'Gay' remark taps wrong emotions

By Bill Donovan
Special to the Times

Nov. 18, 2010

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Lynda Lovejoy stirred things up when she said Vice President-elect Rex Lee Jim is homosexual in a radio interview a couple of days after losing the election to him and President-elect Ben Shelly.

Speaking to John McBreen, a reporter for Millennium Medium in Gallup, Lovejoy was asked whether being a woman had affected the outcome. She replied that she didn't understand why people made such a fuss about her gender when Jim is gay.

There's a couple of things wrong with this, and Jim's sexual orientation ain't one of them.

Right or wrong, being labeled gay is one of the worst slurs a person on the Navajo Reservation can experience. In most of the U.S., tolerance is increasing but not here. Homosexuality is denounced from local pulpits and sniggered at by school kids.

A few years back, the Navajo Nation Council voted by a huge margin to outlaw same-sex marriage, lumping homosexuality with incest and bestiality.

Jim, a bachelor who is raising five of his nieces and nephews as a single parent, has never publicly addressed rumors around Window Rock that he is gay.

That's generally how Navajos prefer to treat the subject - don't ask, don't tell.

Many of us in the media had heard it, but no one brought up the issue during the campaign. And Ben Shelly - who was a big supporter of the Navajo marriage law - chose the well educated, articulate Jim as his running mate.

The second problem with Lovejoy's statement is, what right does she have to comment on another person's sexuality?

Attempts to get hold of Jim this week were unsuccessful but Deswood Tome, who managed the Shelly-Jim campaign and now heads their transition team, said the campaign was aware of the rumors.

"We were prepared to address the rumors if anyone had brought it up," he said, "but no one ever did, not in the press or any of the chapter meetings."

Tome said he talked personally with Jim and was told quite empathetically that he is not gay.

"There was just an assumption out there that he was," Tome said. "That's all."

He said that even if Jim had been gay, it would not have eliminated him as a candidate for vice president.

Please. Just listen to what gay Navajos have said about their prospects here. As the Council debated the marriage act, the Navajo Times received many letters from gay Navajos who left the reservation forever because they would never, ever be accepted unless they concealed their hearts.

Tome sounds hopeful when he says there are all kinds of Navajos and they mostly get along. If that were true we'd see a lot more homosexuals living openly here.

It's a little like asking a white person if you, as a Native, are a target of discrimination. You'd probably say the best person to answer that is a Native, and you'd be right.

After the primary, Shelly could have picked a female running mate as a way of neutralizing Lovejoy's appeal to voters who were ready for a woman leader.

He stressed that he would not pick anyone based on gender, and instead picked the person he felt was best qualified. No one argues with him there - in fact, a lot of voters were only half joking when they said they wished the choice was between Jim and Earl Tulley, Lovejoy's running mate.

Jim ran in the presidential primary, so rumors he's gay were out there but apparently they didn't bother Shelly. In fact, because the issue never went public, Shelly was able to court the pro-gay vote without worrying about an anti-gay backlash.

So why didn't Lovejoy bring up the subject then? Because it wouldn't have helped her, at least not enough.

Besides, in the final days of the campaign, Lovejoy had an even bigger issue - both Shelly and Jim had been charged with misuse of discretionary funds.

The problem Jim faces now is dealing with the fallout of Lovejoy's statement.

The problem for Lovejoy, though, is what she has showed us about herself.

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