Gay or not? That is the question. But dare we ask?

Oh, that photo of Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan, single, short-haired and wielding a softball bat.

You know what that means.

Though, as it turns out, apparently not. But still we endured an excruciating round of is-she-or-isn't-she-gay, and then the post-question hand-wringer: Do we get to ask?

Consider The Question on our own local landscape. You remember Gov. Charlie Crist B.C. (Before Carole), when he was slender, suave and single, being asked The Question at a public gathering and giving back a big "I'm not." (Good thing, too, because any other answer might have affected his sweetheart status with the Republican Party and … uh, never mind.)

But could you have imagined a day when we would have in our own neck of the woods:

1. An openly gay Tampa police chief.

2. An openly gay Hillsborough commissioner.

3. An openly gay St. Petersburg City Council member.

So, naturally, the first thing on our minds when their names come up is: wait, turns out it's not about being gay! Usually, it's something along the lines of how they plan to get us through this economy without firing everyone in sight.

"I think (the public) is more focused on the person who's going to get the job done," says Commissioner Kevin Beckner, who surely wearied of being called the Openly Gay Candidate before he beat former pro wrestler and incumbent Brian Blair. Even so, Beckner always said he couldn't imagine showing up for the race as anyone other than himself.

Which brings us to another category: public officials who may be gay, who are probably gay, who everyone in their inner circles says are gay, but have not publicly said, "I am gay."

This is the political version of "don't ask, don't tell," what you could call the glass closet. The motivation may be personal privacy or political protection, even in these allegedly enlightened times.

So, do we get to ask?

People brave enough (or something enough) to run for office give up some privacy on matters like finances and family. We media types are supposed to tell you who they are, not to mention with whom they associate.

Yes, there are limits. But here's one good, practical reason to know about a politician's personal life: You can only watch for conflicts of interests, for significant others benefiting from someone's political power, if you know who they are.

So, yes, it matters.

It would be nice if a person's sexual orientation was a detail, like having six kids or volunteering at homeless shelters or being a millionaire — interesting, and maybe, at some point, even relevant to the issues of the day.

But even now, the potential for political backlash remains, particularly in conservative corners, where apparently you can be defined by a softball bat in your hands. Why, a gay justice could hear cases on gay adoption! Gay marriage!

Sort of like a female justice ruling on abortion, a black justice dealing with hate crime law and a Christian one considering school prayer. We entrust people, with all their life experiences, to make these calls.

We've come a long way, even around here. And maybe one day we can ask The Question routinely, and for the right reasons.

Gay or not? That is the question. But dare we ask? 05/25/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 26, 2010 12:03am]

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