Tennessee Lt. Gov. Randy McNally has apologized for commenting on a gay man’s racy Instagram photos, making him the butt of national jokes and leading some on the far right to call for his resignation over his lack of judgment.
McNally (R-Oak Ridge) first came under scrutiny after a liberal-leaning political website, Tennessee Holler, reported that the lieutenant governor had interacted frequently with the Instagram account of 20-year-old Franklin McClure, an East Tennessee native now living in Charlotte, North Carolina.
According to Holler, McNally commented on several of McClure’s photos — including a few more recent ones featuring McClure scantily clothed or in various states of undress — and sent direct messages to McClure, who was 17 when the lieutenant governor first started following him.
Speaking to Nashville CBS affiliate WMC-TV, McNally, who is both the state’s lieutenant governor and the speaker of the state’s Republican-led Senate, said it was not his intent to cause a scandal.
“I’m really, really sorry if I’ve embarrassed my family, embarrassed my friends, embarrassed any of the members of the legislature with the posts,” he said.
A spokesperson for McNally, who has served in the Tennessee Legislature since 1978, initially defended the lieutenant governor, calling him a “prolific social media commenter” who “frequently posts encouraging things to many of his followers.”
“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. “Does he always use the proper emoji at the proper time? Maybe not. But he enjoys interacting with constituents and Tennesseans of all religions, backgrounds, and orientations on social media. He has no intention of stopping.”
When initially confronted with the Holler‘s reporting and its assertions that McNally is hypocritical for commenting on McClure’s photos while either supporting or failing to speak out against anti-LGBTQ bills, McNally said, “I’m not anti-gay.”
Despite having spoken out against gay marriage and still opposing the idea of same-sex nuptials, he claimed to have friends who are gay and have married.
He also noted that he previously opposed legislation to allow adoption and child placement agencies to discriminate against same-sex couples.
This year, McNally was recovering from a heart procedure when Republican lawmakers passed bills eliminating gender-affirming care for transgender youth and imposing possible jail sentences for drag personalities — or their employers — if they perform in a public venue where their shows might be viewed by children.
While he didn’t vote for either bill that passed this year, McNally has previously gone on record opposing surgical interventions for trans youth, even if their parents’ consent.
In past legislative sessions, he also voted to restrict transgender athletes from competing on teams matching their gender identity and allows people to refuse to share restroom and locker room facilities with transgender individuals, permitting them to sue if they believe a transgender person has used those same facilities.
Saturday Night Live ruthlessly lampooned the Lt. Governor last weekend on its Weekend Update segment.
Even though his office defended his actions on social media, McNally’s apology to WMC-TV prompted some right-wing politicians and pundits to demand the lieutenant governor’s resignation.
For some, the reason is that the 79-year-old McNally may not be fully competent to continue serving.
“It is painfully obvious to anyone who has watched the confused public responses of 79-year-old Tennessee Lt. Governor Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) to the controversy surrounding his inexplicable social media postings that he has lost a step mentally,” Michael Patrick Leahy, of the conservative-leaning Tennessee Star newspaper, wrote in an editorial.
“Sources familiar with the Tennessee political landscape tell The Tennessee Star that McNally is simply not all there mentally, and has been declining for some time,” Leahy added. “Recently he has had difficulty recalling the names of colleagues he has known for years, those sources add.”
For others, it seems to be a case of political retribution.
Cade Cothren, the ex-chief of staff to former House Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin), and political commentator Steve Gill, a former writer for the Star, have also called on McNally to step down, reports The Tennessee Journal.
Gill argued in a Facebook post that McNally had called on Casada “to resign for less” — referring to a 2019 scandal involving racist, sexually explicit, and misogynistic text messages between Cothren and Casada, as well as Cothren’s boasting that he had used cocaine in his legislative office. Casada later lost a no-confidence vote and stepped down as speaker.
When a commenter on the original post said McNally should resign or be removed, Gill replied, “Correct.”
Thus far, no elected or currently serving Republicans have called for McNally’s resignation. When asked by WMC-TV whether the controversy over Instagram-gate affects his ability to lead, McNally responded, “I hope not.”
When asked whether he has thought of resigning, McNally told the news station, “I think that that’s really up to the members of the Senate. I would serve at their pleasure, and they are my boss.”
McClure said that when the lieutenant governor first began commenting on his photos, he took it as positive reinforcement, but added that he believes it’s “hypocritical” for McNally to support bills targeting the LGBTQ community.
Speaking specifically about the bill to ban drag in public, McClure told NBC News. “[McNally] obviously can appreciate me in some sort of way, and if he can appreciate me, you know, I’m pretty out there.
“I don’t think the drag queens are, for the most part, doing shows where they’ve just got their butt in everyone’s face,” he added. “I have my butt in people’s faces, and he’s supported some of those, so I don’t know why he’s supporting a bill to hurt people’s money, expression, happiness.”
When asked about McNally’s televised apology, McClure said “it’s sad” that McNally felt the need to apologize.
“He did appreciate my posts, for whatever reason that was, and I don’t think you should be embarrassed,” McClure said.
“I think it’s telling of Tennessee, it’s telling of Republicans and homophobic [people]. I just think it’s sad that we live in a society that we can’t just all be friends, right? We can’t just all love each other and appreciate each other for who we are, instead of thinking that we need to change each other.”
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