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Lt. gov. ‘hearts’ man’s racy photos after backing anti-LGBTQ bills

Republican Randy McNally, the No. 2 elected official in Tennessee, is being accused of hypocrisy by critics

Tennessee Lt. Gov. Randy McNally (R) arrives at his seat to begin a special session of the Tennessee Senate on Oct. 27, 2021, in Nashville. (Mark Humphrey/AP)
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Tennessee Lt. Gov. Randy McNally (R) acknowledged Thursday that he frequently commented on racy and shirtless photos of a man on Instagram, sparking backlash from critics and LGBTQ advocates at a time when the state’s No. 2 elected official has supported bills targeting the LGBTQ community.

McNally, 79, repeatedly left supportive statements and emoji, some of them arguably flirtatious, on provocative and half-nude photos posted by Franklin McClure, 20, who goes by Franklyn Superstar on Instagram, according to the Tennessee Holler. That outlet, which describes itself as “an audience-supported progressive news site,” reported the story Wednesday.

Screenshots of McClure’s Instagram posts show that McNally left heart and fire emoji from the lawmaker’s verified Instagram account in response to a close-up photo of the man’s backside that appears to show him only wearing briefs. He also addressed McClure by his nickname: “Finn, you can turn a rainy day into rainbows and sunshine!” In another post where McClure was dancing outside in his underwear, the lieutenant governor responded, “Love it,” with more heart emoji. Similar comments were left by the Republican in a separate photo showing McClure with his shorts slightly pulled down: “Super look Finn.”

Critics accused McNally of hypocrisy this week after Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee (R) recently signed bills into law that bar transgender children from receiving gender-affirming care and outlaw drag performances in most public spaces. The measures are among more than two dozen bills proposed by Republican lawmakers in the state targeting LGBTQ people and culture.

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Neither McNally nor McClure immediately responded to requests for comment Friday morning. McNally apologized Thursday in an interview with Nashville-based WTVF, but he insisted that his intentions behind the Instagram comments have been misconstrued.

“I’m really, really sorry if I’ve embarrassed my family, embarrassed my friends, embarrassed any of the members of the legislature with the posts,” McNally, who is also speaker of the state Senate, told the TV station. “It was not my intent to [embarrass them] and not my intent to hurt them.”

McNally acknowledged to WTVF that while it was “probably not” appropriate to like some of McClure’s posts, including how the man describes himself as a “PROSTITUTE,” he had not met McClure. McNally, who said he wanted to “encourage” McClure through engagement on his photos, was also asked why he liked McClure’s bio that included a part about how he “gets free weed” for giving oral sex.

“Yeah, I don’t know,” he told WTVF. “A lot of times on some people’s posts you see the name and you see what they’ve written, and you just press the button that says like.”

McNally spokesman Adam Kleinheider denounced the coverage of the lieutenant governor’s social media activity. In a statement to The Washington Post, Kleinheider said McNally is “a prolific social media commenter.”

“He takes great pains to view every post he can and frequently posts encouraging things to many of his followers,” Kleinheider said. “Does he always use the proper emoji at the proper time? Maybe not. But he enjoys interacting with constituents and Tennesseans of all religions, backgrounds and orientations on social media. He has no intention of stopping.”

In an interview with Memphis-based news station WMC, McClure said he started communicating with McNally when he was 17 years old. McClure noted that he did not know that the man he referred to as Randy in his replies was the lieutenant governor or that he had supported anti-LGBTQ bills. He also told WMC that McNally offered to help find him a job in Tennessee government.

“Who doesn’t want attention? It feels so good to be noticed,” McClure said. He added, “[McNally] was very willing to help me out, which, I was like, ‘Okay, thank you!’”

Republican legislators across the country are targeting drag performances amid broader backlash to expanded LGBTQ rights. There have been 26 bills proposed by Tennessee lawmakers this year that target LGBTQ people, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

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McNally did not vote in favor of the bill blocking transgender children from receiving gender-affirming care, but he did support a bill to restrict drag performances. McNally had sponsored legislation banning same-sex marriage before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that such unions were constitutionally protected.

When asked by reporters Thursday about the comments on the Instagram posts and his previous support of banning same-sex marriage, McNally responded by saying, “I’m not anti-gay.”

“I thought that a marriage should be between a man and a woman, and I still kind of feel that way,” he said, according to video of the exchange from the Holler.

McNally first befriended McClure on Facebook and then on Instagram, he told WTVF. The lieutenant governor, who did not say whether he started chatting with McClure when he was 17, told the station that his posts were meant to support McClure.

“Just basically trying to encourage him,” he said, noting that he didn’t think people should take much from his comments.

He also said he did not read some parts of McClure’s posts that he ended up liking on his verified account.

When asked by WTVF journalist Phil Williams whether the uproar over his social media presence would affect his ability to lead, McNally said, “I hope not.” He also said he’s leaving the question of whether he should resign up to the Republican-led Senate.

“I think that that’s really up to the members of the Senate,” he said.

Liberals and critics such as Kate Craig, an activist and former Democratic candidate for the Tennessee Senate, called out McNally for what they say is hypocrisy.

“I’m not going to drag Lt. Gov. McNally for his comments, but I will drag him for his hypocrisy,” Craig tweeted. “He’s put LGBTQ+ Tennesseans lives in danger.”

After he received the first messages and comments from McNally, McClure thought the responses were from someone who was just “older and out of touch,” he told the Holler. While he emphasized that McNally “consistently uplifted me and made me feel good,” McClure said to WMC that he wished his online friend who has been so complimentary in his comments would do more to help protect the LGBTQ community in Tennessee.

“If he can be kind to a 20-year-old guy posting his butt, he can be kind enough to not help pass a bill that hurts anyone like me,” McClure said.