Tennessee’s lieutenant governor apologized for commenting on dozens of racy Instagram photos posted by a young gay man over the last three years. But the 20-year-old aspiring performer said the conservative lawmaker has nothing to be embarrassed about.
Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, 79, faced criticism Thursday after the Tennessee Holler, a local progressive news outlet, first reported that he had commented on partially nude Instagram photos posted by Franklyn McClure as the state passed bills targeting the LGBTQ community.
In an interview Thursday with NewsChannel 5, a CBS affiliate in Nashville, McNally said it was not his intent to embarrass or hurt his friends and family or colleagues in the Legislature, where he also serves as speaker of the Republican-led Senate.
“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,” he told NewsChannel 5.
Among the photos McNally commented on was a close-up photo of McClure’s backside, where he’s only wearing what appear to be briefs. McNally wrote two comments on the post: “Finn, you can turn a rainy day into rainbows and sunshine!” and another with hearts and fire emojis, to which McClure responded, “You are literally always so nice King,” with a heart emoji. Finn is the nickname of McClure, who is known as Franklyn Superstar on social media.
When NewsChannel 5 asked McNally about his response to that particular photo, he said he tries “to encourage people with posts and try to, you know, help them if I can.”
He told NewsChannel 5 that he first befriended McClure, who is from the Knoxville area and now lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Facebook and then later on Instagram, but that the two have never had a personal relationship or met in person.
In an interview, McClure confirmed that the two had never met, but he said McNally had sent him private messages, the first dating back to June 2020. He said they were mostly “one-sided on his side.”
When asked about the content of those private messages, McClure said: “The messages, I would say, show that he definitely supported me, and if he can support me, he can definitely make room in his heart to support many, many more people like me.”
McNally did not immediately respond to NBC News’ request for comment on whether he had ever privately messaged McClure.
McNally posted more than 80 comments on McClure’s Instagram account from early June 2020 to as recently as Feb. 26, with his initial comments more like pep talks in response to McClure’s posts about his life and mental health.
More recently, McNally liked a photo McClure posted in December 2022 in which McClure describes himself as a “hoe” and says he performs sex acts for free marijuana.
When News Channel 5 asked if it was appropriate to like the photo, McNally said, “Probably not, probably not.”
Some LGBTQ people and advocates questioned whether the comments and likes were appropriate given the age difference between McNally and McClure, who said he was 17 when McNally began commenting on his photos. They have also accused the lieutenant governor of hypocrisy, noting that he recently voted in favor of a bill that criminalizes some drag performances. Gov. Bill Lee, also a Republican, signed the bill last month, and it will take effect April 1.
The lieutenant governor told NewsChannel 5 that he engaged with McClure and other LGBTQ people on Instagram because he’s trying to be more supportive of their identities.
He noted that in 2020, he did not support a bill that allows religious adoption agencies to refuse to place children with couples if doing so would “violate the agency’s written religious or moral convictions or policies.” At the time, advocates said the bill would allow agencies to discriminate against same-sex couples. It ultimately passed and Lee signed it into law.
McClure said he only found out two days ago that McNally has supported bills targeting the LGBTQ community, including one that restricts where and in front of whom drag performances can take place. “That was sad to hear,” he said.
When asked about the drag bill specifically, McClure speculated that McNally is “being influenced by whoever’s around him” and succumbing to “peer pressure.”
“He obviously can appreciate me in some sort of way, and if he can appreciate me, you know, I’m pretty out there. I don’t think the drag queens are, for the most part, you know, doing shows where they just got their butt in everyone’s face,” he said. “I have my butt in people’s faces, and he’s supported some of those, so I don’t know why he’s supporting a bill to hurt people’s money, expression, happiness.”
McClure said he agrees with those who have called McNally “hypocritical.”
Following the Tennessee Holler story on Thursday and the subsequent coverage by other news outlets, including NBC News, McClure said he’s received an outpouring of support on social media and has felt “extra special” since the news first broke.
He also said McNally was among those who have reached out to him since the Tennessee Holler story was published on Thursday. He described the communication as “just a message to me saying thank you for being kind to everyone.”
When asked about McNally’s televised apology, McClure said “it’s sad” that McNally felt the need to apologize.
“He did appreciate my posts, for whatever reason that was, and I don’t think you should be embarrassed. I think it’s telling of Tennessee, it’s telling of Republicans and homophobic,” he said. “I just think it’s sad that we live in a society that we can’t just all be friends, right? We can’t just all love each other and appreciate each other for who we are, instead of thinking that we need to change each other.”
Tennessee Republicans have proposed more than two dozen bills so far this year that target LGBTQ rights, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, which is tracking the legislation. When asked if he’d like to send a message to McNally and other lawmakers in his home state who are supporting such measures, McClure said, “No one is hurting anyone by wearing a wig,” referring specifically to the drag bill.
He then added, referring to another bill signed by the governor that bans transition-related care for minors, including puberty blockers, hormone therapy and surgery, “Just because you believe someone, a child or whoever, shouldn’t be able to transition doesn’t mean, you should be able to force that on someone else.”
When NewsChannel 5 asked McNally whether he thinks the controversy affects his ability to lead, he said, “I hope not.” Regarding whether he has thought of resigning, McNally said, “I think that that’s really up to the members of the Senate. I would serve at their pleasure, and they are my boss.”
As for McClure, he’s currently raising money to move to Los Angeles, where he hopes to become a successful performing artist and a “male version” of rapper Doja Cat, whom he called his inspiration.