Will persistent rumors?and a new movie?slow Florida?s ambitious Governor?

Will persistent rumors?and a new movie?slow Florida?s ambitious Governor?

For his new documentary, Outrage, Oscar nominated filmmaker Kirby Dick has found an appealing target: closeted politicians who work against LGBT equality. And right off the bat, he raises the stakes beyond the merely salacious.

“There exists a brilliantly orchestrated conspiracy to keep gay and lesbian politicians as deeply closeted as possible,” intones the narration. “This conspiracy is so powerful that the media will not cover it, even though it profoundly harms many Americans.”

And with his first arrow, Dick hits a bulls-eye. Outrage opens with the squirmingly incriminating audio tape of police interrogating Congressman Larry Craig after his arrest for solicitation in a bathroom at the Minneapolis airport.

“I’m a respectable person!” Craig protests. “I’m not gay! I don’t do these things!”

You don’t know whether to pity him or hate him, although the latter comes easily.

Dick recounts at least a dozen stories of politicians who were once or remain closeted, despite glaring evidence to the contrary, and often despite voting records hostile to their not-so-hidden nature. Among the most compelling—and ultimately questionable—is that of Florida Governor Charlie Crist.

Outrage offers scant new evidence that Crist is gay, but the circumstantial case has always been seductive. The movie played to packed houses in suburban Orlando for two weeks. It premiers in the Bay Area on July 15 at the Tampa Pitcher Show on Dale Mabry. The one-time 7 p.m. showing will benefit 88.5 WMNF community radio.

For LGBT viewers and all Floridians, Outrage should spark a reconsideration of our state’s transparently ambitious candidate-in-chief. After just three years as governor, and with numerous dead-serious problems either unresolved or worsening, Crist has announced that he will once again run for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by the retiring Mel Martinez.

Why do we keep electing this man?
Other than his proven electability, Crist’s background is singularly unimpressive. Like a certain recently retired president, he achieved neither academic nor professional success before entering the Republican political pipeline.

The second oldest of four children, Crist moved to St. Petersburg with his family in 1960. His father, still a respected physician, was elected to the Pinellas County School Board.

Crist attended Wake Forest University before transferring to Florida State. He graduated from a third-tier law school and took the bar exam several times before passing. His legal career began in the early 1980s as an intern with the State Attorney’s office. He then worked as counsel for a minor league baseball association before settling into private practice with his brother-in-law in St. Petersburg.

Crist won election to the state senate in 1996 and served one term without distinction. In 1998 he ran unsuccessfully against Bob Graham for U.S. Senate, but a year later Gov. Jeb Bush tapped him for a state administrative job. He parlayed that into Republican—and popular—support and won election first as Education Commissioner and then Attorney General. He was easily elected governor in 2006 against uninspired Democratic competition.

Not an academic, not a standout lawyer, and not particularly effective in any of his state positions, what qualifies Crist to be governor and now senator? Put another way: Why do we keep electing him?

Tan, handsome, friendly and affectionate, he reportedly has a Clintonesque charisma that makes everyone he encounters feel connected and cared for—without the brusque ego that burns bridges.

“There are very few public officials at any level who have his charisma, good looks and communication skills,” Tallahassee based media consultant Ron Sachs said during Crist’s campaign for governor. “He makes people feel good when they watch him on TV because he’s believable. He’s a star.”

He also likes to tell people what they want to hear, regardless of his beliefs or ability to deliver. The result? An absence of effective leadership in a state with overwhelming challenges, but also enormous potential.

Consider Crist’s empty promises to manage true reform in the critical areas of property taxes and homeowner’s insurance. Or his wan oversight of a state budget that depends on gambling, raided trust funds and federal bailout money to limp along. Or his flip-flop on offshore drilling and Lake Okeechobee restoration.

Nowhere has Crist’s unprincipled attempt to be all things to all people been more transparent, dishonest and destructive than in the area of LGBT rights.

When Christian conservatives placed a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and its “substantial equivalent” on the 2008 ballot, Crist first sought cover. But in an apparent move to solidify his conservative credentials, Crist—who was then being promoted as John McCain’s running mate—came out in support of Amendment 2 just weeks before the election. It passed by less than two percentage points, due in part to the votes of moderates taking a cue from their “live and let live” governor.   

“His choice to support Amendment 2 was purely political; it’s not something he believes at all,” says Dick. “And that’s really unforgiveable; to vilify a whole group of people just to get elected.”

While being considered as a vice-presidential candidate, Crist also expressed opposition to gay adoption for the first time. And he got engaged to Carole Rome, a sexy and wealthy socialite he’d dated for several months. On the heels of Amendment 2, LGBT activist group Impact Florida protested their January wedding in St. Petersburg. 

“I love women”
Outrage is about politicians who live in the closet, and Dick never backs away from his assertion that Charlie Crist is one of them. He chronicles Crist’s early and brief marriage to a woman who now lives with her female partner, his limited and opportunistic dating since, and the rumors—widely accepted across the political spectrum—that have swirled around him since his rise to prominence. 

But unlike Craig and many others profiled, there are no arrests and no firsthand accounts of gay sex proffered against Crist. 

The most compelling evidence that he is gay was first uncovered by New Times Broward-Palm Beach reporter Bob Norman while Crist was running for governor. According to two credible sources, a handsome young GOP staffer named Jason Wetherington told friends at different parties that he had sex with Crist. When Norman confronted him outside his Fort Lauderdale apartment complex, Wetherington admitted being gay but denied having sex with Crist.

“The only way I would have said that is if I was really drunk,” he said.

Others told Norman that another sometime GOP operative and convicted felon, Bruce Carlton Jordan, had bragged about being Crist’s long-term partner. Two sources, Dee Dee Hall and Jay Vass, made sworn statements to that effect.

Norman acknowledges that there is no direct proof that what either Wetherington or Jordan claimed about their relationship with Crist is true, but it seems clear that they made those claims. Crist’s responses have been deft, if concerning. When questioned by Norman, he denied having sex with either man, denied having sex with any man, and denied even knowing Jordan. Jordan’s father told Norman the two have been friends for years.

In fact, Crist has been asked many times if he’s gay, and he’s never so much as raised a dark eyebrow. The following 2006 exchange with WQYK-FM radio personality Dave McKay—a Crist supporter—is typical.

“Are you a homo? asked McKay.

“No, man. No. I love women. I mean, they’re wonderful,” responded Crist.

But there is additional anecdotal evidence suggesting otherwise. In 2006, Reform Party gubernatorial candidate Max Linn, a successful businessman who has known Crist for decades, said that Crist himself told him he is gay. St. Pete restaurateur Rick Calderoni has made the same claim.

And when Dick tracked down an ex-girlfriend she responded with this tantalizing email: “I think I should just keep my mouth shut. Call me in 10 years, and KDick_979181576.jpgI’ll tell you a great story.”  

But as out-happy journalist Michaelangelo Signorile said, in the case of Crist no “smoking dick” has been found. Crist seems unconcerned as he launches his campaign for the U.S. Senate, further positioning himself for a run at the presidency.

Dark, unhealthy places
In Outrage, now openly gay former New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey makes an ironic observation.

“Being in the closet takes you to dark, unhealthy places,” he says. “But it teaches you skills that serve you well in politics.”

Crist has an uncanny ability to connect superficially, to deflect criticism and conflict, and to straddle even the most pitched political fences. Outrage director Dick believes this is because Crist is gay. Others are still not convinced.
But his disappointing record as state senator, Education Commissioner, Attorney General and governor is clear. This is not a man who has earned another single vote—for any office.

“Here’s a person who really wants to make everyone happy; that’s the way I see Crist,” says Dick. “I do not see him as a visionary.”

Or as anything resembling a friend to the LGBT community.

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