By Terrence McCoy
By Scott Fishman
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Allie Conti
By New Times Staff
By Ryan Pfeffer
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Kyle Swenson
We hear that Charlie Crist is gay.
There's no proof that he is. In fact, Crist, the Republican candidate for governor and the current state attorney general, has repeatedly denied it.
But professional muckrakers have burned fistfuls of campaign money trying to prove it. His political opponents have tried to score points by alluding to it. And it seems that everyone who follows politics in Florida discusses it more or less openly. The rumors have multiplied and overgrown his political career like kudzu, and though they haven't slowed Charlie Crist's rise to power, they have shaped it every step of the way.
But Florida politicians and the media who cover them have avoided making Charlie Crist's sexuality a story. Except for rare moments, the rumors that so frequently get mentioned in political company stay out of the public record.
For several weeks, for example, a man who has known Crist for 25 years and for much of that time worked with him in the Republican Party has been saying publicly that Crist is not a heterosexual.
Max Linn, the Reform Party candidate for governor, says that in both 1984 and 1998, he and Crist discussed Crist's sexual orientation. (Linn says Crist is bisexual.)
Attend any Florida political event, however, and in the audience chatter before a candidate takes to a microphone, you'll hear plenty about Crist's sexual orientation.
On the sidelines of a recent Broward County Republican Executive Committee meeting, a former member of Crist's fraternity at Florida State University shares his opinion in a whisper. "It's a rumor that everyone has heard," he says. "But if it is true, it's buried so deep. I've seen him out with his girlfriend at parties."
In the dispirited crowd at the Wyndham Grand Bay Hotel that's milling around Republican Tom Gallagher after his loss to Crist in the primary, people have to raise their voices over the recording of "Takin' Care of Business" blasting from the speakers to hear one another. At a table in the middle of the room, Don Jacobson, a Palm Beach lawyer who claims to be an Independent, is nursing a drink. Asked how the party will pull together to place a Republican successor to Jeb Bush in the governor's mansion, Jacobson doesn't mince words.
"Well, first Crist needs to admit that he's gay," he says matter-of-factly.
Nearby, Tony Samper, Tom Gallagher's brother-in-law and a lieutenant with the State Fire Marshal's office, is happy to discuss juicy tidbits of gossip about Crist's supposed male lovers off the record. "You see what comes out in the next few weeks," he whispers conspiratorially.
And though they won't print a word about the rumors, members of Florida's press corps have heard every one.
"Why don't you guys ever write that Charlie Crist is gay?" New Times recently asked an elevator full of political reporters covering the governor's race. After a short silence, they all breathed a collective sigh.
"Do you have any proof?" one of them asked, clearly not for the first time.
"There you go," she said.
"We've been dealing with that rumor for years," another reporter explained. "It's still unsubstantiated."
And so it goes. The reporters head back to their newsrooms, and there won't be anything about the whispers in your morning newspaper the next day.
It seems as though nothing short of the revelations of a tell-all lover or a lurid photograph will propel Crist's reputation as a closet queer into the news. In their absence, one of the most talked about matters of the gubernatorial campaign remains hush-hush.
Charlie Crist says he isn't gay. That's all you need to know.
"What the Dems assume is that all Republicans march in lockstep and all drink the same Kool-Aid," Dinerstein says. "They assume that when there's any Republican with an appearance of a lifestyle or a voting record that is too culturally soft, they'll throw the guy overboard. But Republicans hear all the same rumors as everybody else, and being quite sophisticated, they say, here's a candidate, Gallagher, Crist, and here are a hundred things about their person: personal things, position on taxes... Now, who do I want to vote for?"
That's right, the party that for years has given the impression that it would rather see young American men die in battle than marry each other is now more gay-friendly than a Wilton Manors flower shop.
"It's a new day in Broward County," says Shane Strum, chair of the Broward Republican Executive Committee. "I think the message has changed. You're seeing different people with different philosophies. People were used to the George Bush/Karl Rove tactics of appealing to the Christian Coalition. But now, it's a very large, diverse, big tent."
Yes, Republicans now love gays, and never mind the recent histrionics about gay marriage, gay adoption, and those nasty things about homosexuality spouted by Pennsylvania's arch-heterosexual Republican Sen. Rick Santorum.