A couple of days before the recent Guam election I was scrolling through FaceBook when I spotted what appeared to be a gay version of the National Enquirer. Its front featured a lengthy, adulatory profile of Lt. Gov. candidate Joshua Tenorio who was shortly to be elected along with Lou Leon Guerrero to lead Guam.
So Josh is gay? News to me.
I had known Josh casually as a helpful source at the Guam courts when he worked there and a friendly face occasionally at the Guam legislature. I’d never given a minute of thought to his sexual orientation and it appears that local voters—many of them likely better informed than me—didn’t much care. In fact, when I expressed my surprise about Tenorio to a more knowledgeable friend, several other prominent individuals were mentioned, again, news to me.
When I first came to Guam in 1980, it seems in hindsight that I learned almost immediately that B.J. Cruz, then a juvenile court judge, was not only gay, but pretty open about it. Lacking any allegation of abuse stemming from his position or orientation, I didn’t see this as newsworthy even back then. I did wonder, given Guam’s overwhelmingly Catholic population, how the evident toleration of gays worked between church and state. Recent events, including nearly 200 lawsuits alleging clergy sexual abuse have shed some light on this, if not answering my original question.
Not so long ago the publicity Josh Tenorio received on election eve—on the U.S. mainland anyhow—would have been devastating and quickly amplified by word of mouth and what were once known as anonymous ‘pink sheets.’ It was a one-two punch, beloved by my childhood U.S. Senator Joseph R. McCarthy. Accuse the opposition of being communists and additionally, sometimes covertly, of being homosexuals.
As Wikipedia informs us, Former U.S. Senator Alan K. Simpson has written: "The so-called 'Red Scare' has been the main focus of most historians of that period of time. A lesser-known element ... and one that harmed far more people was the witch-hunt McCarthy and others conducted against homosexuals."
The term for this persecution was popularized by David K. Johnson's 2004 book which studied this anti-homosexual campaign, The Lavender Scare. The book drew its title from the term "lavender lads," used repeatedly by Senator Everett Dirksen as a synonym for homosexual males. In 1952, Dirksen said that a Republican victory in the November elections would mean the removal of "the lavender lads" from the State Department.
How the times and attitudes do change. It seems that sexual orientation has lost its political sting, at least on Guam. In 2018, the only newsworthy issue on this front was the Guam senate candidacy of Lasia Casil, who is transgender. Casil was a first timer in the race, but ran what appeared to be a skillful campaign and won a respectable number of votes, placing 21st. She’ll likely be back in the future, the second time being the charm for a lot of past senators.
Casil appears to have missed a chance to be a very early LGBTQ person to win a statewide legislative seat. In January, Danica Roem copped first place when she became an elected Virginia delegate. According to the Denver Post, Brianna Titone has won a tight race for a seat in the Colorado legislature, subject to a possible recount.
“’I was thinking about running but I didn’t know if I could do it,’” said Titone, 40. “When Danica Roem won her election, it kind of gave me the courage to say, ‘Someone else has done this, and now I have a chance to do this, too.’”
Further, two transgender women, Lisa Bunker and Gerri Cannon, also won their elections in New Hampshire, effectively tripling the level of transgender representation in statehouses across the U.S.
One of the charms of studying history is that you get to look back at what are—again in hindsight—stupid and outmoded beliefs about society, often reflected in embarrassing and outmoded laws. I am somewhat hopeful that the demonizing of any kind of sexual orientation will be viewed in the future as strange and archaic.
Bruce Lloyd is the associate editor of the Pacific Island Times.. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org