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Tennessee GOP leader passes confidence vote after social media uproar

Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, 79, repeatedly commented on a 20-year-old gay man’s racy Instagram photos for more than two years.
Tennessee Lt. Gov. Randy McNally presides over the Tennessee Senate on Jan. 12, 2021, in Nashville.
Tennessee Lt. Gov. Randy McNally presides over the Tennessee Senate on Jan. 12, 2021, in Nashville.Mark Humphrey / AP file

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee Lt. Gov. Randy McNally’s Republican colleagues in the Senate have voted 19-7 that he should keep his leadership post in the wake of revelations that he repeatedly commented on posts of nearly nude photos of a young gay model and other LGBTQ personalities.

The Senate GOP caucus cast the vote of confidence Monday that the 79-year-old Republican should continue in his dual roles as lieutenant governor and Senate speaker.

“I have always been honored, humbled and grateful for the support of my caucus. I remain so today,” McNally said in a statement Monday. “We have a lot of important work left to do as we complete the legislative session, including the budget. I look forward to getting to it.”

Some conservative media outlets and one House Republican lawmaker had called for McNally to leave the post. However, none of the Republicans in the Senate have publicly said he should step aside.

McNally initially stated earlier this month that he “had no intention of stopping” when pressed about why he repeatedly commented on racy social media posts by the 20-year-old. He later apologized, saying it was not his intention to embarrass his friends, family or members of the legislature.

However, the 79-year-old legislative leader has since received national attention — including being parodied on Saturday Night Live — with critics accusing McNally of being hypocritical. Particularly, McNally supported legislation restricting where certain drag shows can take place.

Last week, McNally said he is “pausing” all social media activity.

Some of the posts that sparked the most uproar included commenting on a photo of the man’s backside, where he was wearing only underwear, saying “you can turn a rainy day into rainbow and sunshine.” McNally then posted a comment using only heart and fire emojis. In a separate post, McNally posted a heart emoji on a photo of the man pulling down his underwear.

“While I see now that I should have been more careful about how my comments and activity would be perceived, my intent was always engagement and encouragement,” McNally said in a previous statement. “For this reason, I will be pausing my social media activity in order to reflect and receive more guidance on the use of social media.”

McNally added while he may have made “some mistakes,” he disagreed that he had a record of being “anti-gay” and pointed to his opposition of a 2020 law that assured continued taxpayer funding of faith-based foster care and adoption agencies even if those organizations exclude LGBTQ families and others based on religious beliefs.

Yet McNally then pointed to his support of “traditional marriage” and support of bills that “keep obscenity out of the public sphere.”

“There is no contradiction here,” he said.

McNally, who is from Oak Ridge, became lieutenant governor in 2017. He has been a state lawmaker since the late 1970s.