It might be sort of an odd time to be bringing this up, but who knew until just recently we had two openly-LGBT sheriffs in the country?
The Gay and Lesbian Victory Institute includes Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu’s name and picture on its website as an openly gay elected official, along with lesbian Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez and some 500 other LGBT officials. As it happens, Babeu and Valdez are the only LGBT officials to hold the position of sheriff, as far as we now know, but there is a whole slew of every other type of elected official identified.
Babeu apparently flew under the public’s radar until last month when his ex-lover, a Mexican national, alleged the sheriff threatened to get him deported if he talked publicly about their relationship. The Arizona sheriff acknowledged his sexual orientation while denying Jose Orozco’s claims.
In his public statement revealing his former romantic relationship with Orozco, Babeu vowed he would continue his bid for the U.S. Congress 4th District on the Republican ticket. He did, however, resign as co-chair of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s Arizona campaign.
As if all that wasn’t bad enough pictures of Babeu with his hand inside Orozco’s shirt and one of the sheriff in his bikini underwear showed up on an Internet news story. Then Babeu’s sister, Lucy Babeu, told a Phoenix television news reporter her brother had dated a student when he was the headmaster of a Massachusetts boarding school.
In addition to the allegations of sexual impropriety involving a male student, the television news station, KNXV-TV, reported that the boarding school disciplined male students by making them remove their clothes to wear only sheets in a bizarre practice known as “sheeting.”
In response, Babeu’s campaign issued a statement saying his sister was basically crazy, and a former male student of the boarding school denied ever having been sexually involved with the sheriff. The statement also denied any responsibility on Babeu’s part in determining disciplinary methods.
Now, Orozco has lawyered up and filed a notice of his intention to sue the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office for $1 million.
Babeu has claimed Orozco’s story has no merit in part because he understood the Mexican national was living legally in the U.S.
It’s hard to know what make of all this because the quasi-military environment of law enforcement agencies tends to be so closed to outsiders that everyone generally knows everybody else’s business. It seems implausible that Babeu could have hidden his sexual orientation from fellow law enforcement officials or that they would have accepted it without complaint.
In one of the media reports, Babeu noted that political enemies in the past had attempted to make an issue of his sexual orientation and the mainstream media had generally ignored it. Babeu, who was elected in 2008 and named Sheriff of the Year by the National Sheriff’s Association last year, is now president of the Arizona Sheriffs’ Association.
Some might say if he had been open about his sexual orientation, Babeu’s enemies might have had less inclination to go after him. But that certainly didn’t prove to be the case with Dallas County Constable Mike Dupree, whose fondness for Latino lovers, apparently led to all kinds of trouble and his resignation to avoid jail in 2007 in connection with official misconduct charges. (For the record, Dupree continues to insist he was the victim of a conspiracy involving elected officials and disgruntled constable deputies, and that his name will one day be cleared.)
In contrast, the Babeu story appears to involve only a former lover. The whole Babeu story sort of smells like a relationship gone sour where one party feels used, abused and left behind.
That’s not to say Babeu didn’t exercise bad judgment. It’s not such a good idea for an elected official to allow pictures taken of him with his hand inside of a young man’s shirt, nor to appear in a photo in bikini underwear – no matter how good looking he might think he is.
I’m relatively sure there’s nothing out there like that to embarrass Dallas County’s Sheriff Valdez. I was at a party one night a few years ago that she attended, and when a camera came out she quickly put her beer down on a table. It’s not likely a picture exists of Valdez with her hand in a girlfriend’s blouse or of the sheriff in her bra and panties. But if I’m wrong about that, it’s probably time to organize a posse and go after them.
David Webb is a veteran journalist who has covered LGBT issues for the mainstream and alternative media for three decades. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org