July 20th stands out among all dates on the calendar because it marks the days when America’s first two openly gay congressmen faced ethics charges in the US House of Representatives. Those two men–Gerry Studds and Bawney Fwank–are giants within the gay community. Both men were the victims of right-wing witch-hunts on account of their sexuality. Both survived politically.
July 20th 1983
The House of Representatives voted to censure Congressman Gerry Studds (D-Massachusetts) for his sexual affair with a seventeen year old Congressional page, while making sexual advances to at least two others. While this may sound skeezy, there’s actually nothing wrong with it. The age of consent in the District of Columbia is sixteen, so seventeen year old Congressional pages are fair game. No biggee. Gerry Studds maintained until the end of his life that the affair was consensual and that he had done nothing wrong. What two consenting adults do in the privacy of their home is no one else’s business. Or, you know, an adult and a minor who happens to be above the age of sixteen. The two travelled together and frequently had sex in other locales, including on trip to Portugal. I’m sure that they never had sex in any jurisdiction in which the age of consent is higher than sixteen. Studds also plied the boy with alcohol. I’m not sure what the drinking age was way back then, but I think it might have been over seventeen.
But let’s not be prudes about it! This whole thing was much ado about nothing. It’s not like there was a sexual predator loose in the House of Representatives or something.
As the formal censure was read aloud, Studds made the symbolic gesture of turning his back on the entire proceedings. The message was clear–Studds was giving the whole proceeding a big “up yours”. Shortly thereafter, Studds came out of the closet, thus turning the whole scandal around on the right-wing prudes who happened to be persecuting him.
“It is not a simple task for any of us to meet adequately the obligations of either public or private life, let alone both. But these challenges are made substantially more complex when one is, as am I, both an elected official and gay.”
See? So it’s really hard being gay. You can’t even bring Congressional pages back to your apartment, get them drunk on cranberry juice and vodka, and have your way with them, without somebody getting in your business. There’s always somebody there, digging in your private life. That’s just life as a gay man in uptight America.
Well, Studds had the last laugh. Not only did he finish out his term, he was actually reelected six times after being censured. Six times! We adored our pedophile congressman. I say “we” because Gerry Studds was, in fact, my congressman. His strongest support always came from Provincetown. Nobody gave a hoot that he was playing hide the salami with Congressional pages. That might concern a bunch of “family values” bigots in the Midwest, but we don’t care about that stuff here in P-Town. It’s not important to us. What’s important is that he fought to end the military’s ban on openly homosexual servicemembers and that he got lots of money funneled into the bottomless rat hole of AIDS research. He raised awareness about gay issues, and for that, we salute him!
Actually, Studds’s sexual activities were kind of an open secret in the district. Most people knew the Congressman had a weakness for rosy-cheeked young boys. It’s just not something that mattered to us because we don’t worry about that stuff. We’re progressive here in the Bay State, and even more progressive here in Provincetown. So, even after the “scandal” broke, we just kept sending him back to Washington as our representative. I voted for him every time I saw his name on the ballot. I wrote him a check for the maximum amount and I even displayed “Studds for Congress” signs on my front lawn. Proudly.
Actually, I think I may have had an anonymous liaison with him in the dunes down on the beach. Or maybe it was just a guy who looked a lot like him.
Fenway Health, a Boston clinic that specializes in LGBTQXYZ health issues, even named an award after Studds. The Congressman Gerry E. Studds Award is granted for “progressive leadership on LGBT and public health issues”. Recent winners of the Studds Award include Senator Ted Kennedy and Lt. Dan Choi. What an honor it is to win an award named after an unabashed pedophile. It’s something I can only aspire to. Also, Congress named a marine sanctuary in his honor–the Gerry E. Studds Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary.
July 20th 1990
Bawney Fwank had to face the House Ethics Committee for the male prostitution ring that was being run out of his apartment…completely unbeknownst to Bawney! He had no friggin’ idea!
No, seriously. He was dating a guy at the time–Steven Gobie–who happened to be a male prostitute. Bawney hired Gobie as a personal aide and chauffeur, which sounds like a really sweet gig to me. I’d love to be Bawney’s right hand man. Bawney knew that Gobie was a prostitute; that much is clear. He knew this because he met Gobie through an ad in the ultragay Washington Blade newspaper and then paid the lad for sex. The following ad really caught Fwank’s eye:
“Exceptionally good-looking, personable, muscular athlete is available. Hot bottom plus large endowment equals a good time.”
After boning Gobie and paying him for it, Fwank took the poor gentleman into his apartment. Not to be his boytoy of course, but to rescue him! According to the LA Times, Barney did this “with hope of reforming a troubled young man with a history of petty crime and prostitution.” See, so he paid the guy for some sex then took him under his wing in an attempt to woo him away from prostitution. I know I certainly do that–sleep with prostitutes, then try to rescue them from prostitution. Makes sense to me.
But Bawney was completely in the dark that his gay male prostitute boyfriend was running a gay male prostitution ring out of his apartment. It totally blindsided him! So let’s cut him some slack. There’s no reason to believe that Bawney had any knowledge of this. Could have happened to anybody. I think we can all agree that the Congressman is the victim here. The Congressman thinks so too.
“I hired him out of a charitable impulse. I thought I was going to be a liberal who got involved directly with an individual who needed help.. . . I was victimized. I misjudged his character.”
Fwank is the victim here. Got it?
In the end, the gay-hating religious right’s plan to ensnare Bawney Fwank sputtered out and produced very little. The only ethics violation that they found was that Fwank wrote letters with his official letterhead on Gobie’s behalf. Big deal. With the stroke of his pen, he made Gobie’s parking tickets go away. Oh yes, and he also wrote to Virginia probation authorities, enjoining them to cut Gobie some slack for his convictions concerning possession of cocaine, oral sodomy in public, and production of obscene material involving minors. Don’t know what that last charge is. Sounds kind of like a kiddie porn charge but it’s also pretty vague. Bawney Fwank urged the authorities to go easy on him, acting as a character witness of sorts.
But the ethics probe was a big flop. They never could prove that Bawney had any knowledge that a guy he met through a prostitution advertisement in a gay newspaper was actually in the business of prostitution. It was very difficult to prove. I’m sure he was shocked–shocked!–to discover that callboys were operating out of his place of residence. As shocked as the rest of us.
Bawney Fwank, just like Gerry Studds, survived the scandal without a blemish on him. He’s been resoundingly reelected ever since. The people of his district don’t care at all. That’s a testament to the citizens of Massachusetts 4th Congressional District. They love them some Bawney Fwank and there’s nothing he can do to convince them otherwise. Fwank went on to oversee the Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac subprime mortgage debacle that sunk the economy and screwed ordinary Americans out of their homes and life savings. Along with a newer “hot bottom”, that is. So it’s a good thing he didn’t resign back in 1990 when the pressure was on him to do so.
The twentieth day of July represents two milestones in the history of gay rights. Remember this day in LGBTQXYZ history. Two gay giants faced disciplinary proceedings and nobody cared.