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  • Victoria A. Brownworth

George Santos Story Raises Questions About Gay Republicans

January 3, 2023 Queer Forty

George Santos made history in November when he became the first openly gay non-incumbent Republican candidate elected to Congress. Now everything about the Congressman-elect has come into question and under scrutiny—including his claims of a decade of being an openly gay man who had never experienced discrimination from his chosen party, the GOP.

Santos’s election was touted as emblematic of a new generation of conservative LGBT+ politicians. Santos was a rising star within the New York GOP. He’d even won the endorsement of fellow New Yorker, Elise Stefanik, who is the third-ranked GOP member of the House, having replaced Liz Cheney as chair of the House Republican Conference. Santos’s Twitter profile page shows a photo of the two.

In September, as the midterms moved into full swing, Queer Forty submitted a list of questions to the two candidates in the historic congressional race in New York’s 3rd district. It was the first race in U.S. history in which both candidates were out gay men, ensuring that another gay person would join the 118th Congress in January 2023.

In addition, in a highly competitive midterm election, whoever won could help tip the balance of the House to one party.

As we wrote then, “Robert Zimmerman, 68, a communications executive and Democrat, and George Santos, 34, a Wall Street investor and Republican, are battling for an open seat in the district covering Long Island’s Oyster Bay, Glen Cove, North Hempstead and also part of northeastern Queens. The seat opened when Democratic incumbent Rep. Tom Suozzi declined to seek reelection and ran for governor.”

Zimmerman, left, answered Queer Forty’s questions. Santos, right, did not.

Zimmerman answered all our questions in detail, as well as several follow-up questions. He was genial, responsive and most importantly, eager to bring a progressive Democratic agenda to the district, including support for LGBT+ rights, abortion rights and racial equity. Conversely, despite several requests, Santos refused to answer our questions, referring us to his website, which addressed none of the issues Queer Forty had raised.

In retrospect, Santos’s refusal to answer in-depth questions looks both suspicious and prescient. On December 19, stories questioning Santos’s resume and origin story began emerging. Like a modern Mr. Ripley or a gay male Anna Delvey, Santos was revealed to be at best a manipulative fabulist, at worst a pathological liar who may have committed illegal acts with his finances in his run for office.

What has George Santos lied about?

Santos’s is an extraordinary tale of years of building an origin story that shone brightly enough that Santos won a resounding win in his second run for Congress in a traditionally blue district. There is apparently nothing Santos had not misrepresented: His work history, education, family history, racial and ethnic background and even, perhaps, his sexual orientation. It was all a carefully–and not-so-carefully–constructed series of interconnected fictions.

As Queer Forty delved into Santos’s history we uncovered claims in Santos’s Twitter archive going back to his initial run for office in 2020 in which he had claimed to be biracial—half Caucasian and half Black. Santos also claimed to be immuno-compromised and to have had a cancerous brain tumor that had been treated with radiation. Santos also claimed that his mother, a Brazilian national who has appeared as a character in multiple stories he’s told, had died in 9/11 and then in another tweet he said she had died in the summer of 2016.

Queer Forty also searched to uncover Santos’s citizenship and his alleged marriage to the man with whom he claimed to live with the couple’s dogs while Santos was running for Congress. What we did find is that in 2019 Santos divorced a woman–a marriage he had never disclosed during either run for office. Queer Forty was unable to find any marriage license on file for Santos in New York where he resides and votes.

Yet in October, Santos told USA Today, “I am openly gay, have never had an issue with my sexual identity in the past decade, and I can tell you and assure you, I will always be an advocate for LGBTQ folks.”

Santos, while refusing to speak to Queer Forty about his campaign in September, told the often overtly anti-LGBTQ New York Post, “I think it shows that a lot of what the media puts out there that Republicans are homophobic and not accepting is just not true. I have plenty of support from the local Republican party. I have been nominated twice in a row with no opposition.”

Santos’s support for Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay Bill.” signed into law this year by GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis, was one of many political stances of Santos’s that caused the Victory Fund to support Zimmerman.

Santos was also far from being the Wall Street wunderkind that he’d claimed to be as he walked the streets of the district introducing himself to prospective voters with an argument that he was the change they needed–someone who could help right the ship of a post-pandemic economy still in inflation free-fall.

Santos’s easy convivial manner was said to have won many voters over in the traditionally Democratic district. Santos won the November election with 8 percent of the vote. It was another loss for New York Democrats. As Santos’s lies were revealed, it also raised questions about how the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) had so dropped the ball as to miss so many clues about Santos.

How did Maloney miss that September story in a local newspaper, The North Shore Leader, about Santos’s finances? How did Santos’s own party miss that story? And why did voters elect Santos overwhelmingly in a blue district?

Santos didn’t have those credentials he touted from Citigroup and Goldman Sachs. As investigations into his work history have revealed, Santos never worked for those companies. He was not the “seasoned Wall Street financier and investor” with a family-owned real estate portfolio of 13 properties that he had claimed on his website and while talking to voters.

Nor did Santos graduate from Baruch College in 2010 as he claimed. Nor did he take subsequent courses at New York University. Neither college has any record of his attending. Santos also didn’t attend the prestigious Horace Mann prep school prior to college–that school also has no record of him being a student there.

Nor did Santos found and run a philanthropic organization that he said had rescued more than 2,500 dogs and cats. The IRS has no record of his animal rescue group, Friends of Pets United, listed as a tax-exempt organization.

Yet it was Santos’s personal assertions that were what seemed to upset voters and non-Beltway denizens most. Santos had claimed to have Ukrainian grandparents who had fled the Holocaust. A deep delve by Jewish groups into his background revealed that to be another lie—to which Santos said simply that he was Catholic but he was, due to his mother’s background, “Jew-ish.”

Jewish groups were outraged by the lie and the flippant response. The Republican Jewish Coalition, where Santos had spoken, which still welcomed Donald Trump after he dined with avowed white nationalists and anti-Semites, announced Santos was “not welcome” at events after the revelations about his lineage.

In the LGBT+ community the massacre at the Pulse nightclub in June 2016 is a lasting trauma. Santos exploited that trauma, as he had the Holocaust, for more street cred. He claimed to have four employees who were victims of the second-largest mass shooting in U.S. history. In a WABC interview with disgraced former congressman Anthony Wiener on Dec. 27, Santos retooled that story to be about prospective employees.

In the days immediately before and after Christmas, the majority of the reporting on Santos came from the New York Times, which prompted Santos’s attorney, Joseph Murray, Esq., to issue a statement claiming that the Times’ expose was “a shotgun blast of attacks. It is no surprise that Congressman-elect Santos has enemies at The New York Times who are attempting to smear his good name with these defamatory allegations.”

Murray did not respond to Queer Forty’s request for comment.

Santos himself ignored the stories even as he became a daily national headline. Then, in a series of interviews, including with City and State host Skye Ostreicher, Santos appeared to come totally clean and admit he lied. Yes, he had “embellished” his resume. Who doesn’t? he argued. And in a sorry-not-sorry moment, Santos apologized to those who were bothered by that.

That said, Santos asserted, he was not resigning. He told Ostreicher that the voters could oust him in 2024 if they wanted, but he intended to fulfill the will of the voters and do the job they elected him to do.

Why can’t Santos be forced to resign?

There is no recall provision in New York, so voters do not have recourse to oust Santos. Some members of Congress, like New York’s Rep. Ritchie Torres, a Democrat representing the Bronx, are adamant that Santos should not be seated. Torres, the first out gay man seated in the House, has tweeted repeatedly about Santos, calling on him to resign as well as calling for an Ethics investigation.

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, who will be Minority Leader in January, replacing Nancy Pelosi, has called on Santos to resign as well as demanding an investigation in the House. Yet there have been no calls from the Republican leadership for Santos to resign. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy does not currently have enough votes to be elected Speaker, so he cannot afford to lose Santos’s vote.

On Dec. 29, Republican District Attorney, Anne Donnelly from Nassau County, opened a criminal investigation into George Santos looking into his finances. When Santos ran for Congress in 2020, his FEC filings showed an income of $50,000. In 2022 that income had catapulted Santos into millionaire territory with cash and real estate holdings of over $11 million dollars. In addition, Santos had lent his own campaign $700,000 and contributed hundreds of thousands to other campaigns.

Where did the money come from? This is the question that might end Santos’s congressional aspirations.

On Dec. 30, news broke that Santos was now officially under investigation by federal prosecutors from the Eastern District of New York. Such investigations have no power to remove Santos from office. Other congressmembers have been under criminal and other investigations and not resigned. Florida GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz is currently being investigated for possible sex trafficking. Calls for his resignation have been ignored and McCarthy is expected to put him in leading role in January.

The problem with gay Republicans

Cesar Toledo, Political Director for the Victory Fund, a political action committee dedicated to increasing the number of openly LGBTQ public officials in the U.S., told Queer Forty in September that Santos’s candidacy was problematic for LGBT+ people.

Toledo said, “Santos said abortion is barbaric. He praised [Florida governor] Ron DeSantis’ ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, which is antithetical to our freedom. He’s an election denier who bragged about supporting insurrectionists.”

Toledo said that the seat was “key to increasing our LGBTQ presence in the House as well as our representation.” Santos won by the same number of points as Biden won in 2020, causing even Kevin McCarthy to laud his win.

Notable LGBT+ GOP conservatives like Santos are few. Former Trump Acting Director of the U. S. National Intelligence Ric Grenell, former New York Times columnist and Elon Musk “Twitter Files” co-author Bari Weiss, billionaire Trump adviser Peter Thiel, former Breitbart senior editor Milo Yiannopoulos, Lucian Wintrich, former White House correspondent for the alt-right The Gateway Pundit, writer Andrew Sullivan and celebrity Caitlyn Jenner, who herself ran for governor in California in 2020 are the best-known, with Weiss, Wintrich and Yiannopoulos among that new Millennial and Gen Z generation Santos was touted as belonging to.

Jaimee Michell, founder of Gays Against Groomers, has been a guest on Tucker Carlson’s show on Fox News. The anti-trans group claims to be “pro-children” while pushing the false narrative that it’s queer and trans people who are pedophiles victimizing children. Gays Against Groomers are far-right LGBT+ activists who have allied with the religious right against drag queen story hours, gender-affirming care for trans youth, and other anti-LGBT+ actions.

“You know, saying that ‘groomer’ is an anti-LGBTQ+ slur, that is doing irreparable damage to us as a whole, and it’s putting a really large target on our backs,” Michell told Carlson in November after the Club Q mass shooting in Colorado. Michell blamed the “evil agenda” of gender-affirming care for the Club Q shooting where a drag performance was going on that night in celebration of the annual Trans Day of Remembrance.

In December, Michell’s group targeted openly gay New York councilman Erik Bottcher’s office, after he attended an event at a New York City public library for autistic children.

According to a New York Police Department Deputy Commissioner’s press office statement, “Once inside, the individuals wrote graffiti on the walls of an office within the building. Two female individuals, without permission to do so, entered the residence and were placed under arrest.”

A few hours later, Gays Against Groomers protested outside Bottcher’s apartment in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood while Bottcher was at synagogue. In an interview with The Advocate, Bottcher said, “They entered my building and gained entry, and my super called the police, and two of them were arrested for trespassing. They chalked up the sidewalk in front of the building, saying I was a child predator and groomer.”

The Republican party platform is resoundingly anti-LGBT+ . In 2022, more than 300 anti-LGBT+ GOP bills were proposed and dozens passed in state legislatures. The Texas GOP put out a 77-page platform that has been adopted nationally in which anti-LGBT+ policy is paramount. The Texas GOP declares homosexuality “abnormal” and calls for an end to same-sex marriage—much as U.S. Supreme Court Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas have done.

Whether Santos is able to withstand calls for his resignation or not, the anti-LGBT+ messaging of the GOP remains strong and strident. And just as some U.K. feminists have bonded with the right over anti-LGBT+ and anti-trans messaging, there is no question that beyond old-school groups like the Log Cabin Republicans, there are newly radicalized voices like Weiss, who has teamed up with anti-LGBT+ Musk. Weiss and others want to form a queer phalanx of the GOP that is, as she often writes, “anti-woke.”

Santos had hoped to lead that new phalanx in the House. That’s unlikely now. But the anti-woke “Gays for Groomers” and their ilk are on the rise. And that should be as much a cause for concern as Santos and his lies.

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