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Chappelle-Nadal, gay-rights group tangle over her Tweets

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, April 9, 2010 -  State Rep. Maria Chappelle-Nadal says she feels more under fire now than she felt a month ago during her stint in Iraq.

The legislator has ended this week with a new elective post and potentially a new political enemy.

Chappelle-Nadal, D-University City, was sworn in Thursday as a new member of the University City School Board, after winning the post in Tuesday's election. She says she sought the job in an effort to improve the troubled district.

But she admits she hasn't been able to celebrate her victory, because of a new political headache that could affect her quest later this year to win election to the state Senate.

Chappelle-Nadal is in hot water with the state's chief gay-rights advocacy group --PROMO-- over Tweets that a top PROMO official says disparaged the sexuality of unsuccessful University City mayoral candidate Terry Crow.

A.J. Bockelman, PROMO's executive director, is circulating a disparaging commentary entitled "How do you solve a problem like Maria?" that takes the legislator to task for the following Tweets, all sent on March 19:

--"Why is Terry Crow hiding the fact that he's gay in his literature? I can't hide my race or my "thickness." Be proud. I am!"

--"If you can't be honest in your literature, how can I trust you'll be honest with me as a voter, constituent?"

--"I am praying that Shelley Welsch wins. I want her to be my mayor. She's not hiding anything about herself."

"These Tweets raises several issues," contends Bockelman, who asserts that "when her Tweets ask a very public, very out gay man why he is 'hiding' his gay identity, Maria is engaging in the oldest form of political chicanery ... Though she says 'Be proud,' her style betrays an intention to stigmatize, marginalize, and discredit who we are based simply on sexual orientation or gender identity - especially when we are out and vocal. "

Chappelle-Nadal replied Friday that the Tweets were sent to a private circle of less than 50 people, and were not on her public Twitter page. She also asserted she was communicating some complaints she had heard from others about Crow, not her own views.

She contended that the Tweets now are being taken out of context by Crow's supporters who are upset that she backed Welsch. Chappelle-Nadal also asserted that the Tweets are being publicly circulated in order to raise money for PROMO.

"No matter what allies of Terry Crow say, just because I supported a candidate who is not gay does not mean I am anti-gay,'' Chappelle-Nadal said. "My record is very strong in support of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community."

As examples, she cited her support or sponsorship this legislative session of bills that bar discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, oppose bullying in schools and call for an end to federal military's "don't ask, don't tell'' policy.

"I'm freaking shocked,'' Chappelle-Nadal said, referring to the Tweet controversy. Chappelle-Nadal added that she has tried unsuccessfully to discuss the dispute with Bockelman.

Meanwhile, Bockelman disputes the legislator's characterization of her Tweets, and says there's no doubt they reflected Chappelle-Nadal's views of Crow. He added that such comments could cost Chappelle-Nadal any future PROMO endorsements, and noted that she has received the group's support in the past for her House elections.

In the August primary, Chappelle-Nadal is among five Democrats competing to succeed state Sen. Rita Days, D-Bel Nor, who can't seek re-election because of term limits. Because the 14th District is staunchly Democratic, neither the GOP nor any other party is fielding a candidate, As a result, the Democratic victor in August will automatically win the post in November.

So, Democratic-leaning endorsements like those from PROMO are being hotly sought by the contenders. Said Bockelman: "Ultimately it is up to our PAC board, but based on our guidelines we would not likely endorse (Chappelle-Nadal) her based on her actions."

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.