Conservative lifestyle brooks no ‘alternative’

By Leonard Pitts: Syndicated Columnist

Is it just me, or does the mayor seem conflicted?

Granted, James West has a lot to be conflicted about. Last month, the Spokane Spokesman-Review reported it had caught the city’s chief executive, a social conservative who has long opposed gay rights, in a gay online chat room making a date with a computer expert hired by the paper to pose as an 18-year-old male student. West is alleged to have used the perks of his office to lure men into sexual liaisons. What’s worse, he’s also alleged to have molested adolescent boys over the last 25 years under color of his authority as a sheriff’s deputy and Boy Scout leader.

Plenty of material for soul searching, but that’s not what I’m talking about. Indeed, West has denied the alleged criminal and ethical transgressions and has been quite clear and forceful in doing so. He is considerably less clear and forceful in talking about his sexuality itself.

Asked in a May 5 interview why he sought out young men on the ‘Net, West told the Spokesman-Review he could not explain, but added, “I wouldn’t characterize me as gay.” In an interview with the same paper four days later, he said, “I am being destroyed because I am a gay man. …”

Last week on the “Today” show, Matt Lauer tried to pin him down. Gay? Not gay?

West’s reply: “You know, Matt, bisexual, gay…”

There’s more. West, who as a state legislator once backed a law that would have banned gays from working in schools or daycare centers, was asked how he could have taken such positions. He told Lauer that as a representative for a district where people oppose gay rights, he had no choice. As if someone had held a gun to his head and forced him to run for office in Bigot County.

West, who in the privacy of the gay chat room referred to social conservatives as “sex Nazis,” seemed at pains to burnish his conservative bona fides. “I’m not a closet liberal,” he insisted, “pretending to be a conservative. I’m a conservative. And what’s wrong with somebody who has what’s called an alternative lifestyle or an alternative sexual orientation being a conservative?”

Well golly.

Me, I’ve always thought being a gay social conservative was not unlike being a black Klansman. Even if you could get away with it, why in the world would you want to?

I’m sure Mary Cheney is holding on line two, but the point stands. It eludes me how anyone can support a political philosophy that is defined in part by its open hostility toward people like oneself.

I suspect West belongs to that school of conservative thought that holds that being gay isn’t the problem, “flaunting” it is. The reasoning, such as it is, always breaks down when you try to get them to define “flaunting.” Does it mean the flamboyant character Jack from “Will and Grace,” whose gayness is evident at 50 paces? Or does it mean, well … Will from “Will and Grace,” whose sexuality you don’t know until or unless you first get to know him?

Trick question. Social conservatives draw no such distinction. For them, even a modest indication of gayness is a nuclear attack upon so-called “family values.” When they say, “flaunting,” what they really mean is “existing.”

James West sought to split the difference, to have it both ways, to be gay, but in the official, conservative-approved manner — i.e., secretly and shame-facedly, skulking about in the dark as if one’s sexual identity were somehow ignominious.

You can see how well that’s worked out. Now, like Rush Limbaugh discussing drug addiction, he finds himself forced to speak a language he has long derided, use words that don’t seem to fit his mouth. “Alternative lifestyle” indeed.

Maybe now some of us will stop pretending the conservative-approved model of being gay makes any sense. I mean, granted, West didn’t flaunt his sexuality. But his hypocrisy is something else entirely.

Leonard Pitts is a columnist for the Miami Herald. Readers may contact him at: lpitts@herald.com