The Strange Case of the Two Gay Congressmen

Originally posted by Nonpartisan on 12/03/06

[Cross-posted at Daily Kos, MyDD, My Left Wing, and Booman Tribune.]

So my song for you this evening, it’s not to make you sad
Nor for adding to the sorrows of our troubled northern land
But lately I’ve been thinking and it just won’t leave my mind
I’ll tell you of two friends of mine who were both good friends of mine

Tommy Sands, from “There Were Roses”

At a used bookstore hidden in a bargain barn several months ago, I picked up an intriguing book.  The Gentleman from Maryland: The Conscience of a Gay Conservative was the memoir, said its jacket, of former Congressman Robert Bauman, a conservative Republican from Maryland’s Eastern Shore.  I opened the book’s cover and entered into the sordid world of Washington gay culture — a world peopled with individuals desperate to indulge their sexual desires but terrified of exposure to their constituents.  Such a combination of fear and need creates a cocktail for destruction.  This is the story of that destruction — and how it brought down two leading lights in Maryland politics.

…What you have here is a true story, in my own words, of what some have called a near-perfect Greek tragedy, the somber theme of a “noble person” whose character is flawed by a great weakness, causing him to break a divine precept, leading inevitably to his downfall, perhaps destruction.  I wish it were so simple.

–Bob Bauman

In his Preface, Bauman quotes from The Almanac of American Politics‘ description of Maryland’s First Congressional District, a description which I will reproduce in part here:

Until the completion of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge in 1952, the Eastern Shore of Maryland was virtually cut off from the rest of the State.  The “Eastern” refers to the east shore of the Chesapeake, a part of Maryland that remains almost a world unto itself — a region of Southern drowsiness, chicken farms and fishing villages.  Its history has been told in James Michener’s bestseller, Chesapeake.  Before the Civil War, the Eastern Shore was very much slaveholding country.  Up through the sixties attachment to the mores of the South persisted; until the sixties attachment to the mores of the South persisted; until 1964 Maryland had a public accommodations law which explicitly excluded the Eastern Shore counties. …

The 1st Congressional District is, by reputation, the Eastern Shore district, although only 53% of its residents live east of the Bay.  The rest are found in two entirely separate areas.  The first is Harford County, a northern extension of the Baltimore metropolitan area; the second is Charles, St. Mary’s and Calvert counties south of Annapolis.  The latter are where Lord Baltimore’s Catholics first settled Maryland and theer is a substantial rural Catholic population there still. …

I have lived in the Southern Maryland portion of what used to be the First District.  The population is, as the Almanac says, more Southern than Mid-Atlantic in temperament.  Mostly backwater if not backwoods types, they are generally racist and deeply homophobic.  They vote based on character more than issues, and they are deeply an obsessively loyal to those of their sons and daughters who have made good on the national stage.  Many proudly rattle off their lineal relations to the Calverts, to 1930′s spy novelist Dashiell Hammett, or to the local political royal families, the Raleys and the Dysons.

Robert Bauman was a son of the district who made good.  A founding member of the American Conservative Union and Young Americans for Freedom, Bauman was elected to represent the First Congressional at the age of thirty-six, in a 1973 special election.  He was re-elected in 1974, 1976, and 1978.  According to the Congressman himself, “…Throughout the Maryland press and media for almost two years the name most prominently mentioned as the likely [Democratic Senator Paul] Sarbanes 1982 opponent was the gentleman from Maryland, Bob Bauman.”

But Bauman had a secret life, one that stood in marked contrast to his extreme-conservative, richly homophobic image.  The Congressman himself explains:

For a time I rented a room from Joe’s mother and it was not just this proximity to Joe and his merry band that produced urgings of interest in me.  There were momentary relationships with some of the young men I met at Joe’s house, mostly my own age, but they never lasted more than an hour or two.  No attempt was made to really know the person except in the most superficial way.  Once the encounter ended we parted quickly to avoid the implications of what we did.  I am sure many of the young men were as convinced as I that this was only a passing phase.  Each time I would feel great guilt and head for Saturday confession at St. Peter’s or St. Joseph’s on Capitol Hill so I could make amends with God and be in the state of grace for Sunday Communion.  I would always vow to myself and God I would never do it again.  Sometimes my vow would last for weeks or even months.

“Bless me Father for I have sinned.”  And sinned, and sinned and sinned.  In time this pattern of conduct assumed proportions experts would tell me constituted a “compulsion,” an involuntary reaction to a set of given stimuli.  To so define what I was doing is not an attempt to excuse myself or avoid responsibility for my actions.  But I was actually able to convince myself that what was happening was transient in nature, not a deep-seated problem.  I knew something was wrong but I was just as certain I could not be a queer.  That possibility was too horrible to contemplate, much less accept.

– Bob Bauman

Bauman kept his sexual orientation from his political friends, his staff, his wife and four children, and even, so it seems, from his own consciousness.  But in 1980, another entity found out about Bauman’s sexual exploits: the FBI.

On Wednesday morning, September 3, 1980, I breezed into suite 2443 of the Rayburn House Office Building, tanned and rested after a long Labor Day weekend at the beach with my four children.  As I entered my private office, my personal secretary, Nancy Howard, followed me nervously, clutching her steno pad. …

“Bob, there were two FBI agents here earlier this morning wanting to see you.  They waited a while and left to get some coffee but said they would be back soon.” …

As I sat at my desk brooding about what the unexpected FBI visit might mean Nancy buzzed me and at my direction ushered in Special Agent M. Glenn Tuttle and his deferential partner, David R. Loesch.  They seated themselves on the massive blue leather couch opposite my mahogany desk.  A large gilded mirror over their heads allowed me to watch them and my reactions as well.

I started to ask what this was all about but the tight, grim looks on their faces informed me that this was indeed an official visit.  A knot the size of a man’s hand began to grow in my chest and breathing became more difficult.

“This is it,” I thought to myself, trying to remain calm.  A lifetime of acting was about to end.

They knew.

– Bob Bauman

In his book, Bauman fingers just about every Democrat from House Speaker Tip O’Neill to Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti for the leak.  But whoever informed the FBI, the Bureau was determined to prosecute Bauman for what ended up being a charge of soliciting sex from a minor.  (Yes, one of the Congressman’s young lovers was sixteen.)  Bauman ended up pleading guilty to the charge, both because it was true and to make it go away.  But this spelled electoral misfortune for the gentleman from Maryland — and proved an unexpected boon to the other man who was running for Bauman’s job.

Royden Patrick Dyson was a man of considerable pluck and more than his share of ambition.  At twenty-three, Roy Dyson ran for a State Delegate seat and, unbelievably, won.  Eighteen months later, in 1976, Dyson announced he was running against newly-minted Congressman Bob Bauman.  He won an impressive 46% of the vote in that race.  Had he defeated Bauman, Dyson would have been barely twenty-five years old.

Four years later, Dyson ran again — and this time, he was the lucky recipient of Bauman’s bad fortune with the FBI.  According to Bauman, Dyson exploited the gay issue masterfully, first promising “not to bring that issue up” and then stating, “A man’s character is something his constituents have to judge.  I feel his constituents are bringing it up themselves.”

Yet Dyson himself had skeletons in his closet, and incredibly, they looked suspiciously similar to Bauman’s.  Bauman dealt with the issue euphemistically in his 1986 memoir:

Indeed, Royden P. Dyson seemed like a man acutely concerned about his own personal status during our 1980 race.  As if trying to set the scene, he told the Baltimore News American on October 9: “Bauman is in a very desperate situation.  I hope the race doesn’t get dirty.  They’ll have to do something.  I wonder what it will be?”  With an almost maternal protection Dyson’s campaign manager, [Tom] Pappas, told a reporter: “The people of the first district are a very moral and conservative people and so is Roy Dyson.”

Throughout the three weeks of the 1980 campaign one of the most difficult things I had to deal with was not the attacks on me but the issue of Roy Dyson’s private life.

– Bob Bauman

Despite rumors that Dyson and Pappas were lovers, Bauman elected not to do anything about that particular “issue.”  Though the Congressman was able to make up some ground on the twenty-nine-year-old state delegate, Dyson clearly had the momentum in the sprawling district.  On the first Tuesday of November, Dyson defeated Bauman by 8,000 votes.

A defeated and dejected Bauman found himself without friends, without a job in the Reagan administration, and without a wife, who had their marriage speedily annulled.  The revelation of his homosexuality had literally destroyed his entire life.  Bauman descended into alcoholism and withdrew from the 1982 Congressional race after being renominated by the Republicans.  In 1983 he stopped drinking, publicly admitted his homosexuality, and prepared for life after politics.  His memoir came out in 1986, motivated by Bauman’s penury.  Bauman now works for the Sovereign Society, an organization dedicated to helping offshore tax-evaders.  He looks wizened and old.  He writes a blog for the Society, identifying various offshore havens through which money can be trafficked.  It is an ignominious end for the Golden Boy of the Eastern Shore.

As for Dyson, he continued to serve in Congress, where he was elected President of the the 1981 Class of Freshman Democrats.  As befitted a son of Coastal Maryland, he sat on the Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee.  Things looked increasingly rosy for the Southern Maryland native.

And then, two years after The Gentleman from Marland came out, tragedy struck.

May 18, 1988 (New York Times): Representative Roy P. Dyson of Maryland said today that his top aide, Thomas M. Pappas, jumped to his death Sunday from a New York hotel because he felt reports that he had mismanaged Mr. Dyson’s office and staff were a ”smear” that could not be overcome. …

According to the reports, which first appeared in The Washington Post last Sunday, Mr. Pappas made unusual demands on men working in Mr. Dyson’s office, ordering one not to date for a year, repeatedly demanding that another accompany him to social events, and telling still another that he would have to perform a stiptease at an office retreat.

Mr. Dyson said that shortly before Mr. Pappas plunged to his death, in what the police said was an apparent suicide, he had denied any mishandling of the Dyson staff. …

”I think,” Mr. Dyson answered, ”that in a sense Tom literally had dedicated his whole life to this First District. I think he thought he was loosing all that, that his reputation was being smeared, that he realized that the damage had been done and that to recover one’s reputation later would probably be impossible.” …

Some of the articles that appeared after the original article in The Post reported that there had been talk, which was unconfirmed and not specific, of homosexual activity on the Dyson staff. At the news conference today, Mr. Dyson was asked whether Mr. Pappas was a homosexual.

”No, he was not,” the Congressman replied. Are you? he was asked. ”No,” he replied.

That year, Roy Dyson earned an honorary doctorate from the Universty of Maryland.

Was Dyson gay?  You just heard him deny it.  Still, his explanation of Pappas’ suicide seems less than convincing.  In the article, Dyson refers to Pappas’ fiancee, a woman of whom no record seems to exist.  In my opinion, the truth of the allegation rests with the man who took it to his grave — and with the only plausible explanation as to why he did so.

At any rate, Dyson’s latent popularity was enough to eke out a narrow 51-49 win over Vietnam Vet Wayne Gilchrest in 1988.  But two years later, Gilchrest swamped Dyson, winning the entire Eastern Shore.  Gilchrest is still in Congress today, having made a reputation as one of the nation’s most Moderate Republicans.  In addition to being pro-choice and pro-environmental protection, Gilchrest supports a repeal of 2002 don’t-ask-don’t-tell legislation, a measure which would remove the stigma of gays serving in the military.

That’s almost the end of the story, but not quite.  Even when Dyson lost so badly in 1990, he still won the three Southern Maryland counties of St. Mary’s, Charles, and Calvert.  And in 1994, Dyson ran for public office again — for State Senate in District 29, covering those same counties.  He was elected by a wide margin despite the strong Republican trend of that year.  Since then, Dyson has been reelected three times, most recently this past November.

Southern Marylanders see Dyson as a sort of populist hero, the local boy who made good.  What they don’t see is that, if Dyson is in fact gay, he’s also a hypocrite.  According to Gay Rights Info, Dyson voted for anti-gay legislation in all but three of the past twenty-one votes.  Equality Maryland reports that Dyson was one of only seven Democratic state senators who supported a bill to “write [anti-gay] discrimination into the Constitution.”  By all evidence, Dyson is protecting himself from gay slurs by voting against his own people — and only staying in office by denying who he really is.

And even by cynically playing on his constituents’ homophobia, Dyson can’t reclaim the glories of his youth — the days when he was the hottest thing coming, the man for whom all the stars were aligned.  A photo gallery on Dyson’s official website betrays his nostalgia for those days, when dignitaries and Presidents posed for photos with the young Congressman.  In its own way, and despite his best efforts to the contrary, the stigma of homosexuality has claimed Dyson’s career, too, for its collection of political pelts.

You can blame this situation on Dyson, or on Bauman, or on both.  I choose to blame it on neither.  When two ambitious and talented young men are forced to choose between being unscrupulous and being disgraced, all because of the way they choose to live their lives, I believe society itself is at fault.

Two gay Congressmen in a single district — one outed by the FBI, the other by his lover’s suicide — one admitting the truth and destroying his career, the other lying to this day and still serving in government, fighting to pass homophobic laws.  This isn’t just a sordid tale; this is a darkly sad story.  In a generation, when people are free to marry whomever they choose without retribution, people will look at this story as the tragedy it is.  Two political careers destroyed, four lives ruined — and one ended forever — all because of the American societal stigma against homosexuality.

In the Preface to The Gentleman from Maryland, Bob Bauman has the final word:

I can conceive that this book wil have some beneficial value to the many thousands of young and older men who have lived a life of fear and self-hatred, not knowing exactly why they are the way they are, not wanting to accept the possibility they are homosexual. … I hope those of you who need it may find some small degree of understanding and tolerance of a timeless human issue that will not go away.

– Bob Bauman

Gay rights are the new civil rights.  And until people of every sexual persuasion are allowed to live their lives in peace and equality, not just in law but in society, the sad tale of Bob Bauman and Roy Dyson will never be over.  Such are the lessons of history.

Comments are closed.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

%d bloggers like this: