Former Democratic Representative from California Katie Hill officially resigned on Thursday after announcing she would leave office earlier last week. She resigns amidst a complicated web of issues: Allegations of an inappropriate relationship with a campaign staffer (which she has admitted to), allegations of an affair with a congressional staffer (which she has denied), revenge porn against her posted by outlets such as Daily Mail and RedState, and mountains of sexism and biphobia have all contributed to her resignation.
At the core of her resignation is a relationship between Katie Hill and a campaign staffer during her 2018 congressional campaign—a relationship that allegedly included Hill’s estranged husband Kenny Heslep. This relationship was initially reported by the conservative website RedState, but was later confirmed by Hill in a letter to her constituents.
In that letter, she wrote, “During the final tumultuous years of my abusive marriage, I became involved in a relationship with someone on my campaign. I know that even a consensual relationship with a subordinate is inappropriate, but I still allowed it to happen despite my better judgment. For that I apologize.”
Most everyone commenting on this issue recognizes the same fault in Hill’s action that she herself does, for which she apologized. Some see her resignation as necessary accountability, while others have argued the former lawmaker need not have resigned. The recourse for proper accountability certainly remains an open question. Within the context of the #MeToo era, much attention has rightfully been paid to people in power abusing their relationships—never, though, have these allegations been forced to deal with the questions of how to respond when the allegations are amplified by a society harboring hate for women and bisexual people, or with revenge porn emboldened by that hate.
In Hill’s case, those hateful biases cannot be ignored. Many have pointed out the double standard between reactions to the sexual conduct of men versus women. Hill made this a major point in her farewell speech, calling out “a misogynistic culture that gleefully consumed my naked pictures, capitalized on my sexuality, and enabled my abusive ex to continue that abuse.” Others have made the point that Hill has come under increased scrutiny, and her story sensationalized, due to her bisexuality and society’s shock at a non-monogamous relationship. Certainly, these factors contributed to her resignation, as multiple men remain in Congress while credibly accused of sexual misconduct, and Donald Trump remains in office despite 25 accusations of sexual misconduct.
As Hill leaves the House floor, even if her resignation was the correct course of action, it has become clear that the action was coupled with misogynistic and biphobic rhetoric and coverage, which must be called out and condemned along with the sexual misconduct. These two things can be true at once, and this nuanced understanding must be regained if the mistakes of the coverage around Hill are not to be repeated.