Published in: November-December 2007 issue.


“Mervgate” That’s what people were calling a short-lived but intriguing incident that occurred after the death of talk-show host and game-show mogul Merv Griffin. To say that rumors about Merv’s sexual orientation had been flying for years would be an understatement, and while he always had a “beard” at award ceremonies and the like—the trademark of his generation’s gay “gentlemen”—there was never much doubt in anyone’s mind. (After all, he was friends with both Liz and Liza; and there was that gay palimony suit in 1991.) But when it came to memorializing the man who gave us Jeopardy!, most of the mainstream media politely skirted the whole issue in their obits. But then the very official Reuters/Hollywood Reporter ran an on-line story (8/17/07) under the headline, “Merv Griffin Died a Closeted Homosexual,” written by Ray Richmon, who admits that “I had more than a passing acquaintance with him, having worked on The Merv Griffin Show as a talent coordinator and segment producer in 1985-86.” The article itself was rather amazing for its honesty and its hint of criticism of Merv’s closetedness. But within hours, the piece had been pulled from the website. Soon after that—following an announcement by Michelangelo Signorile on his radio show—the Reporter was flooded with calls from irate listeners. And it worked: the article was reinstated, albeit in a less prominent spot. So the message seems to be: the media are clueless about what to do in a case like this. One doesn’t speak ill of the dead, but does saying that someone was gay qualify, and isn’t that being homophobic rather than polite? Of course, Merv could have saved all of us a lot of agonizing if he had just come out of the closet and taken a lover to be “survived by” (and to inherit his billions).

Craig’s List All eyes were on Senator Larry Craig of Idaho, whose restroom footsy incident cost him his seat in the Senate, but every joke has already been taken. Here are two lesser-covered incidents that may have slid by some readers:

1. A story that was getting a fair amount of air time until displaced by Craig involved a Republican member of the Florida House of Representatives named Fred Allen, who got busted on a strikingly similar charge, namely attempting to solicit oral sex from an undercover police officer in a public restroom (with an offer of twenty bucks). Needless to say, Rep. Allen has a long history of supporting anti-gay legislation and general gay-baiting. What made his story remarkable was the excuse he provided for his action. In a taped statement to the police, while not denying that he was soliciting sex, he points out that the arresting officer was a “pretty stocky black guy” whom he propositioned because “there was nothing but other black guys around in the park” and he feared for his safety. Get it? No self-respecting black thug is going to interfere with a couple guys havin’ a good time in the men’s room—especially if one of them is black. That was the best he could come up with. You’ve heard of homosexual panic to excuse a homophobic assault; now Allen has invented racial panic to excuse a homosexual advance!

2. Continuing down the political food chain, next is the case of Glenn Murphy Jr., 33, chairman of the Clark County (Indiana) Republican Party and recently elected president of the Young Republican National Federation, who resigned from both posts in the wake of a criminal investigation stemming from an alleged sexual assault. Murphy is accused of performing oral sex on a 22-year-old man as he slept in a relative’s home. What’s more, this is not his first alleged act of narcophilia (if that’s a word): he was accused but never charged in a similar case in 1987. That fellatio occurred in the latest incident is not in dispute, so Murphy can’t use the “I’m not gay” defense à la Senator Craig. In fact, his contention is that the oral sex was consensual (out comes Murphy!), which throws the spotlight back on the sleeping victim—if indeed one can be the “victim” of a blowjob.

Equal Liability We all favor ENDA laws to stop workplace discrimination, and many states, including California, have such a law. But the principle cuts both ways, and now the former director of California’s LifeCycle fund-raiser has sued two hiv/aids sponsoring companies, claiming they fired him because he’s straight. Jeffrey Shapiro claims he was told when handed his pink slip that the groups “needed somebody who better fit into the culture”—words he took as terms of art for “you’re not gay.” Just for the record, no one we know refers to the GLBT community as “the culture,” and it’s not at all clear how one would “fit into” it.

Chronicle This! A recent “Guest Opinion” (May-June 2007) featured Hampshire College president Ralph Hexter discussing his position as an openly gay college president. Hexter was aware of only one other GLBT person in a similar position in the U.S. at the time. Months later, a piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education remarked that there are now three openly gay college presidents. Soon after that (8/7/07), the Chronicle’s on-line blog printed something of a correction, offering a list of eight such individuals and noting that “several presidents have written to ask: ‘What about us?’” It does seem a sign of progress when college presidents are clamoring not to be ignored by the Chronicle—which complied by offering a revised list. And here it is: Sean T. Buffington, University of the Arts; Ralph J. Hexter, Hampshire College; Michael J. Hoyle, McIntosh College; Theodora J. Kalikow, University of Maine at Farmington; Neal King, Antioch University at Los Angeles; Charles R. Middleton, Roosevelt University; Tullise (Toni) A. Murdock, Antioch University; and James Warwick, American Academy of Dramatic Arts.

By Popular Demand Larry Craig it is. What really did him in was not the Minneapolis Airport but the Boise Statesman, which was sitting on years of research that struck the fear of GOP in him (i.e., his Republican colleagues, who ditched him in a DC nano-second). The most serious finding was the allegation by a man who said he’d had sex with Craig at Washington’s Union Station in 2004. (But the reports go back to 1967.) So we get his MO—a familiar enough pattern for deeply closeted, often married, gay men. And if you listen to that tape the arresting officer made with Craig describing his “wide stance” and raising the spectre of “entrapment,” it sounds like he’s been through this drill before.