Newly appointed nominee to the Supreme Court, Elena Kagan, has been a hot topic on the political scene lately, mostly due to her personal life. Kagan is a 50 year old unmarried, single woman without children, and there have been rumors about her sexual orientation.
The rumors started in mid-April when CBS published the opinion article of blogger, Benjamin Domenech, a known right-winged conservative and former Bush administration aide. In this article, Domenech claims that Kagan is a lesbian who has a female partner she met at Harvard, even though he had no evidence or reason to believe this. He also says in the article that Obama supporters and liberals would be pleased if he picked an “openly gay justice.”
However, Kagan is not and has never been openly gay. The White House responded to the CBS article by strongly denying that Kagan is a lesbian. CBS later said that the accusations of Kagan being gay are inaccurate. They explained that they were given permission to reprint the article, in which only claims, but not evidence were cited by the author. CBS eventually took down the column from their online news site and explained that they were only repeating a rumor about the Supreme Court Justice nominee.
Rumors of her being a lesbian have been accompanied by more talk of her appearance and personal life. For example, she wears her hair short, has never been married, and played softball- all old and ignorant stereotypes of gay women.
Close friends of Kagan have even spoken out saying that Kagan is not gay, and that all the talk about her sexual orientation is a distraction from more substantial topics like her platform, stance on important issues, and qualifications. I completely agree. However, it seems that the media won’t leave it alone. Kagan has never discussed her personal life herself, leading people to believe that the rumors are true.
What’s a Supreme Court Justice nominee to do?
From a public relations standpoint, what should Kagan do? She can either address the rumors to the public or stay silent. If she denies the rumors, it may seem as though she is prejudiced against the gay community. She can confirm the rumors whether they are true or not just to make everyone happy and make the rumors go away. She can also just remain silent and hopefully all the talk about her personal life will become old news and fizzle out.
It’s surprising and sad that in 2010, powerful women who have chosen to put their careers before their personal lives are given these stereotypes, especially the ones that may not look like supermodels. Would people be more accepting of Kagan and would it benefit her PR presence if she started wearing dresses or wearing her hair long? If I was Kagan’s PR counselor, I would tell her that she shouldn’t have to change who she is and shouldn’t answer to anyone about her personal life, at least for now. She has been way too successful in her career to stoop to that. Unfortunately, however, in the media and PR world she may be eventually forced to deal with such issues. What would you tell her?