The lieutenant governor of Tennessee, which recently passed multiple bills that target LGBTQ people and culture, has been frequently commenting from his verified Instagram account on shirtless photos of a young gay man.
Republican Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, who also serves as speaker of the state Senate, has left supportive — and arguably flirtatious — comments and emojis under risque social media photos posted by Franklin McClure, a 20-year-old performer from Knoxville, who goes by Franklyn Superstar on social media. The Tennessee Holler, a local publication, first reported the news Wednesday night after receiving an anonymous tip.
In response to a photo of McClure dancing outside in his underwear, McNally, 79, wrote, “Love it,” with heart emojis. In another close-up photo of McClure’s backside, where he’s only wearing what appear to be briefs, McNally wrote two comments: “Finn, you can turn a rainy day into rainbows and sunshine!” and another with hearts and fire emojis, to which McClure responded “You are literally always so nice King,” with a heart emoji. In another image, where McClure’s shorts are pulled down a little, McNally commented, “Super look Finn.” Finn is McClure’s nickname, according to his Facebook page.
McNally posted more than 80 comments on McClure's Instagram account that date back as early as June 2020 and as recently as Feb. 26, with his initial comments more like pep talks in response to McClure's posts about his life and mental health.
In October 2020, McClure posted a video of himself singing with the caption, "When will we appreciate others while they are here and not wait till they are gone. And I'm trying to survive. I try to catch my breath but I break down and cry. Not doing good, I'm doing just fine. When was this my life..."
McNally left two encouraging comments on the post. In one, he told McClure he is "not invisible" and added, in part, "People do appreciate you. Life is full of pain, loss and tribulations, but it is also full of great moments of humanity and people giving of themselves to others or to great causes." In the other, McNally told McClure if he ever feels "overwhelmed with anxiety or can not sleep," McNally could help McClure "get in touch with someone who can work with you in dealing with that."
Adam Kleinheider, McNally’s communications director, said “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.”
“As anyone in Tennessee politics knows, Lt. Governor McNally is a prolific social media commenter,” Kleinheider said in an email to NBC News. “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.”
The social media activity of McNally, whose Instagram bio identifies him as a conservative, has drawn criticism from LGBTQ people and advocates who have accused him of hypocrisy, noting that his state has recently taken the lead in passing bills that target the community.
A reporter for the Tennessee Lookout asked McNally about the allegations of hypocrisy following a Senate session Thursday, noting that he previously sponsored legislation to ban same-sex marriage. McNally said he supported that legislation before the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges in favor of same-sex marriage.
“I thought marriage should be between a man and a woman, and I still feel that way,” he said Thursday.
McNally added that he has friends and a family member who are gay and tries to be supportive of many people, the Lookout reported.
So far this year, Tennessee lawmakers have introduced 26 bills targeting LGBTQ people, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, which is tracking them. Last week, Gov. Bill Lee signed two of them into law: one that will criminalize some drag performances and another that bans certain transition-related medical care, including puberty blockers, hormone therapy and surgery, for transgender minors in the state.
Last month, Lee faced criticism similar to what McNally received after a photo shared on Reddit and Twitter appeared to show the governor dressed in drag. Lee neither confirmed nor denied that the photo was of him, but he said it was “ridiculous” to conflate the image with “sexualized entertainment in front of children, which is a very serious subject.”
McClure did not respond to a request for comment. He told the Tennessee Holler that he had not previously made the connection between who McNally is and the state’s legislation targeting LGBTQ people. He said he thought it was random that McNally commented on his photos but that he never took it seriously.
“I just thought he was older and out of touch,” he told the Holler. “I’ve always taken it as a compliment. I don’t dislike him or think he’s a bad person, he’s one of the only people who has consistently uplifted me and made me feel good.”
McClure said the two have been messaging for years, though the Holler didn’t report whether he disclosed details about those messages. He stressed in the interview that he doesn’t have a negative opinion of McNally, though McClure does oppose the state’s efforts to restrict drag and transition care for minors.
McNally’s record on the state’s legislation targeting LGBTQ people has been mixed. He voted in favor of the drag bill, and he did not vote on the restriction on gender-affirming care.
In 2020, McNally did not support a bill that allows religious adoption agencies to refuse to place children with couples if doing so would “violate the agency’s written religious or moral convictions or policies.” The bill, which advocates said would allow agencies to discriminate against same-sex couples, still passed and Lee signed it into law.
In February 2021, according to the Tennesseean, McNally said that, though he believed allowing transgender girls to play on girls’ and women’s sports teams at school would harm women’s sports, state lawmakers should “move with caution.”
“Whatever we do will probably be reviewed by the federal government and they can cut funding to the state,” he said, the Tennessean reported. “It’s an issue I think that we need to move very carefully.”
In 2019, when the state considered 10 bills targeting LGBTQ people, McNally said the Senate would be “sensitive to the effect that some of those might have on businesses and on events that could occur in Tennessee” and also “sensitive to the rights of individuals,” local radio station WPLN reported.