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A Question Asked Only Of Gay Guys

Jim Burroway

February 22nd, 2012

When the news about Pinal County, Arizona Sheriff Paul Babeu broke over the weekend, the Phoenix News Times ended its story with this item:

Openly gay Tucson state Representative Matt Heinz was one of two Democratic lawmakers who broke ranks with the party in March 2011 and voted to give Babeu $5 million to combat border violence. Other lawmakers opposed the measure, in part, because Babeu’s county is at least 70 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border. The measure finally was pared down to $1.7 million and passed by the Legislature.

About a week after Heinz’s nod to Babeu, the sheriff spent the night at Heinz’s home, text messages that Jose shared with New Times show.

“I’m at Mat Heinz and his boyfriend for dinner & ice cream… we are going out to bar and …. to their house. [Am] staying over,” Babeu texted to Jose at 1:04 a.m. last April 2.

The Village Voice‘s Steven Thrasher took that and ran with it, posing this question on Heinz’s Facebook page:

Rep. Heinz, Steven Thrasher, Village Voice staff writer here. My colleagues at the Phoenix New Times have implied that you and your boyfriend had three-way sex with Sheriff Paul Babeu. Is this true? I am gay and do not think consensual acts of gay sex (or three-way sex) are unethical, wrong, or frankly anyone’s business beyond the parties involved. However, it looks bad for an elected official to have a “sleepover” with a government employee after helping steer $1.7 million in funds their way. As one of just a few openly gay people running for congress at a time of great trial for LGBT Americans, how do you think this looks?

Since when is reporting about an overnight sleepover tantamount to implying thee-way sex? If it is, then somebody’s changed the definition. I don’t recall anyone asking President Obama if he and Michelle had group sex with any of their overnight guests. Maybe democrats get a pass from the lib’ral press.

But wait. I don’t recall President Bush getting the same question about any of their overnight guests either. Not a peep about George, Laura and Sharon Dodson.

And when New York mayor Rudy Giuliani sought refuge in the home of Howard Koppel and Mark Hsiao when his marriage was falling apart, I don’t recall Thrasher asking them whether they had three-way sex either.

So what makes the sleep-over with Babeu, Heinz and Heinz’s boyfriend different? Could it be that all three are gay, and if three gay guys get together, all kinds of freaky sex is guaranteed to break out?

Thrasher excuses his question by saying that he is gay, which just goes to show that not all homophobia is external.

Comments

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Muscat
February 22nd, 2012 | LINK

Could it be that all three are gay, and if three gay guys get together, all kinds of freaky sex is guaranteed to break out?

Sadly, gay men’s lives are typically much less exciting than that. :D

It is ridiculous that the automatic assumption was a sexual encounter. Clearly a double standard – and as you point out, coming from a gay man all the worse. “As a gay man” the writer also ought to be familiar with the common practice of going out with friends to bars/clubs then staying on someone else’s couch or in their guest bedroom. It also isn’t necessary to allege sexual relationships in order to ask about influence on the vote, since a close friendship works just as well to raise the question. And it’s ended up drawing attention away from that broader (and more important) issue of “border defense” spending.

Lindoro Almaviva
February 22nd, 2012 | LINK

I disagree. I think it is a very valid question given the amounts of money that were exchanges not long before (and afterwards) and the perception that something was happening behind close doors way before any of this came to light.

Could the question be better phrased? Yes
Was this the appropriate forum to ask it? NO
Was it a fair question? YES
Is this questions about sex? Depends on your view.

I think this question touches in a lot more than whose bed was used or not during the sleep over and goes to the heart of the guy’s integrity.

Did you or did you know sleep your way to the millions? Did you or did you not engage in questionable interactions that resulted in your vote being “purchased” as it were? Did you or did you not keep your personal life separate from your legislative duties?

I think his constituents deserve an answer

Pauline Perils
February 22nd, 2012 | LINK

the actual bigger aspect to the story of Quid Pro Quo or malfeasance. The “ice cream social” cost rounded $2M that could have gone for safety nets for the public, HEALTH CARE (people died being denied just a few million for health care when the AZ governor cut it), a million could have matched federal HIV care(Arizona puts in mandated minimum). It could have gone for EDUCATION. But no, Matt Heinz pal gave Babeu millions public dollars for Babeu who was a over a million dollars over budget…so Babeu could buy a helicopter instead of using shared resources and spent $53k? to send family, friends and employees to watch him get an award back east. The sheriff also spent over $38,500 on souvenirs badges for the Arizona Centennial to give out and more. It’s more than a triple play, this could affect Babeu’s brother judge career, former Rep Cheryl Chase who works for Babeu and she is running for County Supervisor and it affects Heinz of course. Its a quadratic equation because it affected the public too! Particularly those who died from being cut off from public health care when the money is given to Babeu instead to waste.

Muscat
February 22nd, 2012 | LINK

Lindoro – The point of the article (and I agree with it) is that Heinz could have been influenced by his personal relationship with Babeu without it being a sexual encounter, that such influence could have been investigated without at least jumping immediately and only to the question of sex, and assuming it was sexual is a reflection of biases/ stereotypes regarding gay men. Which takes attention away from the issue of personal influence.

jpeckjr
February 22nd, 2012 | LINK

I continue to ask: Who benefits from the disclosure of this information? Matt Heinz is running for Congress as a Dem. Paul Babeu is running for Congress as a Rep. Heinz is open about being gay (there are 4 openly gay members of the AZ legislature). My impression is Babeu’s sexual orientation fell into the category of “open secret,” but certainly the source of rumors.

Someone in Arizona doesn’t want any gay men elected to Congress.

Timothy Kincaid
February 22nd, 2012 | LINK

Actually, I think the wink-wink unspoken insinuation is very strong in the way that New Times wrote the piece. I certainly knew what was being suggested and how it would be perceived.

I thought it was tacky of the paper. The homophobia (or, more accurately, appeal to homophobia) was in the writing, not in the way that it was read.

It is completely normal to stay over at friends if going out clubbing. It is not completely normal to isolate that single incident as the sole representation of a friendship. It makes me question the motivation behind presenting it that way.

james
February 22nd, 2012 | LINK

Jose made the text message available to the newspaper, probably as “proof” Paul was “cheating” on him. It was interesting to them only because it involved another elected official.

Jose is really pissed off about Paul breaking up with him, isn’t he?

james
February 22nd, 2012 | LINK

Also, it’s Steve Thrasher, the openly gay VV journalist, who is raising the three-way sex angle, on a Facebook post to Heinz. It does not appear the Phoenix New Times raised that possibility.

I think Thrasher was ethically wrong as a journalist to ask those questions in a public setting, which Facebook is.

We are certainly learning that social media really isn’t private communication at all, aren’t we?

Jim Burroway
February 22nd, 2012 | LINK

I didn’t see the “wink-wink” in the New Times piece all. The text, I thought, was rather clear. Heinz voted $5 million earmarked for Babeu’s department, a week later Bebau’s hanging out with Heinz and his boyfriend. For ice cream and clubbing. If someone thinks they read sex into that, then they’ve got a very different idea of sex than I do. I just don’t see the “homophobia” in the writing at all.

Babeu lives in Pinal County, where there are no gay bars. I don’t know where in Pinal County he lives, but I think it’s probably safe to say its somewhere near the county seat of Florence, since that’s where his office is. It is also just inside Congressional District 4, where he’s running for office. (Most of the rest of Pinal County is in CD1.) There are no gay bars in Pinal County. So if he wants to go clubbing, he’s ether going to go to North Phoenix or he’s going to go to Tucson. Florence is an hour and a half away from Tucson, and an hour and fifteen minutes from Phoenix. And since getting to either city requires driving several miles of back roads, it only makes sense that someone would want to find a place to stay if the option is available rather than drive back home at 3:00 a.m. on very dark country roads (because of the observatories in southern AZ) in the middle of the desert.

Arizona readers and writers would have understood this. The fact that others elsewhere don’t and jump to different conclusions probably speaks more about their perceptions than the intent of the New Times piece

Michael C
February 22nd, 2012 | LINK

I agree with Thrasher’s inference from the New Times article. To me, it does seem that the New Times were framing the information to imply illicit activity. However, to pose his question to Rep. Heinz is disgusting. His letter would have had entirely different context had it been sent it to the Phoenix New Times. They are the ones implying (without actually implying) that Babeu and Heinz were sexually involved.

Jim Burroway
February 22nd, 2012 | LINK

How does New Times “imply” sexual involvment? Please explain, because two weekends ago I had overnight gay guests in my home.

andrew
February 22nd, 2012 | LINK

The problem is that he’s difficult to trust based on past history, and he’s actively cruising for other partners, based on his online ad. It’s a question of appearances in many regards.

Now, it’s worth pointing out that my partner and I have had an old friend staying over for the week, visiting from out of town, and no one has asked or assumed that we’re all climbing into bed together. Then again, I’m not sure that anyone wants that particular visual (doesn’t help that this sherrif is someone I’d really like to see in porn).

Theo
February 22nd, 2012 | LINK

Thrasher’s use of the ridiculous term “LGBT Americans” shows that he traffics in stereotypes, i.e., gays as crossdressers. So I am not terribly shocked by his homophobic assumptions about what happens when a gay man spends the night at a friends house.

Priya Lynn
February 22nd, 2012 | LINK

Theo said “Thrasher’s use of the ridiculous term “LGBT Americans” shows that he traffics in stereotypes, i.e., gays as crossdressers.”.

**rolls eyes**

LGBT distinguishes between gays and transgendered people, so no, he is not stereotyping gays as crossdressers. If he had referred to the Sherriff and his guests as transgendered people or crossdressers then you’d have a point. But calling him a member of the LGBT community doesn’t refer to him as a cross-dresser any more than referring to a group of black and white voters calls black people whites and white people blacks. Give it a rest.

Muscat
February 22nd, 2012 | LINK

I can’t think of an example where a prominent heterosexual politician or celebrity was asked about whether they had a three-way because they had someone sleep over at their house or slept over at someone’s house after a night on the town. Can anyone?

PJB863
February 22nd, 2012 | LINK

Jim has a valid point that I think gets missed often. LGBT people who live in rural areas don’t have the luxury of living closeby when visiting clubs, so this is what you do.

I think another point is that it’s OK to have friends who have different political views. Good heavens, some of my friends are Republicans. I don’t paint people with a broad brush. Furthermore, even if I didn’t especially care for someone, I wouldn’t want them out on those backroads late at night and would have offered a sofa for the night.

Timothy Kincaid
February 22nd, 2012 | LINK

It is annoying (and not exactly an indication of journalistic integrity) to revise an article after it has been released and subjected to criticism. It’s one thing to correct a name or typo or to fix something within moments of posting (which we do here at BTB) but pulling entire sections is not exactly best form.

And it appears that now there are more than one version of the article. NewTimes no longer has the “stay over” text in their story. But going from JMG’s copy, it seems it originally said:

About a week after Heinz’s nod to Babeu, the sheriff spent the night at Heinz’s home, text messages that Jose shared with New Times show. “I’m at Mat Heinz and his boyfriend for dinner & ice cream . . . we are going out to bar and . . . to their house. [Am] staying over,” Babeu texted to Jose at 1:04 a.m. last April 2.

Observation One: The terms “stayed the night” and “spent the night” have strong connotational differences. You stay the night at a place, you spend the night doing something. Staying the night means just that, but spending the night usually assumes closer association and in conversation is often assumed to have a sexual component.

That was the set-up.

Observation Two: If a text has a purpose then incidental information mentioned in the context of a text might be a matter of accuracy. But when a text is edited then the decision to include or exclude words reflects intent.

I can’t tell whether we are to assume that Babeu put the “…” in his message or whether New Times edited the text message.

But if edited, then the inclusion of the “stay over” was superfluous to the story and only included for some other purpose than to illustrate how Jose was threatened.

In fact, the entire mention of Heinz seems untied to the story. If we are going for abuse of power, this incident is irrelevant. If the story is, however, “he’s gay! Gay, gay gay!” then it’s relevant to bring up “ooh, look, he stayed the night with another gay! And he got money!”

Observation Three

The paragraph ties two events together and (sorry, but it’s impossible to miss) implies correlation. “About a week after Heinz’s nod to Babeu, the sheriff spent the night at Heinz’s home”.

“A week after X, Y happened” is a common journalistic tool (and a pretty obvious one) that is employed when you can’t declare quid pro quo but you want to introduce the notion.

When taken in total, I came away with the strong impression that New Times wanted me to believe that Babeu “spent the night at Heinz’s home” in repayment (probably sexual) for a vote. It annoyed me at the time, and still does.

Others may look at this and not see any implied wink-wink suggestions at all. They may find this anecdote entirely necessary to reporting about the threat of deportation. Or perhaps this text – out of all texts written over the six years – was essential to provide backstory and context. And I might be the only person on the planet (other than Steven Thrasher) who got the impression that New Times was suggesting something more than ice cream.

But somehow I don’t think so.

Jim Burroway
February 22nd, 2012 | LINK

That’s an awful lot of parsing for a wink-wink. I’m not sure the difference between “stay the night” or “spend the night” are all that strong. I’ve interchangeably stayed the night and spent the night at my brother and sister-in-law’s home without thinking much about it. And actually, I’m still not sure I understand the difference. Maybe its a regionalism I’m not aware of.

I also don’t understand why the ellipses are important. Except to omit stuff that doesn’t matter, which is typically what ellipses are used for. That’s how I use them. But to say that they are an indication somehow of whether the inclusion of Matt Heinz in the story is irrelevant is kinda missing what New Times does. They cover Arizona politics, and they do it quite thoroughly. Whenever there’s a politician in the spotlight, there’s often a question of how what’s happening with that politician may affect others in the state. The inclusion of Matt Heinz in the story may not be relevant to readers outside Arizona, but it’s very relevant to the readers they are writing for.

Heinz is a longtime Tucson city councilman who went to the legislature and is now vying for Gabby Giffords’ (and before that, Jim Kolbe’s) seat, and he’s up against another lesbian, state Sen. Paula Abdoul, for the Democratic primary. Both are very well known here, although Abdoul probably has the higher name recogntion. I know none of this matters to people in Elay, but Heinz’s breaking with fellow Dems to vote to approve Pinal County’s $5 million for “immigration enforcement” when they are 70 miles north of the border (north of Tucson’s Pima County even, which was at that same time was specifically written out from the same funding) definitely is of interest here. Particularly in a community and district where Babeu’s immigration stance doesn’t enjoy nearly the kind of support it has when you go further away from the border.

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