Republican Tennessee Lt. Gov. Randy McNally has found himself marred in controversy after he posted a series of comments in response to provocative pictures shared by a young gay man on social media.
The likes and comments from McNally's official account — which led to the lieutenant governor issuing an apology on Thursday — were made under Instagram photos shared by Franklin McClure, who according to reports is a 20-year-old performer from Knoxville who uses the name Franklyn Superstar on social media accounts.
First reported Thursday evening by the Tennessee Holler, the controversy surrounding McNally's interactions with the social media posts comes as the GOP-led state legislature pushes multiple bills that target initiatives from the LGBTQ community.
In one post shared by McClure, which showed the performer dancing in his underwear, McNally wrote, "Love it" and included heart emoji with his comment. Another post, which showed McClure with his shorts slightly pulled down around his waist, McNally wrote, "Super look Finn," in what appeared to be a reference to McClure's nickname. In another dancing video shared by McClure, 79-year-old McNally wrote, "Super" and "You need to be on dancing with the stars."
McNally also told McClure in one post, which featured a heart emoji, that he "can turn a rainy day into rainbows and sunshine!"
In a comment to Fox News Digital, Adam Kleinheider, McNally’s communications director, said, "Trying to imply something sinister or inappropriate about a great-grandfather’s use of social media says more about the mind of the left-wing operative making the implication than it does about Randy McNally. As anyone in Tennessee politics knows, Lt. Governor McNally is a prolific social media commenter."
Kleinheider continued, saying that McNally "takes great pains to view every post he can and frequently posts encouraging things to many of his followers."
"Does he always use the proper emoji at the proper time? Maybe not. But he enjoys interacting with constituents and Tennesseans of all religions, backgrounds and orientations on social media. He has no intention of stopping," Kleinheider added.
The revelation of McNally's comments, which range from June 2020 to as recently as Feb. 26, led to the lieutenant governor and Knoxville resident to offer an apology.
"I'm really, really sorry if I've embarrassed my family, embarrassed my friends, embarrassed any of the members of the legislature with the posts," McNally told Nashville's NewsChannel 5. "It was not my intent to [embarrass them] and not my intent to hurt them."
McNally, according to the interview with the outlet, said he befriended McClure on Facebook and later on Instagram.
"I, you know, try to encourage people with posts and try to, you know, help them if I can," McNally said of his online interactions with McClure.
When asked whether he had a personal relationship with McClure, McNally responded, "No." The prominent state Republican also denied meeting McClure in person, saying, "No, never have."
McNally also said Thursday that he believes he "probably could’ve been a little more careful in my selection."
McNally's actions, which have recently triggered a national discussion, have garnered a great deal of attention from those who reside in the state.
"I grew up in Tennessee and have worked in Tennessee politics for decades. So I know most of these anti LGBTQ Republicans like Lt Gov. Randy McNally. He used to come on my TV and radio shows," Marty Taylor, a former member of the Tennessee Democratic Executive Committee, wrote in a tweet. "These guys in Tennessee have passed more anti LGBTQ laws than any other state. But they are dressing in drag and McNally is flirting with young men online."
"Local journalism may look different than what it once did, but it's still massively important," Tennessee native and writer Justin Kirkland said in a tweet of the initial report highlighting McNally's comments.