Donna Shalala, President-elect Clinton's choice for health and human services secretary, denied she is a lesbian, as claimed by a gay-rights organization devoted to "outing" closeted homosexuals.
"Have I lived an alternative lifestyle? The answer is no," she said in an interview in Wednesday's The Capital Times.Shalala, chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Madison for five years, said the group Queer Nation has called news organizations and politicians saying she is a lesbian.
Michael Petrellis, co-founder of Queer Nation, said his only evidence that Shalala is a lesbian is that several other homosexuals have made the claim. He said he wants her to say she is a lesbian to show people that a lesbian can hold such a prestigious position.
Shalala, selected by Clinton earlier in December, told the newspaper that the FBI asked about her sexual orientation during a background check. She said she denied the assertions.
FBI spokesman Steve Markardt would not comment on the questions Shalala was asked but said there is no requirement that agents inquire about a nominee's sexual orientation.
Shalala, who is 51 and single, said rumors about her sexual orientation surfaced in 1989 when students wanted the ROTC program off campus because of the military's ban on homosexuals.
Some students called Shalala a hypocrite because, rather than throw ROTC off campus, she backed a move to persuade the Pentagon to lift the ban.
"It started here specifically from the left who accused me of hypocrisy . . . and then was picked up by the right," Shalala said. "And they've been on my case ever since."
Marla Romash, a spokeswoman for the Clinton-Gore transition team, said Queer Nation's claim is "not true and it's irrelevant."
"Donna Shalala was chosen for her position because she is a woman of competence, experience and vision who offers the country a great deal through her service," Romash said.
Queer Nation has come under fire for publicizing the names of famous people it asserts are gay.