Metro Weekly

Anti-gay Virginia lawmaker discovered cruising Grindr

College student tipped off news outlet; editor declined to reveal man's identity

Photo: Virginia General Assembly via Flickr; Image by JD Uy
Photo: Virginia General Assembly via Flickr | Photo illustration: JD Uy

It seems the snow that blanketed much of the Mid-Atlantic region was too much to take for one closeted Virginia lawmaker.

GayRVA, a gay news website in Richmond, was tipped off by a local college student that a member of the GOP from southwestern Virginia was using Grindr in search of a hookup.

The site posted screenshots of the lawmaker’s conversation with the student, which included a picture of the lawmaker’s torso and face, the latter of which was blacked out. GayRVA editor Brad Kutner then posted an open letter to the lawmaker criticizing him for past votes on LGBT issues.

“[Let’s] also talk about your role as a legislator and how it impacts and affects LGBTQ people in the rest of the Commonwealth,” Kutner wrote, before adopting a snarky tone, calling the lawmaker “grrl” and noting that he had fabricated his age (“Speaking of age, you totally lied on your profile – also tacky!”).

The Grindr-cruising lawmaker has voted:

  • In favor of a “conscience clause” exemption allowing adoption agencies to discriminate against same-sex couples.
  • In favor of allowing on-campus university clubs and groups to discriminate against LGBT individuals for the purposes of membership.
  • Against an amendment that would have prohibited anti-LGBT discrimination in state employment.
  • Against the nomination of Judge Tracy Thorne-Begland, Virginia’s first openly gay judge, to the Richmond General District Court.
Courtesy GayRVA
Courtesy GayRVA

Kutner decided not to reveal the lawmaker’s identity, remarking in an editor’s note that outing someone can seem “tacky or vengeful.” He added that although the lawmaker has an anti-gay record, he has not been one of the most vocal opponents of the community.

Still, online commenters have noted that the clues provided by Kutner essentially come close to revealing the lawmaker’s identity — for instance, while many Republicans voted against Thorne-Begland’s nomination for a judgeship when he was first nominated in 2012, only four currently-serving Republican lawmakers from Southwest Virginia were in the legislature and voted against Thorne-Begland’s subsequently successful nomination in 2013.

In an interview with Metro Weekly, Kutner said he’s received several requests from readers interested in learning the man’s identity.

“A Grindr conversation alone is debatable evidence,” Kutner says. “That certainly played a role into whether or not I wanted to out somebody, without really confirming things.

“The second part of it was that, considering the degree of anti-LGBTQ animosity in the Virginia legislature, this person could be a lot worse,” he continues. “And if you’re familiar with Southern Virginia, Central Virginia, there’s a lot of people in the closet here. You can be fired in Virginia, and I have no doubt this legislator would lose his job if he was outed like that. And Lord knows, I’ve gotten a lot of folks demanding his head. But I think there’s something to be said for taking the high road on this, and realizing that this is an issue that a lot of people struggle with.”

Courtesy GayRVA
Courtesy GayRVA

Kutner hopes the lawmaker will use this incident to think carefully the next time he’s faced with an LGBT-related piece of legislation, such as restricting the bathroom use of transgender students in school or granting county court clerks an exemption to refuse to issue marriage licenses.

“I’ve been asked about outing people before, and I’m just not of the mind that it’s a real classy thing to do,” says Kutner. “Whoever this guy is, he’s probably not the first or the last legislator who gets excited to come to Richmond because their Grindr gets a lot better. One of the reasons I was anonymous about this was because I’m sure there are other legislators just like him doing the same thing. And hopefully, they’ll look at this and think the next time they vote, the next time they get on Grindr. “

But for those who insist that Kutner has a duty to “out” the closeted gay lawmaker, he says they’re missing the larger point: that the atmosphere in Virginia is so toxic that a person in a position of power feels the need to stay in the closet. 

“All anyone wants to know is who the legislator is,” he says. “Nobody’s asking, ‘What can we do to fix this problem? What can we do to make the climate here in Virginia for people to not have to do this?’

“I’m not surprised to see people go on this witch-hunt, but outing this person is not going to make it illegal to fire gay people, it’s not going to remove the anti-gay animus. Honestly, it’s only going to make things more combative. Maybe we should take this opportunity to realize that there’s really something wrong, and [think about] what can we do to make it better, not to troll the Internet to solve a riddle.”

Kutner suggests those who support LGBT rights channel become more politically engaged and take an active role in urging Virginia lawmakers to do right by the community.

“Instead, we are flipping out to find out who’s gay — which is the same thing they’re doing,” he says. “Can you imagine Victoria Cobb right now, figuring out who she can out and try and ruin? It’s scary and weird. I’m not surprised by the reaction, but I would definitely like to see this energy shifted to a bit more of a positive place.”

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