By LOU CHIBBARO JR.  Friday, July 22, 2005

http://www.washblade.com/2005/7-22/news/national/outed.cfm

U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), considered one of the strongest opponents of gay civil rights in Congress, acknowledged to the media last week that his chief spokesperson is a gay man who he considers an “exemplary” employee and “trusted friend.”

News that Santorum’s communications director, Robert Traynham, is gay and has been open about his sexual orientation to Santorum since he joined the senator’s staff eight years ago stunned gay activists and Pennsylvania’s political establishment.

“It disturbs me that he has a gay person on his staff and yet he is so hostile to the rights of LGBT people,” said Stacey Sobel, executive director of the Philadelphia-based Center for Lesbian & Gay Civil Rights. “If he is open-minded enough to have an openly gay staff member, why is he not open minded about the issues important to his LGBT constituents?”

Traynham’s sexual orientation surfaced in the news media after the Web site PageOneQ.com reported that Traynham had confirmed in a recorded phone conversation that he is gay and out to Santorum.

Nearly all the major press outlets in Pennsylvania, including the Philadelphia Inquirer, quickly picked up on Traynham’s status as a gay man. Santorum and some of his supporters charged that the outing was aimed at hurting Santorum’s re-election bid next year, where he trails in the polls to Democrat Robert Casey, Jr., the state treasurer.

In a statement released by his office, Santorum said Traynham has worked for him for eight years. During the past four years, Santorum said, Traynham served as deputy chief of staff for the Senate Republican Conference, which Santorum heads, before returning to Santorum’s personal office to become communications director.

“He is widely respected and admired on Capitol Hill, both among the press corps and among congressional staff, as a communications professional,” Santorum said. “Not only is Mr. Traynham an exemplary staffer, he is also a trusted friend and confidante to me and my family,” Santorum said in his statement.

“It is entirely unacceptable that my staff’s personal lives are considered fair game by partisans looking for arguments to bolster my opponent’s campaign,” Santorum said. “Mr. Traynham continues to have my full support and confidence as well as my prayers as he navigates this rude and mean-spirited invasion of his personal life.”

Aide’s friends step forward

Traynham has declined all requests for interviews by the media. However, he released information to the Blade this week through several intermediaries who know him through his role as a trusted Santorum aide.

“Robert says Sen. Santorum is a great boss, a wonderfully kind, generous, and able person and a caring friend,” said gay Republican activist Jim Driscoll, who has had dealings with Traynham in Driscoll’s role as a Bush appointee on the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS.

Bill Reynolds, communications director for Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), said Traynham does not share all of Santorum’s views on homosexuality or gay rights but prefers to “work on the inside” to present differing viewpoints.

“[Traynham] is intelligent and competent,” Reynolds said. “Everybody likes him.”

Reynolds said he did not know Traynham was gay until he learned about it from news media reports last week.

“The issue is this is really not an issue,” Reynolds said. “Whether he is gay or not, nobody cares.”

Erica Wright, who worked as Santorum’s communications director before Traynham, said “everyone” who worked with Traynham on Santorum’s staff knew he is gay.

“Robert is who he is,” she said. “He has been out since he was 20 years old,” she recalled Traynham telling her. “He did not always bring this out, but he did not conceal it.”

A prominent Capitol Hill news reporter, who asked not to be identified, said Traynham “is saddened by what he considers an invasion of his privacy.”

“Robert feels he can be effective inside the system to try to work for change as it relates to gay policy — quietly, behind the scenes,” the reporter said.

The reporter, who knows Traynham from his coverage of the Senate, added, “Robert is a devout Catholic who tries to get to Mass three times a week, usually before work or during lunch. He says he has a strong sense of his faith and struggles just like everyone else about how to deal with these issues.”

Author and gay civil rights activist Keith Boykin reported on his Web site, which focuses on African-American gay issues, that Traynham’s status as a black gay man working for an anti-gay senator considered hostile to civil rights in general came as a shock to many black gays.

“Traynham is not one of those black gay Republicans who is challenging his party on their racism and homophobia,” Boykin wrote. “No, instead he’s defending the party and its most vocal bigots. The only reason we know of Traynham’s sexual orientation is because he was outed.”

Santorum has been one of the leading supporters of a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, declaring on the Senate floor last year that legalizing gay marriage would threaten the existence of the traditional family unit of a husband and wife with children.

Shortly before the U.S. Supreme Court struck down state laws making consensual sodomy a crime, Santorum said if the high court says same-sex partners have a right to consensual sex in their homes, “then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything.”