Gay Texas Official Fights Back After Grindr Photos Leaked
Cross Coburn refuses to resign, and his attorney is investigating.
By Lourdes Zavaleta
Despite being publicly outed in what he believes was an anti-gay political attack, Cross Coburn says he has no plans to resign from the City Council in Groves, Texas, outside of Beaumont.
“This is not going to put an end to my career,” the 19-year-old told OutSmart in an exclusive interview.
Coburn, who was elected last November in the city of 16,000, has been under fire since late February, when nude photographs of him from the gay dating app Grindr were anonymously mailed to local news outlets and City Hall.
The envelopes, with no return addresses, included a cover letter with contact information for Coburn, as well as a statement: “Is this in any way proper behavior of a councilman to represent himself online or a ‘dating’ app? I felt the city council should be made aware of this situation.”
The photos were taken from a private conversation between Coburn and an unknown individual. Coburn, who is studying drama at Lamar University in Beaumont, believes he was targeted because he is a gay man in a conservative town.
“I’ve come up with the conclusion that this is about my sexuality,” Coburn said. “That is the only reason that somebody would want to do this to me, because I am gay and they don’t want me on City Council.”
Prior to the photos being sent, Coburn was out only to his close friends and family. He said the incident has caused him a great deal of emotional distress.
“Despite all of this, I love being on City Council,” Coburn said. “I love my city, and I want to continue being a part of the process that builds it up and helps it flourish.”
Coburn says some of his colleagues in City government have not been supportive following the incident. Although Coburn did nothing illegal, mayor Brad Bailey described the photos as “unbecoming of an elected official” in an interview with the Port Arthur News.
Bailey also told media outlets that a citizen-driven recall election for Coburn could take place after he has served six months in his position.
Coburn’s attorney, Jill Pierce, said the individual who sent the photos violated Texas Penal Code Chapter 21.16, which makes the unlawful distribution of intimate visual materials a Class A misdemeanor.
Pierce is working with Grindr to find who sent the photos. Police have not yet been involved in the investigation.
“I have reached out to Grindr to figure out who did this,” Pierce said. “However, anybody can create profiles online. It might not be possible to find out who it was.”
Cross said the story of his outing was inaccurately reported by several news outlets. And Ruben Gonzalez, vice president of leadership initiatives for the LGBTQ Victory Fund, believes there is a double standard because Cross is an LGBTQ politician.“If Cross was a single straight man, his photos wouldn’t have been sent to City Hall, and there would have never been a controversy,” Gonzales said. “He had the right, like any other young person, to build his social network and friend group through online applications.”
On the bright side, Coburn has emerged as one of the youngest LGBTQ elected officials in the nation, according to Gonzalez.
“We’ve seen a rush of young people really inspired to get involved in politics,” Gonzalez said. “It’s pretty remarkable that Cross is a City Council member at 19.”
“Constituents appreciate the authenticity of out elected officials,” Gonzalez added. “We hope that Cross will able to move forward so that he can inspire people just like him to run for office.”
Coburn says being an openly LGBTQ politician will benefit the community because human rights are at the forefront of his agenda.
“We’re not where we want to be with equality,” Coburn says. “I want to be a part of changing that.”
This article appears in the April 2018 edition of OutSmart magazine.