'Pretending to be gay'

Kelda Helen Roys, shown here in her role as a state lawmaker in 2011, is accused by the Wisconsin GOP of "pretending to be gay" at a 2011 gay pride parade. (AP)
Kelda Helen Roys, shown here in her role as a state lawmaker in 2011, is accused by the Wisconsin GOP of "pretending to be gay" at a 2011 gay pride parade. (AP)

The Wisconsin Republican Party has accused Kelda Helen Roys, one of the 10 Democrats running for governor, of "pretending to be gay" at a pride parade.

The party made the claim May 31, 2018 on a website it created to attack the 10.

For a number of reasons -- including the fact the claim is about a Roys appearance in 2011 for which we haven’t found any recording -- we’re not rating this on the Truth-O-Meter.

But we thought it was important to flesh out what the attack is about with this article.

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Didn't make news at the time

The GOP’s web posting is based on a July 2012 opinion column by conservative columnist Christian Schneider in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The column, headlined "Gays unhappy with Roys' entreaties," describes Roys’ remarks at the Capitol Pride parade outside the state Capitol in August 2011.

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So, the column is not a contemporaneous account of what Roys said; rather it reports on others’ recollections from nearly a year earlier.

As the column notes, Roys, then a state lawmaker, announced her candidacy for the Madison-area seat in the U.S. House of Representatives two weeks after the parade.

So, arguably, Roys had a strong incentive to appeal to an important voting Democratic constituency -- people attending a gay pride parade in Madison.

But if Roys behaved in a way that led people to feel misled about her sexuality, as best we can tell, it didn’t make any news at the time.

It’s worth noting that the congressional seat was being vacated by Democrat Tammy Baldwin, now a U.S. senator. Roys lost in the 2012 primary to the current seat holder, Democrat Mark Pocan. Both Baldwin and Pocan are openly gay.

What the column says

The column focuses on Roys’ reference during her parade remarks about her marriage several years earlier to Dan Reed, her current husband. They wed in Iowa, at a time when same-sex marriage was legal there, but not in Wisconsin.

The column says that "according to numerous parade attendees, Roys punctuated her speech by telling a story about how she and her ‘partner’ had fled Wisconsin to marry in Iowa ….

"This puzzled many of the 500 in attendance," the column continued, "as Roys' ‘partner’ is, in fact, a man -- a fact she never referenced during her speech."

Again, we don’t have an independent account of Roys’ actual remarks.

The column quotes Katie Belanger, then-executive director of the Fair Wisconsin LGBT rights group, as saying Roys "was clearly trying to represent herself as a member of the LGBT community."

It’s not clear whether Belanger heard Roys’ remarks herself.

The column also says that Roys' campaign said Roys would not comment, as she would not respond to "gossip."

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Roys' response

Roys told us she remembers she and her campaign staff deciding at the time not to issue a statement in response to the column because the suggestion that she had pretended to be gay "was so not credible" that "why are we going to give it any credence?"

But Roys also told us she could understand how some people may have misconstrued what she said.

Roys denied saying she and her husband "fled" to Iowa to get married. She said they had decided they didn’t want a marriage certificate from a state that discriminated against same-sex couples in marriage.

Roys said she often refers to her husband as her partner, calling it an "egalitarian" term. What’s more, she said, he attended the parade with her and she remembers giving him an embrace as soon as she finished her remarks.

Roys said that if she had been pretending to be gay, she would not have gone to the parade with her husband.