October 24, 2019 at 1:29 pm EDT | by Karen Ocamb
Katie Hill refutes Republican ‘smear campaign’
Katie Hill, gay news, Washington Blade
Rep. Katie Hill (D-Calif.) (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

California Republicans were expected to launch a major 2020 offensive to win back the six congressional seats they lost to Democrats in 2018. And with Donald Trump as a model for ugly tactics, it should not be surprising that GOP operatives would exploit bisexual Rep. Katie Hill’s private pain as she suffers through an acrimonious divorce. After all, salaciousness in the name of traditional family values has long been a feature of Republican dirty tricks from salivating Stormy Daniels fans.  

But there is a particularly audacious twist to this attack. RedState, the conservative online site that originated the first rumor, claims the LGBTQ press made them do it.

“A story in Metro Weekly covering a resolution introduced by Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) and Rep. Katie Hill (D-Calif.) condemning Sec. Ben Carson’s comments about transgendered people, which identified Hill as a ‘lesbian’ seemingly prompted Hill’s estranged husband to out her on an entirely different issue,” RedState reported on Oct. 10.

“Out lesbian?!? Then why has she been sleeping with her (male) finance director for the past year at least?” wrote Kenny Heslep who filed for divorce in July, requesting spousal support. “I couldn’t dispute this if she was still holding to being bisexual. But but being with her husband (me) for almost 15 years and then leaving me for another MAN, not woman, whom she is still seeing, is not her being a lesbian. Bisexual yes, as I will back up her claims to this. But not lesbian alone.”

Heslep, who lives in LA and didn’t explain how he came across the news items in the local LGBT Washington D.C.-based paper, did not offer any supporting evidence of the alleged affair with Graham Kelly, Hill’s former finance director and current legislative director.

The allegation, if true, would be a violation of House ethics rules and possible cause for an investigation of one of Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s favorite newcomers, having appointed Hill vice chair of the House Oversight and Reform Committee that is now involved with the impeachment inquiry into Trump’s fitness for office.

After there were no media bites on that report, RedState upped the ante, publishing a nude photo of Hill brushing the hair of someone seated in front of her, along with text messages among Hill, Heslep and an apparent young female campaign staffer with whom the married couple seemed romantically engaged.

Twelve days later, Hill was forced to deny having the rumored affair with a staff member but refused to indulge in the sensationalist idea of a “throuple.” 

Conservative critics called on Hill to resign, claiming national security was at stake since she could have been blackmailed. Others linked the affair to the #MeToo movement since the workplace power dynamic means any employee cannot have a “consensual” relationship with an employer.

There are no ethics rules that apply to campaign workers, though Hill critics apparently think it’s a good idea to create some. For the record: Hill was 30 when she ran for Congress from the 25th District; the unnamed campaign staffer with whom she and her husband allegedly had an affair was 22. As the leaked text messages indicate, Hill was breaking off the extra-marital relationship before she entered Congress.  

“Allegations that I have been involved in a relationship with Mr. Kelly are absolutely false,” Hill said in the statement to Politico. “I am saddened that the deeply personal matter of my divorce has been brought into public view and the vindictive claims of my ex have now involved the lives and reputations of unrelated parties.”

Neither Heslep nor Kelly responded to requests for comment from the Washington Post.

“Intimate photos of me and another individual were published by Republican operatives on the internet without my consent,” Hill said in the statement.

“The fact is I am going through a divorce from an abusive husband who seems determined to try to humiliate me,” she continued. “I am disgusted that my opponents would seek to exploit such a private matter for political gain.”

The accusation of sexual impropriety, she said, “is despicable and will not succeed. I, like many women who have faced attacks like this before, am stronger than those who want me to be afraid.”

Hill promised to keep working. “This smear campaign will not get in the way of the work I am doing every day to move our district and our country forward. I am truly grateful for the outpouring of support I have received from colleagues and constituents alike, and I know we will get through this together.”

Hill said she’s notified Capitol Hill police about the distribution of the photos without her consent. “Revenge porn” is against the law in California.

Hill has also spoken with Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) about the matter. Hoyer declined to comment to the Post and a spokesperson for Pelosi said she was headed to Baltimore for the funeral of her brother.

“Congresswoman Hill has been a champion for the 25th District. The voters sent her to Washington to defend healthcare, stand up for middle-class families and fight for equality — and that’s exactly what she’s done. This shameful, anti-LGBTQ smear campaign is a despicable invasion of privacy, and we won’t dignify it with a response. Neither should the media,” Samuel Garrett-Pate, communications director for Equality California, told the Los Angeles Blade.

As the Blade goes to press, Politico reports the House Ethics Committee has launched an investigation into allegations against Hill.

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