Every Instagram user should have supportive friends like state Sen. Randy McNally, Tennessee's lieutenant governor. But today not everybody is viewing that support in the same way.
The Oak Ridge lawmaker was exposed on Thursday for posting friendly emojis and encouraging comments on the social media account of a 20-year-old gay former Knoxville man who is pictured nearly naked in many of his photos.
"Super look" was one comment the 79-year-old McNally posted on a photo of the backside of the man, who the Tennessee Holler, a progressive/activist news site, identified as Franklyn McClur. "You can turn a rainy day into rainbows and sunshine," he said on another post.
The lieutenant governor's office, in a response, did not deny the comments or say his account had been hacked but portrayed the husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather as a prolific social media user and encourager.
"Trying to imply something sinister or inappropriate about [his] use of social media says more about the mind of the left-wing operative making the implication than it does about Randy McNally," the statement noted. "As anyone in Tennessee politics knows, Lt. Governor 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. 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."
If McNally is the innocent Instagram poster he claims to be, we would have to conclude he is extremely naive about social media, is unaware of how the anxious media are to throw any Republican under the bus if they smell hypocrisy, and has a staff that fails to look out for his best interests. We find all that hard to believe.
After all, we would hope the staff of any politician who claims to be a conservative, family values Christian would tell their boss that it may not be a good look for him to be putting flame ("hot") emojis on photos of an aspiring performer whose photos show him in makeup and jewelry when the senator is helping lead the charge on a bill that would restrict drag shows from children.
To be clear, McNally -- who recently had surgery to have a pacemaker implanted in his body -- is free to post whatever he wants on any account he wants, to be a fan of photos of nearly naked men or to be a drag performer himself. That's up to him.
But Tennesseans who don't believe such photos should be readily available on social media and who don't believe an older gentleman should be favoring a partially dressed then-teenager with supportive emojis may see hypocrisy in his actions.
McNally and McClur apparently became friends on Facebook through a mutual friend in 2020, then connected on Instagram, according to internet accounts. The lawmaker represents portions of Knoxville, which is where McClur lived at the time.
McClur, for his part, told the Tennessee Holler he's never met McNally in person and never took the senator's comments or emojis as flirting. In fact, he said McNally is "one of the only people who has consistently uplifted me and made me feel good."
He said they were social media friends "before I was posting things more mature" and "before I was more openly myself."
"If he's hitting on me," said McClur, whose "Finn" nickname the senator frequently used in his posts, "it's real out of touch hitting on me."
He told various media outlets he was not a political person, so he was unaware until told by members of the media that McNally frequently voted on legislation targeting the LGBTQ community.
The senator, in this legislative session, voted to outlaw body-altering medical treatment for minors who identify as transgender. Previously, he had voted to outlaw the discussion of any sexuality other than heterosexuality in schools, to force transgender students to use the bathroom that corresponded with their birth gender, to ban transgender students from playing on sports teams that didn't correspond to their birth gender, and to codify in Tennessee law that marriage was only between a man and a woman.
It's difficult to see how McNally, who has served in the state legislature since 1979 and in the state Senate since 1987, comes out of this looking all -- in his own words -- "rainbows and sunshine." At a minimum, the second most powerful man in Tennessee state government must be seen as critically unsophisticated in the world of social media. At worst, as one whose hypocrisy is on full display when he votes one way in public and acts another in private.
If he's lucky, maybe the truth is somewhere in between.