Metro Weekly

Pro-LGBTQ Journalist Claims His Home Was Targeted in Shooting

Justin Kanew, whose website first broke the news of Tennessee's Lt. Governor "liking" a gay man's racy photos, condemns the violence against his family.

Illustration by Todd Franson. Original image: Sergii Sverdielov, via Dreamstime

A pro-LGBTQ journalist who writes for the news site that broke the story of a Tennessee Republican liking a gay man’s “thirst trap” photos on Instagram claims his family’s home was targeted in a recent shooting.

Justin Kanew, the founder of Tennessee Holler, a progressive news site covering Tennessee politics and a former congressional candidate, issued a statement on Twitter talking about his family’s experience.

“Our family’s statement on something that happened to us this weekend. Love each other,” he tweeted.

In the statement, Kanew claimed that last Saturday, an unknown person shot several bullets into his home while he and his family were asleep. Although no one was injured in the incident, Kanew condemned the act saying that violence “has no place in a civilized society.”

“The authorities have not completed their investigation and right now we do not know for sure the reason for this attack,” Kanew added. “We urge the Williamson County Sheriff’s office to continue to investigate this crime and help shed light on Saturday’s unfortunate events and bring the perpetrators of this crime to justice.”

While it’s unclear who the alleged shooters were or what motivated them, Kanew has made a number of enemies — particularly within Tennessee’s Republican-dominated legislature — for his reporting on the goings-on at the State Capitol in Nashville. 

In that role, he has employed a skeptical approach to reporting on GOP-sponsored legislation, including several anti-LGBTQ bills that were passed on party-line votes, such as a bill to ban drag performances in public spaces, a bill to bar gender-affirming care for transgender minors, and bar transgender students from restroom or locker room facilities matching their gender identities. 

As part of his work for the Holler, Kanew — who previously appeared on two seasons of the CBS reality competition series The Amazing Race more than a decade ago — films videos on his cell phone documenting interviews and sometimes-heated confrontations with legislative leaders. He’s previously grilled Republican lawmakers over their support for anti-LGBTQ legislation, reports the Tennessee Lookout.

In February, Kanew confronted Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson (R-Brentwood) over the proposed bill to bar drag in public by classifying performers as “adult cabaret entertainers,” prompting Johnson to call him a “jackass” and a “loser.” That same month, he questioned Republican Gov. Bill Lee about a 1977 yearbook photo appearing to show the governor, as a young man, dressing in drag, in an attempt to expose Lee’s hypocrisy.

“What a ridiculous, ridiculous question that is,” Lee responded. “Conflating something like that to sexualized entertainment in front of children, which is a very serious subject.”

The following month, Kanew’s site gained considerable exposure, including national attention, after it documented the social media behavior of Republican Lt. Gov. Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge), including comments the lieutenant governor wrote in response to a gay man’s racy Instagram photos

According to Holler, McNally commented on several of East Tennessee native Franklin 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 on social media. Both McNally and McClure have downplayed the sexual overtones of the story, but the Holler‘s reporting angered some conservatives who accused the site of seeking to embarrass or disparage Republicans.

More recently, Kanew has been writing about calls from activists to pass legislation strengthening restrictions on firearms in the wake of a mass shooting at a Nashville Christian school that killed six, including three students. Republicans have refused, based on ideological grounds, to take any steps to restrict access to firearms, prompting protesters to demonstrate at the Capitol and in the House gallery. That reporting has also angered some individuals who see restrictions as infringing upon their Second Amendment rights. 

On Thursday, Republicans voted on motions to expel three Democratic state representatives who led anti-gun protesters in chants of “No action, no peace” from the House floor — and the Holler was at the Capitol reporting on the expulsions and protesters’ reactions to it. 

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