GOP leader's LGBTQ social media activity called hypocrisy

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee's Republican lieutenant governor has apologized after revelations that he interacted on social media to nearly nude photos of a young gay model as well as other posts by the man and other LGBTQ personalities, even as the lawmaker has led a Senate that has passed bills targeting the LGBTQ community.

With Lt. Gov. Randy McNally as its speaker, Tennessee's Senate has advanced and passed bans this year on gender-affirming care for transgender youth and restrictions on where certain drag shows can take place.

The 79-year-old told WTVF-TV on Thursday that he's “really, really sorry if I’ve embarrassed my family, embarrassed my friends, embarrassed any of the members of the legislature with the posts.”

“It was not my intent to (embarrass them), and not my intent to hurt them,” said McNally, who added that he befriended the man on Facebook, then on Instagram, but that they have not met in person.

The Tennessee Holler, a progressive website, first brought attention to the posts on Wednesday, calling McNally's repeated comments on the various posts hypocritical.

For instance, McNally responded to racy social media posts by 20-year-old Franklyn McClur.

McClur told WMC-TV that he knew it was a “cool opportunity” that the lieutenant governor was commenting on his posts. He said that he asked McNally if there were any open positions in his office, and McNally seemed “very willing to help me out.”

McNally voted to send the finalized drag show bill to the governor. He was not on hand when the transgender youth bill passed, and has largely stayed quiet about that bill. The missed vote came days after a heart-related health scare.

Shortly after McNally's online interactions were publicized, his spokesperson, Adam Kleinheider, said McNally is a great-grandfather and a “prolific social media commenter” who frequently posts encouraging messages to many of his followers, even if he may not always use the “proper emoji at the proper time.”

During a press gaggle Thursday, McNally said he is “not anti-gay” and said the bills in question “try to limit certain things, and I think there are safeguards in those bills.”

He noted that he spoke out against a 2020 law that assures continued taxpayer funding of faith-based foster care and adoption agencies even if those organizations exclude LGBTQ families and others based on religious beliefs.

“I try to encourage people on my posts and I try to support people,” McNally said. “Just because he (McClur) is gay — I also have friends that are gay, and I have friends that are relatives that are gay. But I don't feel any animosity toward gay people. I think that's fairly clear.”

McNally said he "still kind of" feels that marriage should be between a man and a woman, but said he has gay friends who are married and “has to abide by” the Supreme Court's precedent on gay marriage.

Republican Gov. Bill Lee has already signed the ban on gender-affirming care for transgender youth under the age of 18, as well as the legislation that keeps certain drag shows off public property or anywhere else a minor could see them, if authorities deem them to fall under obscenity laws.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee has said drag shows do not inherently fall under the law's narrow definitions, which include extreme sexual or violent content without artistic value. But the ACLU and other advocates for LGBTQ rights fear that officials could use the law subjectively to censor drag artists.

In the subsequent TV interview, McNally said he initially was "not very kind" to the LGBTQ community.

“As I learned some things and met some people in that community, I realized that they are still individuals and they still have value,” McNally said.

Asked if he is thinking about resigning, McNally said, "I think that's really up the members of the Senate." He said he has heard from some fellow lawmakers who still support him.

“I think I’ll be a lot more careful about using social media,” McNally said.

McNally, who is from Oak Ridge, became lieutenant governor in 2017. He has been a state lawmaker since the late 1970s.

Jonathan Mattise, The Associated Press