President Barack Obama introduces Solicitor General Elena Kagan as his choice for Supreme Court Justice in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Monday May 10, 2010. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
“I’ve known her for most of her adult life and I know she’s straight,” said Sarah Walzer, Kagan’s roommate in law school and a close friend since then. “She dated men when we were in law school, we talked about men -- who in our class was cute, who she would like to date, all of those things. She definitely dated when she was in D.C. after law school, when she was in Chicago – and she just didn’t find the right person.”
Walzer, half amused and half appalled to be discussing her friend’s sexual orientation, agreed to be interviewed after Kagan’s supporters decided they should tactfully put an end to the rumor, which White House officials had already tried to squelch in background interviews with reporters. She said she decided to talk to POLITICO because the discussion of Kagan’s personal life has become a “distraction.”
“It’s taking away from substantive discussion of the issues from a really substantive person who deserves to be given the opportunity to address the substantive issues,” she said.
Another friend, former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, a member of Kagan’s social circle at Princeton University, wanted to make the same point as Walzer. “I did not go out with her, but other guys did,” he said in an email Tuesday night. “I don't think it is my place to say more.”
The rumor about Kagan has circulated for months on gay blogs and became a matter of controversy when it was cited as fact by a conservative blogger on the website of CBS News, drawing a sharp White House rebuttal. It has, since, been a source of particular fascination in some socially conservative circles and particularly among gay and lesbian political observers, some of whom objected volubly Tuesday to a Wall Street Journal cover image of Kagan playing softball, which they perceived as a jab at a stereotype of lesbians.
The result has been an awkward dilemma for the traditional media, for whom reporting about homosexuality has always been considered to be off limits. Reporters and bloggers have debated, publicly and privately, the propriety of asking whether Kagan is gay. But Walzer – who has spoken regularly to the press this week – said that in a series of interviews with reporters she had been asked only obliquely about the nominee’s “social life.”
The intense scrutiny that comes with a Supreme Court nomination leaves ample space for curiosity – particularly intense in the gay community-- on a question that even leading Republican Senators have dismissed as irrelevant to the job. But Kagan’s friends’ desire to “out” her as straight has been complicated by their hope to avoid offending gay friends by implying that there would be any problem if she were a lesbian.
Walzer recalled sharing a spacious, mouse-infested second floor apartment with Kagan in Somerville, Mass., the city adjoining Cambridge, in the early 1980s, when Kagan was a student at Harvard Law School. The second-floor of a triple-decker, the house had a large dining room where they hosted frequent dinner parties – Walzer did the cooking – for friends who lived in dormitories or smaller apartments.
“There definitely were strategic invites,” Wazler recalled. “She’d say, ‘This is somebody I’m interested in’ and I’d say ‘I’ll make sure he’s one of the people we invite.’”
The two were eventually joined in the apartment by John Barrett, a fellow student who would go on to marry Walzer. They remained close friends when both lived in Washington, and then after Kagan moved to Chicago – Walzer called ahead to scout for “single guys,” she said -- and then back to Cambridge.
Walzer, a former aide to Senator Joe Lieberman and a lawyer in Bill Clinton’s Department of Health and Human Services, now lives on Long Island, N.Y., and runs a non-profit that helps low-income parents prepare young children for school.
At the time, though, the two lived the life of single, straight young women, with a bit of a Harvard Law twist.
Walzer recalled “discussion about who she might be interested in – the usual girl talk stuff-- talk about how to get his attention.”
This was “less along the lines of how to wear your hair,” Walzer said, than how to avoid intimidating men with an intellect and confidence that weren’t always seen as attractive traits.
“It’s an ongoing challenge for very smart women – there are not very many men who would choose women who are smarter than they are,” said Walzer .
The rumors that Kagan is gay, Walzer said, were current before she became a public figure, and a source of frustration to Kagan and her friends – who were frustrated by their persistence, but worried that denying them could imply some anti-gay prejudice.
“There is this assumption that people make at a single point about women who get to their 40s or 50s and never marry that it must be because they’re gay,” Walzer said. “It’s just usually that they don’t get nominated for the Supreme Court and have everybody talking about them, so nobody really cares.”