Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Aug 1: Rep. Jim Kolbe Comes Out: 1996

b. June 28, 1942

A former Republican member of the United States House of Representatives from Arizona, serving 11 terms from 1985 to 2007. For much of that time, he was deeply closeted, until his vote for the Defence of Marriage Act in 1996 resulted in efforts by some gay activists to out him. He then came out in August that year, becoming the second openly gay Republican in Congress, after Steve Gunderson of Wisconsin. He was able to win re-election, and went on to become the first openly gay person to address the Republican National Convention, although his speech did not address gay rights. Even after coming out, Kolbe's record on gay rights was somewhat mixed. He was lukewarm in his support of same-sex marriage, but he strongly supported the availability of universal civil unions.

In 2000, when Kolbe found out about former Congressman Mark Foley's "Internet communications with teenagers" who were subordinate to Foley, he informed the office that oversaw the page program. He assumed the matter had been taken care of, although this was not brought to the public's attention until September 29, 2006[6] when it became public that Foley had sent sexually explicit and solicitative e-mails and instant messages to young adult male pages. Republican leaders had claimed that they had only recently been made aware of Foley's actions, despite Kolbe's actions.

In October 2006, federal prosecutors in Arizona opened a preliminary investigation into a camping trip that Kolbe took in July 1996 that included two teenage former congressional pages, as well as National Park officials, then-current staff, and Kolbe's sister. During that trip to the Grand Canyon, he was accused of "acting inappropriately"; NBC News interviewed several people who were on the trip, and their accounts vary. One participant, who requested anonymity, said he was uncomfortable with the attention Kolbe paid to one of the former pages. He was "creeped out by it," he said, adding that there was a lot of "fawning, petting and touching" on the teenager's arms, shoulders and back by Kolbe. On June 5, 2007, federal investigators absolved Kolbe of any wrongdoing in the case. In a statement released by the Justice Department, "investigators have completed their work on the preliminary inquiry opened by federal prosecutors last fall, and see no reason to pursue it further."

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