Enough already with his old friends supporting Dennis Hastert.
On Wednesday, Hastert, a former U.S. House Speaker, was sentenced in federal court to 15 months in prison, two years of supervised released, ordered to pay $250,000 to a victims' fund, and will enter a sex offender treatment program. He admitted in federal court that he had abused four high school wrestlers while he was their coach in Illinois. "What I did was wrong and I regret it," Hastert said. "They looked to me and I took advantage of them." However, the statute of limitations had expired on sexual abuse charges and Hastert was sentenced after pleading guilty to violating banking laws for paying hush money to one of his former wrestlers.
Yet, various senior Republican colleagues think it's OK to say things like, "We all have our flaws, but Dennis Hastert has very few." That's bullshit.
You see, I know what it feels like to have people assume, or presume even, that I am a child molester. Not because I am one. But because as an openly gay man who has coached men at the college and high school levels for 30 years, there have always been people who have assumed I was in coaching for the access it might give me to young men, both physically and emotionally.
One time in the early days of the AIDS crisis, I was speaking at the Ann Arbor Board of Education, urging them to adopt a sex-positive, gay-inclusive curriculum on HIV and AIDS. It was part of an on-going campaign for ACT-UP, and we were there every meeting, as were our Christian Right opponents.
One evening, right after practice coaching the University of Michigan Men's Rowing Team, I came into the library and headed straight for the bathroom — you know, where all the dangerous fun happens. At the next urinal was one of our main opponents. It was a cold and rainy fall evening, and I was shivering. Making small talk — we were mostly civil to each other — this prominent local attorney asked if I'd been stuck out in the rain. "Yes," I said, "I was coaching."
The change in his attitude was immediate. "Coaching?? Where do you coach??" he asked, his voice showing clear discomfort. "At U-M," I said, "men's rowing." "Oh," he said, his voice softening some, but only some, "I guess that's OK."
Yet again, the assumption was clear. Homo, activist, coach of young people; I must also be a child molester.
I have gotten this presumption in various ways over and over, and not just from the right wing. Gay men, ensconced in worlds of coach-athlete porn, are the most likely to ask if I've ever slept with one of my athletes. Once they realize the answer is no — that as I say it, my professional life is not their fantasy life — they apologize. But you know they're sort of a bit disappointed as well.
The relationship I have with my athletes is very special to me. As I have written before, it is also very intimate. But it's not, and never has been, sexual.
And yet, the same people defending Hastert, saying that his flaws are few are also, I'm willing to bet, the first who would make an argument that I shouldn't be coaching their boys. Or, that if I am, I should never be in a locker room with them, and certainly not unaccompanied. (Let's not even imagine the laws they would pass about me if I were trans . . . ) But somehow, Hastert having spent nights in hotel rooms with his wrestlers, where he molested them, was not a flaw.
This exposes the ultimate hypocrisy of many sex-negative right-wingers. In their world, it's the outside appearance of something that establishes or eliminates flaws. If everything looks right in a household, the husband working hard, the wife doing the PTA, everyone with the right haircut and the lawn mowed, and certainly everyone going to church, all is un-flawed.
So, time and again, we are subject to tearful confessions by men who, like Tyler Summit, gets one of his players pregnant, and then says something bland and un-searching like "I am profoundly disappointed in myself for engaging in a relationship that has negatively affected the people I love, respect and care about the most."
If the perpetrator is one of them, the response to this and other major almost never about the victims of sexual assault and abuse. (Yes, even if the player decided she wanted to have sex with Tyler, or if the young male wrestlers decided they wanted to have sex with Hastert, it's still an enormous abuse of position and power.) It's about the tearful contrition and confession of these men of power, often with their wives standing right next to them, keeping up appearances to show that they, too, were good parents and family women. Tyler Summit's case, was, unfairly, mostly made to be about his mother and how disappointed she must be. And don't get me started on Penn State, or various Senate and House page scandals.
But, if you're actually out of the closet, whatever closet that might be, and the focus is not on appearance, but on the actual form of things, of how they work and function, people will assume you're deviant, a child molester. And they'll do this no matter how successful you are, or how much it's clear that a whole team of young men isn't creeped out by being around you.
So enough already of Hastert's friends saying he didn't really do anything wrong, or maybe we don't know, or it wasn't that bad. I'm one of the ones who bears the brunt of his and others' indiscretions in my work every day. As do all of us who are put to higher standards of behavior for being open about who we are. And I'm tired of it.
The closet, LGBT rights pioneers have said for years, will not protect you. So let's not let it protect Hastert, or his political cronies, either. Let's call the man what he is, and call his supporters what they are: supporters of childhood sexual abuse.
Charley Sullivan is currently the coach of Varsity Girls' Crew at Deerfield Academy in Deerfield MA. Previous to that he was the Associate Head Coach of Men's Rowing at the University of Michigan. He was the 2013 USRowing Collegiate Coach of the Year and the Assistant Coach of the USA Men's Rowing Team at the World University Games that won a gold medal in the Men's Eight in Korea in 2015.