NEW YORK — Sen. Larry Craig's "I'm not gay" declaration met with disdain Wednesday from gay activists, many of whom knew for nearly a year — long before his recent arrest — of allegations that the conservative Idaho Republican solicited sex from men in public restrooms.
They view his case as a prime example of hypocrisy — a man who furtively engaged in same-sex liaisons while consistently opposing gay-rights measures as a politician.
"He may very well not think of himself as being gay, and these are just urges that he has," said Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. "It's the tragedy of homophobia. People create these walls that separate themselves from who they really are."
Craig proclaimed his innocence and his heterosexuality Tuesday after revelations that he pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct after his arrest in June at a Minneapolis airport men's room, where an undercover officer suspected he was soliciting sex.
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Accusations against Craig have been available since last year through an Internet-based activist who had a hand in outing several Republican politicians, including former Rep. Mark Foley, the focus of a House page scandal, and former Rep. Edward Schrock, linked to a gay dating site.
The activist, Mike Rogers, went public last October with allegations that Craig had sexual encounters with at least three men, including one who said he had sex with Craig twice at Washington's Union Station.
The Idaho Statesman published a lengthy story Tuesday, a day after the June 11 arrest was first reported, detailing allegations by Rogers and others, which Craig has denied.
The newspaper also mentioned a congressional scandal in 1982, in which a male page reported having sex with three congressmen, and Craig — although not named by the youth — issued a statement denying any wrongdoing.
The cumulative weight of the allegations served to convince many conservatives, too, that Craig was being untruthful.
"I ask Senator Craig to help us all by doing the right thing: 'Fess up to God and man, step aside and seek help," said the Rev. Rob Schenck, president of a conservative religious group, Faith and Action.
Democratic Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts, one of two openly gay members of Congress, chided Craig for hypocrisy but said there was no need for him to resign now.
"It's not an abuse of his office in the sense that he was taking money for corrupt votes," said Frank, D-Mass.
Rogers noted that some politicians, when confronted with evidence about same-sex encounters, have acknowledged their homosexuality — such as Frank and the late Rep. Gerry Studds, D-Mass. Others persist in denial, and Rogers contends they are fair game for exposure if they vote against gay rights.
"I'd love for Larry Craig to come out and be honest with the people of Idaho and run as a Senate candidate and see if the Republican Party is the big tent they claim to be," Rogers said.