Madison Cawthorn's Politics Are Abhorrent... But His Sexuality Isn't
We all like to see a vile hypocrite hoist on his own petard and I admit I've been doing what I could to use Cawthorn's exposure as a confused closet case to undercut a political career that is steeped in ignorant right-wing politics. The tender picture (above) of him and his third cousin once removed-- and apparent lover-- Stephen Smith-- has made me look again... and open myself to feelings of sympathy for Cawthorn, instead of just disdain for a politician whose views I find revolting.
The kid was home-schooled. His default position has always been to lie. He flunked out of Christian "college" after a semester of failed grades and rebuffed sexual assaults on young women. Remarkably handsome and filled with ambition, his life was cut short in a traffic accident from which he came back from and managed to win a seat in the House of Representatives. It was all downhill from there... as his over-exuberance made him more powerful enemies in the establishment than anyone is ever going to be able to deal with. He's toast and on May 17 he will be rejected by the same backward Republican primary voters in western North Carolina who had embraced him. I hope he finds a good psychiatrist or legitimate spiritual advisor to help him understand who he is and how to heal himself. I doubt that will happen though. I suspect that 30 years from now, Madison will be nothing like Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil, the 39th direct descendant of India's Gohil Rajput dynasty, who knew he was gay at age 12
Gohil publicly came out in an interview to a local newspaper in 2006, becoming the first openly gay royal in the country. He was 41 at the time.
Until 2018, homosexuality was illegal in India, punishable under Section 377, a colonial-era draconian law that demanded up to life imprisonment for anyone committing sexual acts "against the order of nature." Naturally, Gohil's public unmasking triggered a nation-wide scandal. The entire town of Rajpipla — a formerly princely state located in the western state of Gujarat where his ancestors were kings-- turned on him.
"The day I came out, my effigies were burnt. There were a lot of protests, people took to the streets and shouted slogans saying that I brought shame and humiliation to the royal family and to the culture of India. There were death-threats and demands that I be stripped off of my title," Gohil told Insider over a phone call from the coastal state of Kerala.
His parents, the Maharaja and Maharani of Rajpipla, responded with similar rage. They publicly disowned him as their son and took out advertisements in newspapers announcing that he was cut off as heir due to his involvement in activities "unsuitable to society."
Gohil had expected the homophobic uproar. The society he grew up around was strongly conserative, and the country he grew up in didn't legally recognize gay rights. Many around him believed that homosexuality was a mental disorder. At the time, Gohil remembers reporters clamoring to him for a comment on the public rejection. He calmly recounted the answer he gave them, saying, "I don't blame the people who are against me. I blame their ignorance on the subject."
T oday, at 55, Gohil's stance remains the same. Much of his advocacy for LGBTQ+ rights continues to primarily revolve around decimating the stigma around homosexuality. It's with that approach that he founded Lakshya Trust, a charitable organization with the aim to improve the rights of the LGBTQ+ community in Gujarat two decades ago.
In 2018, the year that the Supreme Court decriminalized homosexuality in a landmark ruling, Gohil opened up a 15-acre palace grounds to build a shelter for vulnerable members of the community. Ironically, it was the same palace he was thrown out of when he publicly came out years ago.
In that sense, a large part of Gohil's crusade for equal rights and dignity of life for the LGBTQ+ community is rooted in his own painful past, which included being forced into a short-lived arranged marriage with a woman (Gohil eventually married his husband in 2013), enduring years of torturous conversion therapy, and suffering in silence.
Back in 2002, four years before he came out to the world, Gohil came out to his parents, having been attracted to men for years. "They thought it was impossible that I could be gay because my cultural upbringing had been so rich. They had no idea that there's no connection between someone's sexuality and their upbringing," Gohil recounted.
T he state of denial was followed by his parents insisting on finding a "cure" for his sexuality. In the next four years, Gohil claims that his parents took him to a host of medical practitioners and spiritual guides, "They approached doctors to operate on my brain to make me straight and subjected me to electroshock treatments." When it didn't work out the way they imagined, Gohil was shipped to religious leaders who were ordered to make him "behave normally." None of it worked. But by the time his parents stopped their efforts, Gohil was left traumatized and depressed, often contemplating suicide. In many ways, he says the newspaper interview unshackled him.
Two decades since, conversion therapy is still not outlawed in India (Tamil Nadu is the only state to legally ban the practice last year). Even though there is no proven success rate, it continues to be widely employed to physically and mentally assault the country's queer population, leading to increased depression and death by suicide among LGBTQ+ youth in India. In 2020, a 21-year-old bisexual woman committed suicide after her family subjected her to a harrowing two-month ordeal at de-addiction centers in Kerala in a bid to "cure" her bisexuality.
Today, Gohil is at the forefront of the demand for a ban on the unethical practice. In that, he is not just fighting for a ban but is also battling decades of regressive mentality, ignorance, and judgment. "It's important for people like me who have a certain reputation in society to continue the advocacy. We can't just stop because the country repealed Section 377," he said, explaining that a law being passed in India doesn't always mean that people will immediately start accepting or following it.
"Now we have to fight for issues like same-sex marriage, right to inheritance, right to adoption. It's a never-ending cycle. I have to keep fighting."
If I could give Madison one piece of advice-- beyond engaging a spiritual advisor our psychiatrist-- it would be to read The Gentleman From Maryland: The Conscience of A Gay Conservative, an autobiography by another young congressman, Bob Bauman, a very conservative Republican extremist who was driven from Congress by his own hubris. Or perhaps he could look into the story of former Senator Larry Craig (R-ID). Whatever Schadenfreude I may have felt in 2007 about Craig's exposure was directed-- as in the case of young Madison-- towards his extreme right, bigoted and hate-filled segment of the Republican Party, not towards Larry Craig the human being. And Larry Craig was-- more than an extremist, more than a Republican, more than a gay basher-- a human being. Caught in a public toilet (again) soliciting anonymous sex from a hunky young plainclothes policeman, Craig was kicked to the curb by his right-wing allies. The far right blogosphere demanded he resign immediately. Mitt Romney fired him as head of his Idaho presidential campaign and senatorial outreach program. I didn't hear any of Craig's barbershop quartet buddies-- like Trent Lott-- coming to his defense and I didn't hear the other closeted Republican homophobes in the Congress-- like Senators Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) or House members David Dreier (R-CA), Jim McCrery (R-LA), Phil English (R-PA), Patrick McHenry (R-NC), Mark Foley (R-FL), Denny Hastert (R-IL), or any of the others-- asking for understanding and sympathy.
The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, on the other hand, goes beyond just the obvious hypocrisy of a rightist Republican consistently voting against equality for gay men and women and their families while prowling public toilets for anonymous sex.
At the time, prominent gay activist Mike Rogers offered Carig a message of hope and redemption: "Larry Craig should stand up and be honest with the citizens of Idaho about who he is. Tonight is a historic opportunity for Senator Craig to run for re-election as a proud gay American. What a great turning point for one of the most conservative states in the country to be represented by an openly gay Senator."
That didn't work out. Larry Craig came from a very different place-- and I don't mean Idaho, which recently elected an openly gay woman state representative. Idaho, like most of America, has changed. Larry Craig hasn't, nor is he alone. Men and women brought up to believe homosexuality was "bad" or a "sin" or "unnatural" and who have had that drilled into their heads-- and in right wing Republican circles there has been a certain unrelenting obsession in that direction-- find themselves in a serious bind. The society that nurtures them and defines their identity and even their humanity, condemns part of their essence. Locking that part in a dark closet is the solution that has come as natural to politicians, especially Republican politicians.
I cannot imagine that there are more gay Republicans than gay Democrats-- despite how it looks from the police blotters. There are two reasons for that. Gay Democrats are not under the same kind of societal and social pressures as gay Republicans. They are generally not closeted, accept themselves and are accepted by friends, family and colleagues. At the time of Craig's arrest and disgrace, congressmembers Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Barney Frank (D-MA) were two of the most admired and respected members of Congress. Even many Republican members would forget about the "gay part" and just deal with Barney as the brilliant and powerful Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee. Tammy Baldwin was soon elected to the Senate. Gays who are not hiding in closets don't have to lurk around public restrooms in train stations, shopping malls, parks and airports.
I wrote of feeling pity for the Larry Craigs and Mitch McConnells and Jim McCrerys of the GOP. Whatever arrangements they have made with the women they "married" for political convenience is one thing, but the really sad part is the self-loathing that closeted Republicans have for themselves. That their judgments are warped is clear from their risky and even suicidal behavior. Larry Craig couldn't control himself. In 1994 he was exposed for having sex in a men's room in Union Station. It was unlikely he would have run for re-election in 2008. But to do a repeat performance of the same behavior in an airport restroom is almost unthinkable. Unless you are self destructive and extremely disturbed. Republicans in Congress all knew about Larry Craig, just like they all knew about Mark Foley. But they didn't reach out to him and offer him wise counsel. They swept it under the rug and then called for his resignation.
I think Mike Rogers' suggestion was a lot healthier and a lot saner. I think Mitch McConnell, Lindsey Graham, Patrick McHenry and Madison Cawthorn should give a press conference on the steps of Capitol Hill Monday and tell the world that they're gay and that they're sorry for their homophobic behavior and that from now on they will lead lives just like ordinary Americans-- no more closets, no more furtive sex in public toilets, no more lying and cheating. Mitch, Lindsey, Patrick, Madison, come out, be proud of who you are. Save yourselves from the misery and aguish. Congressman Bob Bauman (R-MD) was a far right GOP congressman and a founding member of both the Young Americans for Freedom and the Conservative Union (of which he was chairman). In 1980 the congressman was arrested for having sex with a 16 year old boy. He was defeated in his re-election bid and his wife, who was also a YAF member, had their marriage annulled. Bauman wrote a book which all elected Republicans should read, The Gentleman From Maryland. He wrote poignantly about how his secret double life was so stressful that it led to alcoholism. He finally admitted he was gay and became a bit of a gay activist... in a conservative way. I can see a future like that for Cawthorn as well, albeit without actually writing a book.