrel contains bad apples too, just like our nongay counterparts’.I don’t like this guy. This thing couldn’t have happened to a nice person. He is one twisted bi or gay man if everything said is true. But notice I used the word gay in there. And since I’m gay, I’m acknowledging it can happen here, in my community. We have messy people doing messy things. And I can ask why. I can try and understand, then, hopefully, go about changing some of the attitudes or situations that fostered such terrible behavior, in order to prevent it from happening in my community again.I can learn from this guy’s mistakes. Even if the only lesson is that we are exactly the same as straight people when it comes to having criminals or crazy people in our midst. And I can remind straights that, like those straights who do terrible things, I do not believe they are all pedophiles, rapists, or (like the father who allegedly stabbed his beautiful daughter, Laura Hobbs, and her friend Krystal Tobias in Illinois on Mother’s Day) child killers. Just like not all gay people are alleged child-molesting, self-hating, lawbreaking politicians.

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