“I have gay friends”

Someone uttering that phrase should set off alarm bells, especially if that someone is a politician. It almost always translates to “I know you all see what I did/said as homophobic, but really, it’s cool!” Rick Santorum’s oldest daughter is the latest to remark about her gay friends in a Huffington Post interview, and Dan Savage makes an excellent point:

What really interests me about the HuffPo interview, however, is Elizabeth’s claim to have gay friends. Elizabeth Santorum—follow her on Twitter@esantorum2012—has gay friends. Just like her father. And Rick Warren and Joel Osteen and Donny Osmond and Sarah Palin. All the high-profile homophobes seem to have gay friends. Or at least they claim to have gay friends. No one has ever met—and no reporter has ever asked to verify the existence of—one of Rick Santorum or Elizabeth Santorum or Rick Warren or Joel Osteen’s gay friends.

[…]Political reporters? When Elizabeth Santorum says, “I have gay friends and they support my dad because they agree with him about family issues,” i.e. her dad’s opposition to gay people having a families of their own, your immediate response should be a request for the names and phone numbers of some of these gay friends. Because that claim requires checking out before you put it in print or pixels. Reassure Elizabeth you’ll quote her friends anonymously to protect them from potty-mouthed gay bloggers, they can talk to you on background or whatever, but tell her that you’re going to need to verify the existence of these gay friends. Because you’re a journalist, not a stenographer. You’ll either catch Elizabeth Santorum in a revealing lie—what does it tell us about this moment in the struggle for LGBT equality that even homophobes like Elizabeth and her dad perceive a political risk in being perceived as homophobic?—or you’ll land a fascinating interview.

Spot on.

And while we’re at it, can the media please stop referring to politicians like Santorum as running on a platform of “family values”? How is it “family values” to refuse gay people the right to form families? Represent his platform for what it is – homophobia. Don’t accept the labels these bigots want you to use.


  1. magistramarla says

    My friend – I happen to be one of those people who “has gay friends”. My very dear friend of over 25 years is a lesbian. My hubby and I have “hung out” with gay couples since college, and we’ve known a few gay couples in active duty military.
    I was the teacher-mentor for a GSA group in a large Texas high school, and I’ve always strongly stood up for my GSA kids’ rights.
    My daughter, while not gay herself, was the LGBT liaison to the graduate student government at her grad school. She graduated with a rainbow tassel on her miter, and proudly displays the award that she received from the campus LGBT group in her lab.
    The same group gave me a rainbow tassel in honor of my GSA mentorship, and it hung in my classroom as a symbol to all who entered – “All are equal in this room”.
    I know that the phrase “I have gay friends” can set off alarms, but some of us mean it – and say it with pride.

  2. mcbender says

    Jen, I actually think one of your most important points here is calling out the “values” bullshit. “Values” in politics is just code for religion, everyone knows it but nobody ever seems to call anyone out on it… I am sick to death of hearing about “values voters” to mean people whose main issue is religiously-motivated social conservatism. This is just plain insulting to pretty much everyone else: how do you like being told that being a secular humanist, feminist, progressive whatever means you don’t have “values”?

    I think this is another place where we need consciousness-raising to come into play, although I will admit there are bigger issues to be concerned about.

  3. BentleyOwen says

    And you also support policies that support your friends’ equal rights? Assuming this is the case by all of the details, you would never be in a situation where saying “I have gay friends” would be the only defense against accusations of homophobia- if ever you were accused it, which seems unlikely based on your background. You’re not one of the people she’s talking about.

  4. LTFT says

    First, let me say that I think, ‘I have X friends’ should be banned from our lexicon and my first instinct was to cheer for better fact-checking on crap like that. Even better than that, I’d think, would be to not report it (I disagree with Savage on the cost of following up by asking for names, btw. It seems like there are greater direct costs than he indicates, potentially high indirect costs, and I’m not sure the benefits would ever be there).

    Second, posts like this one, originally from Savage and echoed by Jen, are one of the reasons why I don’t identify with the skeptical movement.

    There’s an entire group of gay Republicans, the Log Cabin Republicans. Their (apparently infrequently updated) website lists a host of what they consider ‘family’ issues. Santorum falls on their side on at least a couple of these (and against them on several others). Additionally, CNN’s exit polls from 2010 (cited by the Log Cabin Republican website) suggest that about 31% of gay or lesbian individuals voted for the GOP candidate for House of Representatives.

    I agree that Santorum’s positions on many issues, including LGBT issues, are repugnant. I agree that saying you have gay friends is meaningless and a very possible, even probable, cop-out. I have trouble understanding how any gay individual could be friends with Santorum, let alone want to vote for the guy.

    But I can’t understand how you can be a skeptic and still keep as a default mindset the idea that extremely well-connected Republicans don’t have gay friends who support them*. It’s almost as inconceivable as the Virgin Birth (okay, not quite that bad).

    When I see a church, synagogue, or mosque, I see an instituion filled with people sharing similar blindspots, similar biases, similar prejudices. Were I to join that institution I would be empowering that institution to act in my name and pass bad legislation and encourage those blindspots, biases, and prejudices. I don’t want that.

    When I look at the skeptical movement now, as captured by both the posts and comment threads on FTB, I see a (disorganized) institution with people holding similar blindspots, similar biases, and similar prejudices. I’m not sure why I would want to join an institution and empower those problems; there are other ways to help.

    *- I realize a skeptic could reply by saying you don’t believe anything without proof, or something similar. I’m fine with that, but the thrust of Savage’s post was about Republicans only, not everyone. Also, while I have a footnote- please note that I’m not comparing atheism or skepticism to religion.

  5. gworroll says

    I look at it like this.

    Ok, you have gay friends. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that they really are your friends, equal to any of your straight friends.

    But where did they start? When they were strangers, were they equal to what your straight friends were when they were strangers?

    It’s not saying much if someones gay friends started off with a deficit that the straight ones never had to deal with. It’s a good sign that they might be able to learn a wider acceptance of gay people someday(assuming the benefit of the doubt I gave was actually deserved), but it doesn’t make them decent towards gay people right now.

  6. adamgordon says

    What the hell?

    I’m not sure we even read the same post.

    But I can’t understand how you can be a skeptic and still keep as a default mindset the idea that extremely well-connected Republicans don’t have gay friends who support them.

    Can you point to a single instance where Savage or Jen mentioned that this is about “Republicans?” In fact, can you find a single instance in which Savage or Jen even used the word “Republicans” at all? No one is saying that gay individuals can’t vote for the GOP, or that Republicans, well connected or not, do not have gay friends.

    The post is about homophobes. The post is about individuals who in one sentence condemn individuals for their homosexuality, likening it to Bestiality or Pedophilia, and then in the very next claim that they have ‘gay friends’ so it’s all OK. Hate the sin, not the sinner, and all that garbage. Is this really that hard to understand?

    It seems to me, based on this comment as well as your last comment in the previous post about the Mallorie letter, that you are in fact looking for these “blindspots, biases, and prejudices” where none might actually exist.

  7. spdoyle17 says

    While I’m not exactly opposed to the narrative you’re building, why attack the Santorums? If anything, they should be supported. If ONLY he were to be nominated… Then November would be easy.

  8. BentleyOwen says

    Are you suggesting that liberal bloggers should refrain from criticizing bigoted wingnuts out of a concern that they might inadvertently influence GOP primary voters to nominate someone electable, thus making it more difficult for the ineffectual centrist incumbent to win a second term?

    If so, then you’re onto something. Leace Santorum alone, Ms. McCreight!

  9. says

    I’ve never understood why it’s necessary to place an adjective such as “gay” or “black” before “friend,” “co-worker,” etc. If for some reason it’s contextually important that you let someone else know a person’s sexual orientation or skin color, then do so in a manner that doesn’t receive a “wink, wink, nod, nod… say no more…” in reply.

    If you’re a liberal/free thinker and you use terms like “gay friends,” it’s time to examine your true feelings and prejudices (we all have them, the trick is to recognize or admit that you have them, understand why you have them, and then let go of them). If you feel the need to tell a “friend” that you have a “gay friend,” what is it about the “friend” that causes you to do so? Are you afraid of their reaction, that if you don’t include the gay bit, and they find out later on, they’ll think you’re gay, or that you were hiding something? Or is it just the cheap thrill of sharing a juicy tidbit of gossip and/or making a boring relationship seem more exciting?

    The right-wing/movement conservative uses code to identify the “other,” people that are different than they are. Rick Santorum (and his daughter/agent and others) is using “gay friends” as code to let his supporters know he really doesn’t have friends that just happen to be gay, he’s only saying “gay friends” for political expediency in order to appease moderates, that he’ll have to reach, if he’s to have half a chance at the nomination.

  10. eigenperson says

    But the thing is, you’re underestimating the power of cognitive dissonance and cultural inertia. Santorum may very well actually have gay friends. Those people may feel deeply uncomfortable around her (or him, depending on which Santorum we’re talking about). But they may still consider themselves friends, even though the relationship is basically abusive. For her own part, Santorum can engage in some doublethink so that when she spouts homophobic rhetoric, a part of her brain says “Don’t worry, self — you know you’re only talking about the BAD kind of gays. Not your friends.”

    Remember, Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg are great friends, even as they author opinions in which they each seek to destroy everything the other holds dear. If they can be friends, so can Santorum and a gay person.

  11. Katkinkate says

    Magistramarla, Yes but, you’re not saying it to gain some sort of politico/social power or credibility.

  12. Jett Perrobone says

    One thing that really peeves me is when these bigots say:

    “I am not a homophobe. I neither hate nor fear homosexuals. They just disgust me.”

  13. Smikey says

    It’s not so much whether or not you think you have gay friends, Santorums. It’s about whether or not any gay folks would name YOU as one of their friends.

    You might think you’re a great friend by telling them, every day, in the national media, that they’re going to hell for living an abomination. It’s not ‘unfriendly’ if you think all the crazy ass things you think. That’s why I’m interested if any of these ‘gay friends’ reciprocate your friendship.

  14. sambarge says

    I don’t find it difficult to believe that a gay person might choose to support Santorum or be friends with him and/or his family members.

    One of Dick Cheney’s daughters is gay and in a long term relationship that includes at least one child that cannot be recognized by the state because George Bush opposed equal marriage rights for gay Americans. She isn’t estranged from her father or the Republican Party. Far from it; she worked for Bush/Cheney while they were in office and actively worked to get them elected and re-elected. Some people support political candidates for reasons unclear to us and, in some cases, apparently against their own best interests.*

    Think of the women that support Ron Paul. For that matter, think of the women who support Perry, Santorum, Bachmann and Cain. They obviously feel that their personal rights are not in jeopardy just because each of these candidates would actively work to reverse or limit gains made by women in the last 50 years. Just because someone is a woman, that doesn’t mean that their chief political interests are centered on women’s issues (if only it did – we bitches would own this fucking planet by now!). Just because someone is gay, that doesn’t mean that homosexuality is their only political interest. Being gay doesn’t mean that they can’t be fiscally conservative or sexist or racist or overtly religious.

    It seems clear to me that no gay person should support Santorum but then again it seems clear to me that no woman should support Ron Paul. And yet, they do.

    I love the take-down of Family ValuesTM, by the way, and think this community should be doing that regularly. Whenever I hear a politician invoke Family ValuesTM, I think of an article Stephen Fry wrote during the Thatcher government that included the following line:

    “Obedience, compulsion, tyranny and repression are family values as much as love, compassion and mutual trust.”

    The article goes on to expose Family ValuesTM as code for the repression of individual freedoms and the maintenance of the patriarchal norms of sexism, racism and homophobia. Of course, Fry does it with greater humour and linguistic panache than I could muster.

    *Mary Cheney has since come out to say that she opposed the President’s position on gay marriage but she kept silent throughout his term in office. So, in her case, she actively worked for a candidate who was limiting her personal freedoms, which she recognized and disagreed with.

  15. says

    Whenever people say “I have a *blank* friend” as a way to deflect from their obvious bigotry, I always imagine they have a plastic pencil box full of Lego figures. One each of every possible not-white not-male not-rich not-Christian figures, who they pull out of the plastic box when they need an example, and who then goes right back in the box when no longer needed.

  16. ambassadorfromverdammt says

    One often hears –values politicians saying “I have blank friends”, but I never hear blanks saying “I have –values friends”.

    I wonder why that is?

  17. sumdum says

    I don’t give a damn if they have gay black jewish transexual friends with a handicap, it doesn’t change a thing about the fact their policies are homophobic, misogynistic or .

  18. David W says

    The exact same thing is true of people who say “many of my best friends are black… or Jewish… or gay… or women.” I think the phrase is probably a defense mechanism, especially when people are directly confronted with their beliefs (and a rather feeble one).

  19. LTFT says

    Hi adamgordon,

    My bad and I apologize. My post seems to have confused ‘homophobe’ and ‘Republican’. Sadly funny thing to happen in a post about bias, eh?

    I wrote my post for three reasons, one of which is apparently incorrect and my mistake. First, I read comments to Savage’s piece conflating homophobes and Republicans. Second, Savage (slightly) mischaracterized E. Santorum’s comments- she said gay friends supported her father for family AND economic reasons (and ‘family reasons’ doesn’t necessarily mean what Savage characterized it to mean). I was a little bothered by that edit.

    The big reason I wrote my post, however, was that Savage’s piece included a headline explicitly referencing the GOP. Or at least I thought it did. Going to his page now I don’t see that. I was clicking around a lot last night between the HuffPo piece and Log Cabin Republicans and Savage and I don’t know what else. I must have wrongly attributed an anti-GOP headline to the specific Savage article linked by Jen. Had I realized my mistake I obviously wouldn’t have posted.

    On looking for biases- I admit, I’m sensitized towards finding them in Jen’s pieces. That wasn’t the point of my response to her Mallorie post, however. Rather, I thought she made a cotton candy argument against Mallorie- light, fluffy, tastes good, immediately satisfying, but not very solid or long-lasting. I think Jen can do better.

    Thanks for pointing out my error and I apologize again.

  20. Arctic Ape says

    Here’s a free idea for an Onion arcticle, if one doesn’t already exist: “Many of my best friends are bigots”

    A black Muslim lesbian exposes herself as a mutual friend of all those racist/islamophobic/homophobic/misogynistic white guys who have publicly claimed to have black/Muslim/gay/female friends.

    One punchline referring to that Justice of Peace in Louisiana who wouldn’t marry her and her girlfriend despite their friendship because he doesn’t believe in interracial marriage (but lets her use his bathroom).

  21. Eric RoM says

    Costs? The cost of doing your job as a reporter??

    Savage nailed it with the ‘stenographer’ comment.

  22. David Ellis says

    My sister once used the “I have gay friends” defense when I pointed out that her opposition to gay marriage (and rights in general) was unfair. She went on to say that gay people should remain unmarried and celibate (if they don’t want to marry the opposite sex) and that this was simply the cross they had to bear.


    The casual cruelty of this attitude is one of the reasons I so despise religious fundamentalism.

  23. says

    The only time I’ve had to refer to my best friend in college as a “gay friend” was when trying to convince my coworkers that, no, just because a person is gay doesn’t mean they’ll try to rape you if they happen to see you naked in the showers.

  24. says

    Well, I assume we’re talking about the phrase used as a free-card to be bigoted.

    Although I have in a debate about racism been misrepresented because I was telling a story about a black woman I went to college with who grew up in Texas in the 60s and experienced segregation, and the remnants of it. The other person and I disagreed on some related political issue, and they quoted me out of context on that bit to invalidate my whole post.

    So it can absolutely be used in a wrong way too.

  25. LTFT says

    Hi Eric,

    Part of doing your job as a reporter, unfortunately, is being able to do your job as a reporter in the future. If you want to be able to ask Santorum questions in the future and you ask him a question like that in the present, well, good luck in the future.

    No, I don’t think someone like Brian Williams would have much to be afraid of. But the person who gets assigned to write an article on a Presidential candidate’s daughter? Um, I’m guessing s/he isn’t high on the masthead. And the lower you are in the pecking order the more important it is to follow the old ethos of reporting the news rather than making the news, explaining the situation rather than analyzing the situation, etc.

    I agree, Savage did hit the nail on the head with his stenographer comment, just maybe not the way you think.

  26. freemage says

    Sure, the First Family of Froth probably has a small group of homosexuals who self-identify as their friends. And I’m willing to bet that every last one of them is white and 1% wealthy (maybe 5%), and thus able to afford at least some degree of insulation from the bullshit the rest of the gay folks in this country have to deal with. (There may also be some self-loathing gays who are currently attempting to go through ‘gay reparation therapy’ or whatever that horseshit is being called currently.)

  27. Zuche says

    The “friends” argument is similar to announcing marital status in a defense of spousal abuse.

  28. says

    I have no doubt that Joel Osteen has gay friends. Many of them. Maybe even one special gay friend. I’ve been waiting for that guy to come out of the closet for years.

  29. Sir Shplane, Grand Mixmaster, Knight of the Turntable says

    I have a bunch of gay friends.

    It’s why I don’t campaign against gay rights.

  30. William says

    Actually, I go to school with Liz Santorum, and she *does* have gay friends; I’m pretty sure I know at least one of the people she’s talking about (small school).

    That doesn’t change the fact that she and her dad homophobic bigots.

  31. William says


    The gay person in question is also Catholic and accepts the Church’s position on homosexuality; they wouldn’t see homophobia as a problem.

    Catholics are wrong about homosexuality, but they’re wrong in a way that tends to be much nicer than that of their evangelical counterparts (with notable exceptions); in such a case the gay person in question might be willing to forgive the bigotry. Nice bigotry is about as contradictory as it sounds; none of the Catholic positions on homosexuality hold up to careful scrutiny. As weird as it sounds though, it exists.

  32. Qwerty says

    I cringe when I hear that phrase because I hear “I’m not homophobic because I have gay friends.”

    Years ago when I was still in the closet a nosy coworker kept trying to figure out my sexuality and she used that line on me. To get her off my back I finally admitted I am gay, but I should have told her to fuck off and my sexual orientation was none of her goddamned business.

  33. says

    If you are using the phrase “gay friend” to mean someone separate from your “normal” friends then I agree with you. However there are times when a phrase like that is necessary, for example I have several gay friends and I credit them with helping me understand what they go through. Because they are my friends it takes things from an abstract concept of rights and freedom to personal understanding of what they have to fight against every day. In that sense of the phrase, gay describes an aspect of my friends important to the topic the same as they might describe me as their “artist friend” in a discussion related to art.

  34. says

    I most any gay person would think it in their best interest to oppose a candidate who thinks state should have the right to throw them in prison for it, which Santorum does. Most of the anti-women politicians don’t actively want to send women to prison and none of them just for being a woman.

  35. Guest says

    Perhaps reporters are trying to use the right’s preferred label of “family values” in the same way they often use each side’s preferred label with regard to abortion – “pro-life” and “pro-choice.”

    In which case, I’d like to start hearing reporters talk about “advocates for marriage equality” instead of “advocates for gay marriage.”

  36. says

    I’m with Dan Savage on this one. What Ms. Santorum says are friends to HER, might be the ONE passing acquaintance with the guy who caters her family’s parties.
    For all we know.

    But it’s offensive for her to say that in this context. Because a gay friend that MEANT something to her, would mean that she wanted to share the same rights and protections that SHE has. The stakes for gay people is very high. There is serious urgency in what gay people not just want, but NEED. After all, anti gay sentiment is killing school children as they torment each other with anti gay stereotypes and prejudice.
    There are gay couples WITH families they cannot fully help and support each other but for the restrictive bans like DOMA and exclusion from several Constitutional amendments. This puts gay people at risk of losing or being harmed for no reason BUT the prejudice and disdain Santorum holds for gay people.

    A friend, would be appalled by this. They rebel and speak out against policies that HARM one’s friends.
    It takes NO courage for E. Santorum to utter such words. But it would to actually TREAT that friend the way she’d want to be treated.

    I have gay friends. Gay friends I grew up with (who are still my friends). Gay friends I acquired through my professional life and political one too. We eat together, pray together, attend the theater together. I babysit their children, get worried when those kids got big enough to drive, and they’ve helped me when I was sick, and gave me beautiful presents and loved me through everything.
    I’d rather die, than benefit from all this, and at the same time, deny that these friends of mine don’t deserve the same rights and protections that I have. We are fighting for them together.
    That’s what someone needs to tell Ms. Santorum.
    Otherwise, it’s apparent she is no friend of or to gay people.

  37. sambarge says

    We might have different definitions of prison – the life that many anti-woman policy supporters have in mind sounds like prison to me.

    While I hear what you’re saying, I’ve noticed that people have that ability to ignore the truth when they don’t want to know it. They think that nothing bad will happen to them because they’re not ‘that kind of gay’ or that Santorum doesn’t really mean it or whatever. Whenever you read about people who act against their best interests they always have an amazing way of rationalizing away what they’re doing.

  38. Judy L. says

    “Family Values” means only one thing when it comes out of the mouths of right-wingers: PATRIARCHY.

  39. christophburschka says

    I wonder if these mysterious gay friends also double as “their best friends who are black”.

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