Covering: One man's story The president of the PlanetOut Inc. division that owns The Advocate was asked to stop kissing his partner by an angry cab driver. Has this ever happened to you?
Interviewed by Kellee Terrell
An Advocate.com exclusive posted October 29, 2006
As The Advocate was preparing its special report on "covering"—the pressure to downplay our gay identities in public—a New York taxi ride turned into a upsetting covering incident for one of our own. On the evening of October 2, Bob Cohen, president of the magazine division of PlanetOut (our parent company) boarded a cab at Newark international airport along with his partner. On the way to Manhattan, the couple were shocked when their cab driver angrily demanded—in the midst of expressway traffic—that they stop showing affection for each other.
For Cohen, the episode raised broader questions about covering. Do most Advocate readers feel safer expressing affection in public than they once did? Or has our visible progress simply put us at greater risk of abuse by those who resent it? “I think these incidents may be on the upswing,” Cohen said in an interview. “I’d like to know what our readers think.”
The cab driver actually demanded that the two of you stop showing affection?
As we reached the Lincoln Tunnel, I leaned in and gave my partner what I believed to be a very chaste kiss on the cheek. The driver suddenly turned around and yelled, “Please stop doing that. It's not allowed in my taxi!” I couldn't believe what I was hearing. “Excuse me?” I asked. He answered, “I don't allow that kind of behavior in my cab. It shows disrespect.” Never did he straight-out say “gay,” but I strongly doubt that if we were a straight couple he would have had an issue—even though he claimed that didn't matter.
What happened next? He slowed down in the middle of the expressway, still ranting. I thought he was going to kick us out of the cab. While he sped up again, I kept talking. At this point my partner kicked me and motioned me to stop agitating the driver—which I did. I sat back and became silent, and we stopped touching. We finally got home and I paid the cabbie. I didn't want this to escalate to violence by skipping out on the fare. But I didn't tip him.
What were you feeling during all this? Of course, I was angry and shocked—this had never happened before, not to me, not to anyone else I knew. I also felt shamed, like when you go to a foreign country and you don't realize something is against their local custom, like, “You can't wear white on a Friday.” Sadly, I felt like an abused second-class citizen. I was being told that I couldn't act out natural and normal acts. We were being asked to modify our behavior because gay public displays of affection make others uncomfortable. Who would think that in the back of a cab, in a metropolitan area, in the 21st century, this would be happening?
Do you think that when you stopped being affectionate, the cabbie “won”? No, he just reestablished control of the environment. He may have won this skirmish, but it's a long war we are fighting here for equality.
Do you think this incident has anything to do with the fact that the driver hailed from the Caribbean, which is not known for being especially gay-friendly?
As a great-grandchild of immigrants, I do celebrate diversity, but one of the consequences of that is, clashing with people who come from more traditional, homophobic societies. Of course we want to respect them, but if they operate within our American framework, they need to understand what society they have entered.
Did you report what happened to the taxi and limousine commission? We are in the process of making a complaint to the Newark Taxi cab company. We don't want him to get fired; we want him to get reeducated.
How widespread do you think this is? I think these incidents may be on the upswing. I’d like to know what our readers think.
TELL US YOUR STORY: Have you ever been forced to cover in a taxi—or in some other public environment? In no more than 400 words, tell us what happened. Be sure to include your name, age, occupation, and city of residence. If we decide to publish your story in the magazine, we will ask you to send us a photo of yourself and your partner. Send your submission to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Evangelical Pastor Scandal 2006
Rev. Ted Haggard
|| Q & A ||
Haggard’s escort In a gay press exclusive, Mike Jones, a male escort from Denver, tells The Advocate he revealed his “sexual business relationship” with evangelical leader Ted Haggard to expose the hypocrisy in Haggard’s support for a proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. But he says he doesn’t wish the prominent pastor, who resigned on November 2, any ill will.
By John Ireland
An Advocate.com exclusive posted November 3, 2006
Mike Jones, a male escort from Denver, says he revealed his “sexual business relationship” with evangelical leader Ted Haggard (pictured) to expose the hypocrisy in Haggard’s support for a proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. But he says he doesn’t wish the prominent pastor any ill will.
Haggard, a married father of five and a close personal advisor to President Bush, resigned his post as president of the 30-million member National Association of Evangelicals on November 2 and has taken a leave from his job as pastor of the 14,000-member New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colo. He has since admitted to some “indiscretions,” including going to Jones for a massage and later purchasing crystal meth from him, but has denied a sexual relationship. Haggard put himself on leave from his church “to allow a panel of four senior pastors, ‘wise ones,’ and spiritual men to oversee the circumstances,” his attorney, Martin Nussbaum, told The Advocate.
Jones alleges Haggard has been paying for sex with him and doing drugs for the last three years. He spoke with The Advocate about his contact with Haggard, the first time he learned of Haggard’s real identity, and why he came forward.
Why now, just days before the midterm election? I really agonized over it for quite a while and finally decided I needed to say something. People have accused me of trying to get money out of [Haggard]. I will tell you that if I wanted to get money out of him, I could have blackmailed him. I chose not to do that, but to do this on principle, for the gay community. We have two initiatives coming up on [the Colorado] ballot, one to amend the constitution [to ban same-sex marriage] and one for domestic-partnership rights. People have accused me of being a puppet, but I have had no contact with any political organization whatsoever on this. I just did it myself.
Did the scandal surrounding former congressman Mark Foley influence your decision? No.
When did you first meet Ted Haggard? Roughly three years ago. I never asked him how he found my number, but I guess it was from a Web site or a newspaper somewhere, because I was advertising at the time as a male escort. When I answered the phone, he indicated he was visiting from Kansas City and that his name was Art. For the first year, he called from a blocked number, then mostly from pay phones from the Colorado Springs area.
When did you first realize who he was?
In the spring of 2006. I was lying on the couch, relaxing, watching the History Channel—a show on the DaVinci Code and the antichrist. All of a sudden, his face came up. They were interviewing him. It was Art. I didn’t get his name, so in my mind I was thinking, I’m going to order a copy of this show, just so I can see who this guy is. To me it was a coincidence. The very next morning at 5 a.m., I was at the gym working out on the treadmill. Somebody the night before had turned the TV to the religious channel and there he was. When I got home and looked him up on the computer, I was like, “Ted Haggard…oh, crap…this guy’s huge.”
What happened next? The Federal Marriage Amendment was coming up in the [U.S.] Senate and I e-mailed [New Life Church] to find out what their stance was. Pastor Joseph Winger replied to my e-mail: “We do think that the Federal Marriage Amendment as endorsed by President Bush is a positive step for our nation. Regarding our views on homosexuality, we believe the Bible promotes marriage as a one man, one woman relationship.” That pissed me off. Then I looked a little closer at some of Haggard’s writings. He was preaching against gay marriage, that our lifestyle “is not what God wants.” I started stewing over it.
When was the last time you saw him? August 7 or 8. I had seen him two or three times after I knew who he was. It was weird. I was really contemplating telling him, “Hey, I know who you are.” I didn’t. I never brought it up to him. And of course, he never offered. He was not emotional at all. He’d pop on over, we’d [have sex]. It was pretty bland. He was never here more than an hour. The only thing he divulged to me at one time was that he was married. He did not seem nervous to me at all.
When did drugs come into the picture? About two years ago he asked, “Hey, Mike, what do you know about meth?" I don’t do it personally, but I know people who do. I told him that some people think it enhances their sexual experience. He asked if I could help him get some. I located someone he could connect with. After that, he got it on his own. The last time he saw me, he was trying to get some and couldn’t, which resulted in him sending me money though the mail in August, postmarked Colorado Springs. He wrote “Art” on the corner of the envelope. I just read that his middle name is Arthur.
As a Christian, have you struggled with your own homosexuality?
I’m not ashamed of it. I’ve never been one to wear a flag on the bumper of my car or on my forehead. I don't go around advertising that I am gay, but I am not ashamed of it. I would stand up and voice my opinion. It’s interesting. I’m pretty well built. Generally, people don’t mess with me when they see my body. If I come out and say, “I’m gay and I don’t appreciate those comments,” I usually get an apology. I’m very manly. People think that we’re all nelly or in drag. I’m just here to say, “I happen to be gay and I could kick your ass.”
Do you think this will have a widespread impact on the nation? I don’t know where this is going to end. We’re all sinners, in some way. Since we’re all really the same, don't try to prevent other people from having an enjoyable life. Let other people have a chance to get married, have a family of some type, whether it’s adoption or whatever…and have a home and enjoy their love for their partner. If you’re going to be up there as an example, you have to lead by example, and I think Haggard failed that.
What are your hopes, if any, for Ted Haggard? You know, I wish him peace. I wish him happiness. I hope whatever happens with this that he’s able to continue on in whatever function in the church that he wants to. I do not wish him ill. I’m sorry that his wife and kids are going to have to suffer through this; I feel terrible about that. But I never contacted him. He contacted me. So, he initiated it.
It's easy to delight in disgraced evangelical leader Ted Haggard’s very public humiliation. Perhaps he deserves that and more. But to stay in harsh judgment would do a great disservice to ourselves and to our hard-won self-respect.
By John Sonego
Sonego is a writer, AIDS activist, and former staff member for the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. He is currently raising four children with his partner, Michael, in Los Angeles.
An Advocate.com exclusive posted November 8, 2006
I once went out with a guy who called his penis “Jackson.” Out of nowhere, he’d say, “Jackson likes this,” or “Jackson likes that,” as if the appendage were actually a separate entity. It didn’t take long for Jackson, his handler, and me to part company, and not just because I wasn’t interested in three-ways. Jackson was the only part of him that wasn’t ashamed to be gay.
I thought of Jackson when evangelical leader Ted Haggard and his three-year relationship with a gay hooker made the headlines. Until he was dismissed in disgrace by his church on November 4, Haggard danced around the fundamental questions of just who he is and what he has done like a champ, dodging and weaving to keep from acknowledging a truth he could no longer avoid.
Haggard and Jackson’s handler had one thing in common—they came from evangelical churches where there was no tolerance for gay sex. Taught that homosexuality is shameful and evil, they did their best to keep a tight lid on impulses that percolated just under the surface. As a coping mechanism, Jackson’s handler could block out that he’d just had sex seconds after the act was done; listening to Haggard’s emphatic denials, I wouldn’t be surprised if pastor Ted did exactly the same thing.
No one may know what actually happened during his trysts with escort Mike Jones, but it was telling to hear Haggard acknowledge what he perceived as smaller sins, buying meth and paying for massages, and studiously denying the big question about a sexual relationship. His was the posture of an addict in denial.
I’ve known too many evangelical men who learn to survive the same way. They live a terrible contradiction with no easy way out. They love God and want to serve him. But they are taught that God hates homosexuality. In such a construct they have no choice. To serve God they must suppress that part of their identity, locking it away in a Pandora’s box.
At some point many of them self-destruct, unable to maintain a life of deception and self-denial. They take greater and greater risks, unconsciously longing for exposure so they can be released from a prison of their own making. The opening prayer to Haggard’s last sermon before the scandal broke says it all: “Father, we pray lies would be exposed and deception exposed.”
The exposure he prayed for came within the week; it took him down, along with his shell-shocked wife and children. The children are the innocent victims of their father’s deceit; in one video clip, you can see the terror in their eyes when dozens of reporters’ microphones were thrust through the windows of the family minivan. Theirs will be a long, hard road.
I feel for them, for Mrs. Haggard, and even for pastor Ted. While there’s no excuse for his endorsement of antigay amendments and condemnation of homosexual behavior from the pulpit, imagine how he must feel knowing what his deception has done to his family.
I’ve been there, done that, albeit on a much smaller scale. After a conversion experience in college, I joined an evangelical campus ministry, eventually serving as a campus pastor after graduation. I saw the ministry and my church as a safety net, a way to keep in check the attraction I had to other men.
I told myself that if I believed strongly enough, prayed hard enough, served diligently enough, God would take these feelings away. But the feelings never left. And like pastor Ted, I acted out in secret.
All through college and after I engaged in anonymous sex in the restrooms of one of the campus buildings, along with dozens of other men who hung out there in late afternoons. I’d leave each encounter ashamed, and if I ever saw someone I’d met on campus, I’d turn the other way. To acknowledge the other party as a real person would make those anonymous acts too personal and too real, no longer an abstraction I could walk away from.
When my neighbor Neera invited me to dinner with her gay friend Tom, he was the first out gay man I’d ever actually talked to. He was a sweet and gentle guy, and suddenly I found myself desperate for a connection to someone who could understand what I’d hidden away for so long. With Neera looking on like a satisfied yenta, we talked nonstop through dessert and beyond. I thought I was falling in love.
That reality provoked the greatest crisis of faith if my young life. I shared my dilemma with my very Christian roommate, who warned me I was on the road to destruction and demanded that I never see Tom again. I couldn’t make that promise; I’d tasted the forbidden fruit and found it good. So my roommate, in the name of Christian charity, called my supervisor at the ministry where I worked and the pastor of my church.
The next day, I was jobless and expelled from my church. At the ripe old age of 26, suddenly friendless and without a job, I felt like my life had ended. But it was the greatest gift I could have been given.
I was forced to face myself: a gay man who was spiritual, a spiritual man who happened to be gay. I couldn’t begin to imagine how my sexuality and spirituality could fit together—but the long process of integration had begun.
For a lot of gay people, especially those who have experienced rejection at the hands of evangelical churches, it is easy to delight in Haggard’s very public humiliation. Perhaps he deserves that and more.
But to stay in that harsh judgment would do a great disservice to ourselves and to our hard-won self-respect. True, Haggard’s a hypocrite; true, he lied and covered up and lied again. But at its core his story is that of a man who was so thoroughly enmeshed in self-denial that he has no clue where to start to learn to live with and accept who he is.
For that he deserves our pity. And perhaps a helping hand, an offer from fellow travelers who know something of the road he must now walk.
Sonego is a writer, AIDS activist, and former staff member for the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. He is currently raising four children with his partner, Michael, in Los Angeles.
|| Commentary ||
Mark Foley’s follies and the Republicans’ quest for power The Mark Foley sex scandal is less about his illness and more about the Republicans’ sickness for power, because the scandal exposes a GOP political machine exploiting queers and children to maintain dominance by any means necessary.
By the Reverend Irene Monroe
Monroe is a Massachusetts-based religion columnist, public theologian, and motivational speaker.
An Advocate.com exclusive posted October 11, 2006
The wedge issue that won the Republicans control of Congress back in the ‘90s will be the same issue that will bring them down this year—queer civil rights.
With the ball now in the GOP’s court, thanks to Florida Republican Mark Foley’s shenanigans with underage congressional pages as his hopeful boy toys, the house that homophobia built for the Republicans is now crumbling like a house of cards.
And with voter confidence in Republicans propitiously diving just weeks before the midterm election and a media frenzy having fun with the story like children playing in autumn leaves, the Foley sex scandal is less about his illness and more about the Republicans’ sickness for power.
In mounting a family values platform where no child is left behind, the Republicans were criminal in their knowing neglect of their pages.
And to equate the problem of Foley’s predatory penchant for young boys to his sexual orientation ignores the gravity of the illness and the overwhelming evidence that shows the preponderance of pedophiles are heterosexual.
But it also ignores the Republicans’ egregious violation of queer civil rights as well as their hubris not to expect the issue on which they willfully trampled to show up again in a way that would embarrass them and possibly lose them seats in the upcoming midterm election.
While I think it’s God writing straight with crooked lines, Gerri Outlaw of Governors State University in Illinois said of the latest news, “I think it’s funny that Republicans have a scandal of this nature and it won’t go away.”
Foley is certainly culpable for his action and should be punished for it. But the real reason the sex scandal won’t go away is because Foley is not the main issue here.
Instead, Foley is the prism through which we see a Republican political machine exploiting queers and children to maintain dominance by any means necessary.
When the question was posed to the Republican speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert of Illinois, about when he knew of Foley’s behavior, the query suggests that others knew that a right course of action could have been pursued. While it also suggests that only a few were privy to Foley’s dark side, many knew at least three years ago. Jim Kolbe, Congress’s only openly gay Republican member, reportedly knew six years ago.
So why did no one speak up?
“History suggests that once a political party achieves sweeping power, it will only be a matter of time before the power becomes the entire point,” editorialized The Boston Globe last week. “Policy, ideology, and ethics all gradually fall away, replaced by a political machine that exists to win elections and dispense the goodies that come as a result.”
Foley also was the “right” queer puppet Republicans needed—politically closeted and ambitiously driven.
His 1996 vote supporting the antigay Defense of Marriage Act would lead you to think he was antiqueer. But Foley’s congressional record suggests otherwise with his pro-queer position on AIDS funding and domestic-partner benefits, his office being a queer-friendly safe zone, and a Human Rights Campaign voting score of 80-plus out of 100. And in his personal life, Foley was out.
But Foley was nonetheless a gatekeeper for the Republicans. His error is not that he is Republican. Foley's error is that he dissociated his queerness from his political ambition.
Politically closeted in order to maintain his voting constituency in a so-called red state, Foley participated in the Republicans’ homophobic drive for political dominance. And now Foley not only finds himself to be expendable to them, but he also finds himself to be their fall guy—as queers were designed to be in this present-day political administration.
When President Bush did not win the popular vote in the 2000 election and it was discovered that at least 3 million conservative evangelicals stayed at home, Bush advisor Karl Rove decided “to expand the base of religious voters with a sharper, harder, more direct message to invigorate the faithful—maybe throw a little sex and fear into the mixture. Bush needed to win reelection, and Karl Rove did not care who had to suffer on the road to victory. Victims were a part of the process. And homosexuals, he concluded, were the perfect enemy,” James Moore and Wayne Slater wrote in this year’s bestseller The Architect: Karl Rove and the Master Plan for Absolute Power.
Many conservative evangelicals blame Foley for his personal immorality and the disgrace he has brought onto the Republican Party.
But the immorality and disgrace is how the Republican Party unabashedly will use children and queers to reach its political goal.
And the institutional dysfunctionality of the Republican Party’s addiction to political dominance reminds me of Lord Acton’s famous statement: “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
The Republican Party lost its soul to gain the world.