There is something more than a little bizarre with the latest Washington feeding frenzy over Sen. Larry Craig. Don't get me wrong. I think what Sen. Craig did in the men's bathroom in Minneapolis was gross and sleazy. But is it really worthy of the press attention it has received this week? I just can't imagine a Democratic member of Congress being subjected to the same treatment if the facts, as we know them so far, were identical.
Let's say that Senator X, a prominent Democrat, was alleged to have, on rare occasion, solicited homosexual acts in public places. He never touched anyone or exposed himself or did anything else overtly illegal or anti-social, but merely tried to engage other men he thought might be gay by making eye contact or through surreptitious hand signals or, as in Craig's case, toe-tapping.
There were never any complaints against Sen. X by heterosexual men who were offended by his overtures. And only one or two gay men had ever come forward to say he had engaged in consensual sex acts with Sen. X. Then, Sen. X gets arrested in what appears to be a questionable sting.
The sting goes down like this: Police officers are set up to hang around a public bathroom known to be a favorite cruising spot for gay men. Sen. X comes into the bathroom and then stands outside a stall occupied by one of the policemen, who is there to catch gay men.
According to the actual police report, Sen. X did not overtly solicit sex or make illegal sexual contact with the police officer but merely looked through the crack of an occupied stall from a distance of three feet, then entered an adjoining stall, tapped his toes a few times, and swiped his hand along the bottom of the bathroom stall divider three times.
Now this behavior might have been annoying, even offensive, if the man in the other stall were there attending to bodily functions. But he wasn't. He was a police officer who was there solely to catch homosexual men soliciting others for consensual sex.
If Democratic Sen. X's hypothetical arrest ever made it into the papers -- doubtful, unless the senator chose to make it public -- I suspect the tone of the coverage would be rather different than Sen. Craig's treatment.
I can just imagine the Washington Post inveighing against police entrapment and homophobia and demanding that the private sex lives of politicians remain private unless their behavior involved an abuse of their official duties.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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