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Tennessee lieutenant governor 'pausing' his social media activity

Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, a Republican, posted more than 80 comments on a 20-year-old gay man's photos from early June 2020 to as recently as Feb. 26.
Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, stands for the Pledge of Allegiance during a special session of the Tennessee Senate in Nashville on Oct. 27, 2021.
Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, in Nashville in 2021.Mark Humphrey / AP file

Tennessee Lt. Gov. Randy McNally announced Monday that he is "pausing" his social media activity after revelations that he repeatedly commented on a 20-year-old gay man's racy photographs.

“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 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, a Republican and speaker of the state Senate, apologized last week after it was revealed that he had been commenting on the Instagram posts of performer Franklin McClure, a Knoxville native who now resides in Charlotte, North Carolina. According to an NBC News analysis, McNally commented on McClure's posts more than 80 times from June 2020 to Feb. 26.

Many of McNally’s critics have accused him of hypocrisy, noting that while he was commenting on McClure's provocative posts, he was voting in favor of legislation targeting Tennessee's LGBTQ community.

The 79-year-old lawmaker’s social media posts have since garnered national attention, even becoming the topic of a skit on NBC's "Saturday Night Live" over the weekend.

Some of McNally's more recent — and arguably flirtatious — comments were on photographs that showed McClure semi-nude. McNally posted two comments on a close-up photo of McClure’s backside, writing, "Finn, you can turn a rainy day into rainbows and sunshine!” and adding hearts and fire emojis.

McClure said in an interview with NBC News last week that he agrees with those who have called McNally “hypocritical," noting that the self-identified conservative voted in favor of bill that will restrict some drag performances. The measure was signed by Tennessee's Republican governor, Bill Lee, and takes effect April 1.

“He obviously can appreciate me in some sort of way, and if he can appreciate me, you know, I’m pretty out there. I don’t think the drag queens are, for the most part, you know, doing shows where they just got their butt in everyone’s face,” McClure said. “I have my butt in people’s faces, and he’s supported some of those, so I don’t know why he’s supporting a bill to hurt people’s money, expression, happiness.”

In his statement on Monday, McNally noted that criticism of his social media activity is "fair," but he said accusations that he or his legislative record are "anti-gay" are "inaccurate."

"On a personal level, nothing could be further from the truth. I believe every person has value and deserves respect regardless of their orientation," he said. "I have worked hard to try and understand this community better, and at the same time not compromise trying to protect children and my own values."

While he affirmed his support for the state's bill restricting drag performances and said he supports "traditional marriage," he noted that he spoke out against a bill to permit taxpayer-funded child welfare agencies from refusing to work with same-sex prospective parents (the bill was eventually signed by the governor in January 2020).

"I would encourage everyone to look at my record in its totality," he added. "It is both thoroughly conservative and compassionate to others."