Homeland Security Chief: Not a Lesbian, Just ’Unmarried’

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Monday August 17, 2009

Former Arizona governor and current chief of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano didn't out and out deny rumors that she's a lesbian, but she did address the issue in an interview by saying that she's "just happen[s] not to be married."

Napolitano went on to answer a follow-up question asking of she were "seeing anybody now" by answering, "Yes, my staff."

The interview appeared in the Aug. 12 edition of the New York Times.

Napolitano addressed the terror alert system, which measures the current level of danger from a terrorist attack according to a color scheme, ranging from green to red, saying that she had "appointed a task force to take a fresh look at the color-code system and whether we should retain it, change it or scrap it." The terror alert system has drawn criticism from skeptics who wonder whether it accurately reflects the threat of another terrorist attack against America, or whether the threat system is simply used to enhance anxieties for political purposes.

Speaking of the seeming-perpetual "code orange" level of the terror threat, Napolitano said that, "It was a phrase that didn't have a precise meaning and I think that perhaps lost its meaning as time went on.

"It became part and parcel of late-night humor," Napolitano continued, going on to say that her department does not "exist to provide material for comedians."

The interview noted that under Napolitano, the Department of Homeland Security was encouraging Americans to be well prepared for any disaster, natural or man-made, by having a plan and stockpiling essentials such as water. "It sounds like the Boy Scouts," the interviewer noted.

Responded Napolitano, "It does indeed.

"Be in a state of readiness, not a state of fear is perhaps a better way to put it."

Napolitano went on to say, "I still am" a Girl Scout when asked about membership in the organization.

Napolitano faced criticism for a report to the Dept. of Homeland Security during the George W. Bush administration. The report contained speculation that extremist right-wing groups might recruit new members from among former U.S. servicemembers.

That report also resulted in a lawsuit from the right-wing Christian organization the Thomas More Law Center, when, among others, anti-gay talk radio personality Michael Savage charged that the report might "encourage... law enforcement officers throughout the nation to target and report citizens to federal officials as suspicious rightwing extremists and potential terrorists because of their political beliefs."

Shades of the report recurred in the interview, when the reporter asked Napolitano about comments made by Fox News commentator Glenn Beck.

Beck, noted the reporter, had characterized Barack Obama as having "a deep-seated hatred for white people." The reporter asked Napolitano whether such views might encourage bias-motivated violenge against minorities.

Replied Napolitano, "I would just say that's a ridiculous statement."

"But do you think certain radio and television hosts are feeding intolerance and even terrorism?" the interviewer pressed.

"I think they're trying to create listeners and that's the business they're in, so they say outrageous things that are obviously not true."

Right-wing commentators have worried aloud since Obama's election that the president might restore regulations that require broadcasters to balance out viewpoints put on the airwaves by including opposing points of view.

Some right-wing commentators have even voiced fears that some talk radio content might be outlawed.

Others have assumed that Obama would place restrictions on gun ownership, leading to a spike in gun sales after the November elections last year.

The interview also addressed Napolitano's athleticism. The Homeland Security director is known as a sports fan and a hiker. Asked about her ascent of Mt. Kilimanjaro, Napolitano said, "It was fabulous.

"We took about three and a half days to get up and a day and a half or so to get down."

The interviewer brought up the subject of rumors concerning Napolitano's sexuality by noting, "Men don't know what to make of women who choose to be single. Rumors of lesbianism have dogged women in politics like you, Condoleezza Rice and Ann Richards."

Napolitano responded, "I think the more people get to know a person, the less that becomes an issue.

"It's interesting," Napolitano continued. "In Arizona when I first ran for public office, that's when the rumors were going around, and of course I'm sure they go around now."

The interviewer noted that during her gubernatorial campaign, Napolitano had denied being a lesbian.

"I just happen not to be married," the Homeland Security director stated at that point.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.