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Last Thursday, Pennsylvania state representative Babette Josephs of Philadelphia was captured on audio at a fundraiser challenging the sexuality of her Democratic primary opponent Gregg Kravitz, who is bisexual. On the recording, made by a Kravitz supporter who attended the event, the incumbent legislator suggested that Kravitz had lied about his sexuality for political advantage in the progressive 182nd district encompassing the heavily gay neighborhood of Center City.
"I outed him as a straight person," Josephs said on the recording, first reported by The Philadelphia Inquirer, "and now he goes around telling people, quote, 'I swing both ways.' That's quite a respectful way to talk about sexuality. This guy's a gem."
Audience members can be heard laughing in the background, some with audible discomfort.
At another point in the recording, Josephs seems to imply that Kravitz cannot be trusted because of his bisexuality.
"There will be cheating if he can get away with it, because he already has tried to lie to people about a whole bunch of stuff, including his sexuality," says Josephs.
Josephs, 70, is a longtime supporter of gay rights, and she enjoys the endorsement of Philadelphia's LGBT political establishment. That pedigree makes her comments kosher or treif, depending on who is asked. Either way, the "straight baiting" introduces a new twist to LGBT electoral politics, in a week when challenges to bisexual identity percolate in headlines, thanks to a discrimination lawsuit filed against a gay softball league on behalf of three bisexual players from the Bay Area.
Kravitz, a 29-year-old former stock trader, roundly denounced the remarks by Josephs in an interview with The Advocate.
"That's completely inappropriate," he said. "The way in which my opponent mocked me is very damaging to members of the LGBT community questioning whether to come out. It sends the message that you are subjecting yourself to ridicule, even from allies."
"These are all lies," he said. "I never discussed my sexuality with Babette Josephs."
Josephs, however, said she recalls an exchange with Kravitz about his personal life in late December.
"Yes, he referred to himself as gay in a conversation I had with him," she said. "At the time I was wondering, Does this really matter? But I really, truly do not want to get into this."
The veteran legislator, who e-mailed a link to her LGBT record, said critics were missing the bigger issue -- the choice between a tested ally and a newcomer.
"My point was personal sexuality is not at issue here," she said. "What's at issue here is a record of accomplishment for the LGBT community in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania."
The free-speaking grandmother and widow launched one more dart before hanging up.
"Furthermore, he has referred to me as old and to himself as the new guy," she said, alluding to the undercurrent of ageism in the campaign.
For his part, Kravitz, who said he is currently dating a woman he met in January, does not see the need to trumpet his sexuality, although if elected, he would make history as the first openly bisexual state legislator in Pennsylvania.
"I don't view my sexuality as a qualification for office, and therefore I don't discuss it openly," said Kravitz. "I do not expect nor do I want someone to vote for me because I am a member of the LGBT community, and I would hope someone would not vote against me because of it, either."
Micah Kellner, the first openly bisexual state assemblyman in New York, can identify with that approach. He said that his experience during his 2007 campaign makes him doubt that anyone would grab the mantle of bisexuality for political gain.
"As an openly bisexual man, I was subjected to some horrific things you would never ask a straight or gay person," he said. "People asked me, 'How many sexual partners do you have? Who do you prefer to have sex with more?' Literally. How does someone prove they are bisexual?"
"I don't know either of these two people, but I really take concern with someone attacking him," Kellner told The Advocate. "It promotes the myth that bisexuality isn't real."
Part of the problem, say supporters of Josephs, is the style adopted by Kravitz, whom they consider a relative unknown.
"He's not very forthcoming," said Philadelphia Gay News publisher Mark Segal, who has endorsed Josephs. "It's the kind of district that if you were gay, you would be."
Segal, who takes Kravitz at his word, said that anyone familiar with the dynamics of the 182nd district would see the humor in the episode, which attests to the political maturity of Philadelphia's pioneering LGBT community.
"This is probably the only race in America where a candidate who is claiming to be a member of the LGBT community is actually being questioned by members of the LGBT community and other candidates if he is," said Segal.
Whether or not that means progress depends on the beholder, but one thing is certain.
"Being an openly bisexual man in the context of a political campaign is not easy," said Kravitz. "There are people who will question that."