NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Tennessee Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, in an exclusive interview Thursday, apologized after the uproar over his interactions with provocative posts on social media, while insisting that his intentions have been misconstrued.
"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 NewsChannel 5 Investigates. "It was not my intent to [embarrass them] and not my intent to hurt them."
The 79-year-old East Tennessee Republican — who has presided over a legislative session defined by bills outlawing drag shows in public places and targeting gender care for the trans community — found himself facing accusations of hypocrisy after a progressive site, the Tennessee Holler, unearthed his social media interactions with a 20-year-old gay model.
Among them: provocative Instagram posts that were liked by McNally from his official account, including one where the young man doesn't appear to be wearing clothes.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked McNally, "When people see these posts, what should they take away from them?"
"Well," he answered, "I don't know that they should take away a whole lot."
In the interview, McNally described how he befriended the young man, first on Facebook, then on Instagram.
Among the posts: a close-up of the young man's underwear-covered backside.
McNally responded with three red hearts and three "on-fire" emojis, along with the comment: "Finn, you can turn a rainy day into rainbows and sunshine."
The lieutenant governor's explanation?
"It's that, you know, I, you know, try to encourage people with posts and try to, you know, help them if I can," McNally said.
We asked, "Were you trying to help this young man in some sort of way?"
McNally's explanation: "Just basically trying to encourage him."
There was one post where the young man described himself as "not a whore" but a "hoe."
"One is a SLUT and the other is a PROSTITUTE," the post read.
He added, "I'm the one that gets free weed for giving head," a reference to oral sex.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates noted, "And it was liked by Lt. Gov. McNally."
"Yeah," McNally acknowledged. "I don't know that, a lot of times on some people's posts you see the name and you see what they've written, and you just press the button that says like."
We pressed, "So you didn't read that post?"
"I don't recall reading the part about the weed, I know that," McNally answered.
What about the part about the man being a "prostitute"?
"I might have read that," the lieutenant governor responded.
In that case, was it appropriate to like the comment?
McNally paused, "Probably not, probably not."
Then, we came to a moment in our interview that could not be avoided.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates continued, "I need to ask you the question that people are suggesting on social media: Have you ever had any personal relationship with this young man?"
"No," McNally insisted.
"You've never met him in person?"
"No, never have."
In fact, we found other LGBTQ-related posts liked by Tennessee's lieutenant governor, who says he's gotten to know members of that community — including some from his own family — and that he's tried to be more affirming of their identities.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates pushed McNally, "If are so supportive of the LGBT community, why haven't you been a vocal supporter in your job as a senator, as the lieutenant governor?"
"Well, it depends upon the issue," he answered.
We continued, "Can you name one bill where you've been supportive of the community on?"
"Uh, huh. There was a bill about adoption."
VIDEO: More of my interview with @ltgovmcnally on his positions on LGBTQ legislation. pic.twitter.com/dXJXrzBnM6— Phil Williams (@NC5PhilWilliams) March 10, 2023
In 2020, the Oak Ridge Republican voted against a bill allowing adoption agencies to discriminate against gay couples. The year before, he spoke out against some anti-LGBTQ bill that had drawn the ire of the business community.
As for the current controversy, we wanted to know, "Does this affect your ability to lead?"
"I hope not," the lieutenant governor said, "and I've had some of my colleagues say that they are supportive — both Republican and Democrat."
In the end, the Tennessee Senate chooses the Senate speaker, who serves as lieutenant governor, a title that senators can also take away.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked, "Have you thought about resigning?"
His answer: "I think that that's really up to the members of the Senate. I would serve at their pleasure, and they are my boss."
There's no doubt that McNally is extremely active on social media, often offering positive comments about people's families, latest achievements, as well as birthdays and anniversaries.
He says, if there's any lesson for him, he needs to be a lot more careful in what he posts and in how it might be perceived.