Pinal County’s best-kept secret is out.
Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu gained national attention for being a tough-on-immigration leader (some called him the new, shiny-headed Sheriff Joe Arpaio), but the attention he got from the Phoenix New Times in a story published yesterday is the kind of spotlight he’s been trying to avoid for most of his life.
Following that report — which focused on Babeu’s sexual relationship with a supposed illegal immigrant man whom he sent semi-nude photos to and who threatened to out the sheriff as gay after their relationship soured - Babeu told a crowd of reporters gathered outside his office today that he his gay.
“All these allegations that were in one of these newspapers are absolutely, completely false,” Babeu said today. “Except for the issues that refer to me being gay, because that’s the truth: I am gay.”
Babeu was flanked with supporters, including former and current Republican state Representatives and a slew of law enforcement officials, as he made the statement.
He admitted to having a relationship with Jose, who worked as a volunteer for his campaign and ran his social media accounts, but said that any allegations of him harassing or threatening the man with deportation are completely false, although he said he would not file a lawsuit against the paper.
“At no time did I, or anyone who represents me, ever threaten deportation,” he said. “This issue is the vehicle in which (my sexuality) could be brought out publicly.”
He also said he had no reason to believe Jose was in the country illegally.
As for the Congressman Anthony Weiner-style photos of Babeu, the sheriff says they were sent to Jose, and not meant to be splashed all over the internet.
He admitted to posting his own semi-nude photos on a male website, which he defended by saying he did it in his own personal, private life — not as the Pinal County Sheriff. Besides, he said, “I haven’t done that for some extreme time.”
“I’m not married, I’m a single guy, I don’t have a fake girlfriend,” he said. “These are things I choose to do. And this is where this should have no business coming out as a front page story.”
He also said none of the saucy text messages between him and Jose that were printed in the New Times story did not come from a county phone.
Babeu said he supports the right of gays to enter the military and thinks gay marriage should be a state-by-state decision.
Although he stepped down as Arizona co-chair of Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, Babeu said he would not suspend his Congressional campaign or step down as sheriff, and called his coming out and admitting to making mistakes in his personal life a “moment of truth” which shows how he handles problems — head on.
“It’s very difficult and liberating at the same time,” he said. “I’m not going to live in fear. I’m not going to live with the threats… I’m going to stand and fight, that’s who I am.”