NASHVILLE — Tennessee Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, is facing criticism for posting encouraging comments and emojis on racy photos posted on Instagram by a 20-year-old aspiring gay performer from Knoxville at a time when Republican lawmakers are passing legislation targeting the LGBTQ community.
The pictures and posts by Franklyn McClur of Knoxville were first reported by Tennessee Holler, a progressive news outlet. Several of the pictures focus on the man's backside, and he often wears make-up, jewelry and a headband in his wavy hair.
McNally has, by a Chattanooga Times Free Press tally, commented on at least 90 of McClur's posts and liked an additional 250 posts, as recently as Feb. 25 and going back as far as May 2020. McNally used his verified official Instagram account, @ltgovmcnally.
McNally, 79, the Senate speaker, frequently posted fire and heart emojis, making comments such as "You need to be on dancing with the stars" and "You light up the world!!"
In at least one post liked by McNally, the man is naked.
"I try to encourage people on my posts, and I try to support people," McNally told reporters after Thursday's Senate floor session in Nashville. "And you know, just because he's gay -- I also have friends that are gay and I have friends that are relatives that are gay. But I don't feel any animosity towards gay people. And I think that that's fairly clear.
"I've got friends that are in that community," he added. "And I'm not against those individuals. I just, you know, try to encourage and support people."
The speaker was asked by reporters whether that may appear hypocritical to some in light of his support this year for a bill banning gender-affirming care for minors and another criminalizing drag shows if minors are present. McNally signed both.
"I'm not anti-gay," McNally said. "We pass bills that kind of limit certain things, and I think there are safeguards in these bills."
McNally spokesman Adam Kleinheider said in an earlier statement that "trying to imply something sinister or inappropriate about a great-grandfather's use of social media says more about the mind of the left-wing operative making the implication than it does about Randy McNally."
(READ MORE: Tennessee Gov. Lee deflects question about high school photo of himself in drag attire)
McNally, who is Catholic, has supported past efforts to make same-sex marriage illegal in Tennessee.
"That was before the Supreme Court decision (allowing same-sex marriage), and I thought that a marriage should be between a man and a woman," the speaker told reporters. "And I still kind of feel that way."
He recalled speaking against an adoption bill that would have allowed adoption agencies to discriminate against same-sex couples when placing children.
"I spoke against the adoption bill," McNally said. "And I thought that, you know, that it was something that was not needed. So I spoke against it. I came down from the podium and spoke against it. It passed, you know, that's how the legislature works."
McNally spokesman Kleinheider said in his earlier statement that "as anyone in Tennessee politics knows, Lt. Gov. 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?" Kleinheider continued. "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."
(READ MORE: Chattanooga mayor, police unsure how to enforce new restrictions on drag shows)
Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville, said anti-LGBTQ sentiment runs deep in parts of the Tennessee legislature, adding former Rep. Eddie Mannis, a Knoxville Republican, left last year after serving a single term because he felt "bullied" by some GOP colleagues.
She said she's not heard McNally weigh in on the issue before.
"I'm glad he's, you know, encouraging or recognizing these young men on social media," she said. "But at the same time, why aren't we giving that same courtesy to everyone in the LGBTQ community? He could easily speak up against these bills if he didn't have a problem with them. But I have yet to hear that."
The Instagram account used by McClur is @franklynsuperstar.
One video posted Dec. 11 is a short clip of McClur dancing to a Beyonce song wearing only tight, purple underwear. McNally's account commented, "Love it," accompanied by the double pink heart emoji.
Another photo posted Jan. 7 shows a shirtless McClur from behind and below, focusing on his backside. McNally commented twice: "Finn, you can turn a rainy day into rainbows and sunshine!" and another with three heart emojis and three flame emojis.
A photo posted Jan. 11 is a mirror selfie where McClur is only wearing underwear that has been pushed down partially. McNally commented a single heart emoji that same day.
(READ MORE: Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee signs drag show restrictions into law, becoming first state to severely limit the performances)
A photo posted Dec. 13 shows McClur wearing a black hat and black shorts rolled down to his pelvis. McNally commented twice on Dec. 16: "Super look Finn," apparently a nickname for the man, and the hand-clap emoji.
A photo posted Nov. 28 shows the man completely naked, except for a hairband, and holding a glass of water. "Great picture, Finn! Best wishes for continued health and happiness," McNally wrote.
On June 20, 2020, McClur posted a selfie with a caption that said, in part, "Someone told me I should be a model ..."
McNally commented with two hand-clapping emojis.
McClur has posted birthday messages about himself over the years on Oct. 21, saying he shares a birthday with Kim Kardashian. In his 2018 birthday post, McClur uses #16, so he would have turned 18 on Oct. 21, 2020, months after McNally began liking and commenting on his posts.
That means McNally was interacting with McClur when he was still a minor. Much of this year's GOP push to regulate the LGBTQ community has centered on protecting minors.
McClur has posted openly about struggles with his mental health and previously shared about his Christian faith. McNally on multiple occasions offered messages of support and appeared to offer help.
McClur regularly posted videos of himself singing or dancing, with McNally offering encouragement.
"You need to be on dancing with the stars," McNally commented on a Nov. 2 video of McClur dancing to a Lady Gaga song wearing what appears to be a short skirt along with a neon yellow crop top with matching hairband and socks.
The nature of McClur's posts in 2022 shifted to include more partially or totally nude photos or videos in which he just covers his genitalia. McNally's comments or likes are found on multiple such photos.
"Great picture, Finn! Best wishes for continued health and happiness," McNally commented on a totally nude photo McClur posted Nov. 28.
There are also multiple posts of McClur wearing a full face of makeup including a deep berry-shaded lipstick.
"Very talented!" McNally commented on a video of McClur posing in front of a bathroom mirror. McNally included a heart emoji.
McClur did not respond to an Instagram message seeking comment. He posted on social media that he has been inundated since the situation was publicized Wednesday evening.
Contact Andy Sher at firstname.lastname@example.org.