The ongoing Mike Yenni sexting scandal is about many things.
It's about a married adult in a position of power propositioning a teenager, and even reportedly offering him a job in his public office to cover up a possible relationship. It's about whether that official is so compromised by the situation that he can't continue to carry out his duties and serve in a position of public trust. It's about whether state rules make it too difficult to launch a recall petition.
The long-simmering animosity between Jefferson Parish President Mike Yenni and Council Chair…
What it's not about, or shouldn't be, is the gender of the people involved.
Yenni, who just finished his first year as Jefferson Parish president, is struggling to hold on to his job despite revelations that he'd sent sexually explicit texts back when he was Kenner mayor to a 17-year-old boy who has since gone public.
The news rocked the parish. It prompted inquiries from the FBI, although they're unlikely to go anywhere; while it's illegal under federal law to send lewd electronic communications to someone under 18, the age of consent for actual sexual activity in Louisiana is 17. It convinced education officials to bar Yenni from visiting schools, and inspired calls for his resignation from just about every other elected parish official. And it prompted a recall drive aimed at collecting the daunting number of signatures needed to put the question of Yenni's future to voters.
A little more than halfway through the 180-day window to gather those signatures, organizers have collected tens of thousands but are still only about halfway to the 90,000 or so — or one-third of all registered voters — needed to prompt a recall.
Frustration over that fact seems to be what led Council President Chris Roberts to issue a recent letter to his colleagues, which inevitably became public, including some of the explicit language Yenni supposedly used in his texts. In it, Roberts included a graphic description of an oral sex act that Yenni is said to have proposed.
Jefferson Parish Councilman Chris Roberts told fellow council members in a letter Tuesday th…
If the language was shocking, Roberts said that was his intent.
“I see many falling back into normal routines and acting as if this either did not occur or it is acceptable for us as a parish," Roberts wrote. "I tend to believe that if the public is made aware of what I know to be true, their opinions would likely be expressed far greater than has been the case in recent months.”
But while Roberts didn't say so, the description could also serve to focus attention on the fact that this all involves a proposed act of gay sex — and potentially tap into whatever underlying revulsion over that fact might be out there.
Indeed, while people have many reasons to criticize Yenni's behavior and want him out, some of those pushing hardest for that outcome have on occasion made implicit appeals to homophobia. Roberts' graphic language is one example. Another came from the committee pushing the recall, which in a legal petition called Yenni an "admitted child pedophile and open homosexual while being married with children." For the record, Yenni has admitted to neither of those things.
That's some ugly stuff, and it's also entirely beside the point.
There's plenty that's outrageous about what Yenni did, but none of it has to do with anybody's sexual orientation. Yes, some members of the public might feel a particular sense of revulsion over the activity Roberts described, but he and committee leaders should be loudly renouncing any such sentiment, not quietly stoking it.
Consider this: Next time, we could be talking about an exchange between a male adult in a position of power and a 17-year-old girl, or a grown woman and teenage boy.
Yenni deserves the same fate that either of those hypothetical adults deserve. No better, and no worse.