The Republican lieutenant governor of Tennessee — where GOP lawmakers have introduced 26 bills attacking the LGBTQ community during this year’s legislative session — has come under scrutiny after it was revealed he commented on several racy Instagram photos posted by a young gay man.
Lt. Gov. Randy McNally posted the comments from his verified account to the Instagram posts of Franklin McClure, whose username is @franklynsuperstar, a 20-year-old from Knoxville who has recently been posting more suggestive pictures of himself, including shirtless poses, wearing boxer briefs, and showing off his body.
In one photo, featuring McClure in his underwear, McNally posted, “Super look @franklynsuperstar.”
Another comment says “Hi Sunshine!,” while another photo showing McClure walking on a ramp in only boxer shorts says, “I love it,” accompanied by heart emojis, according to The Tennessean.
In another post, showing McClure’s buttocks in underwear from a ground view, the lieutenant governor responded with a string of heart and fire emojis.
He later commented using McClure’s nickname — which is not listed on his page, speaking to a degree of familiarity between them: “Finn, you can turn a rainy day into rainbows and sunshine.”
The lieutenant governor’s comments were first reported by the liberal advocacy site Tennessee Holler, which accused the lieutenant governor of “hypocrisy” for supporting or failing to speak out against anti-LGBTQ legislation moving through the legislature while commenting on some of McClure’s more provocative photos.
McClure told Tennessee Holler he thought it was random that the lieutenant governor of Tennessee was commenting on his page, but since he’s not a political person he was unaware of McNally’s connection to the slate of Republican-sponsored anti-LGBTQ bills.
While some have suggested McNally’s comments might border on flirtatious, McClure has never viewed them as such.
“I just thought he was older and out of touch. I’ve always taken it as a compliment,” he said. “I don’t dislike him or think he’s a bad person. He’s one of the only people who has consistently uplifted me and made me feel good.”
McClure told Nashville ABC affiliate WKRN that the 79-year-old politician first added him on Facebook in 2020, before following his Instagram account. He said McNally sent compliments by direct messages, but they never met in person.
“I’m not a stranger to compliments, so I don’t really read into them because I just think that’s wrong to assume somebody’s hitting on you just because they’re nice to you,” he said. “He did not say he wanted to date me or have sex or anything like that.”
News organizations that have examined the lieutenant governor’s Instagram behavior have found that McNally regularly interacts, using similar language and emojis, with other social media users who do not post mature content.
For instance, WKRN found that McNally “liked” a picture of a woman who says she’s transgender. The post was tagged #transgender but there was no mature content in the post.
A spokesman for the lieutenant governor defended the social media interactions, arguing that McNally, who hails from Oak Ridge, 25 miles west of Knoxville, is a “prolific social media commenter.”
“Trying to imply something sinister or inappropriate about a great-grandfather’s use of social media says more about the mind of the left-wing operative making the implication than it does about Randy McNally,” spokesperson Adam Kleinheider said in a statement.
Kleinhelder added that McNally “takes great pains to view every post he can and frequently posts encouraging things to many of his followers.”
“Does he always use the proper emoji at the proper time? Maybe not,” Kleinheider admitted. “But he enjoys interacting with constituents and Tennesseans of all religions, backgrounds, and orientations on social media. He has no intention of stopping.”
On Thursday, McNally answered reporters’ questions while walking down the hallway from the state Senate chamber to the House chamber for a joint session, downplaying the comments on McClure’s Instagram.
“I try to encourage people on my posts. I try to support people,” McNally said. “I have friends that are gay, I have friends with relatives who are gay. I don’t feel any animosity towards gay people. I think that’s fairly clear.”
The lieutenant governor also defended himself from charges of homophobia, arguing that he has opposed legislation targeting the LGBTQ community in past sessions, such as when he spoke out against a bill allowing adoption agencies to discriminate against same-sex couples on the basis of religious or moral beliefs.
“I thought that was something that was not needed,” McNally said. “I came down from the podium and spoke against it. It passed, but that’s how the legislature works.”
For his part, McClure told Tennessee Holler that he holds no animosity towards McNally.
“I don’t hate him. I don’t dislike him. I don’t have a negative opinion on him,” he said. “I’ve had a transformation since we started talking — I was more Christian, now I’m more ‘not Christian.’ We were friends back before I was more openly myself. Before I was posting things more mature.
“I hope [McNally] knows I love him and LGBTQ+ loves him and would love him even more if he would open his heart and treat everyone else the way he wants to be treated, because the way I want to be treated is to be accepted and be able to be myself and not be taken to police,” McClure said, referring to the flood of anti-LGBTQ bills introduced this year, including two anti-drag measures that have recently been signed into law by Gov. Bill Lee.
“It’s wrong to ban drag, wrong to ban anything that isn’t hurting anyone,” McClure said. “I don’t support hate of any kind.”
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