Tennessee’s Republican Lieutenant Governor Randy McNally has apologized for routine comments he left on the suggestive Instagram posts of a 20-year-old gay man and other members of the LGBTQ+ community.

“I have long been active on social media. I have made a point to engage with people not only in posts, but in comments and messages as well. My comments to Franklin [sic] McClure and others, which have recently drawn so much attention, are no different,” said McNally in a statement to CBS News.  

The comments ranged from heart and fire emojis to text-based messages, like ones telling McClure, “You can turn a rainy day into rainbows and sunshine!” and “Love it,” on photos in which McClure appeared scantily clad.

“While I see now that I should have been more careful about how my comments and activity would be perceived, my intent was always engagement and encouragement,” McNally said in his statement. “I apologize for any embarrassment my postings have caused my family, friends and colleagues. For this reason, I will be pausing my social media activity in order to reflect and receive more guidance on the use of social media.”

McNally’s comments, first reported by the Tennessee Holler, were viewable on McClure’s profile last Thursday night. As of Monday, McNally’s comments to McClure appear to have been deleted, and the lieutenant governor’s account had been switched to private. Though McNally as of Monday was still following McClure on the platform, McClure was not following him back.

In addition to his comments on McClure’s photos, McNally also engaged with “half-naked photos of men, pictures of drag artists, and selfies of trans women” from his verified Instagram account, according to Nashville CBS affiliate WTVF-TV.

Condemnation of the apparent difference between McNally’s comments and his political track record was swift on social media, and “Saturday Night Live” even parodied McNally on its Weekend Update segment over the weekend.

Molly Kearney as Lt. Gov. Randy McNally and anchor Colin Jost during Weekend Update on Saturday, March 11, 2023.

NBC via Getty Images

“While I have made some mistakes in my use of social media, the characterization of me and my record as somehow ‘anti-gay’ is inaccurate. On a personal level, nothing could be further from the truth,” McNally’s statement continued.

“I believe every person has value and deserves respect regardless of their orientation,” said the 79-year-old, adding that while he was raised in a time when homosexuality was condemned, he now has gay friends and a gay relative who have furthered his understanding.

Tennessee Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, presides over the Tennessee Senate on the first day of the legislative session, Jan. 12, 2021, in Nashville, Tenn.

Mark Humphrey / AP

During the current legislative session, McNally — who serves as speaker of the state Senate — has overseen a chamber of a state legislature that has banned gender-affirming care for transgender youth and restricted the performance of drag shows in bills that were signed into law by Gov. Bill Lee earlier this month, despite threats from civil rights organizations that have vowed to sue the state in response.

“I have worked hard to try and understand this community better, and at the same time not compromise trying to protect children and my own values. I notably came down from the Speaker’s podium to speak against a bill that would have curtailed gay adoption. I have also supported legislation that would protect children and keep obscenity out of the public sphere. And I support traditional marriage. There is no contradiction here,” McNally added.

“While I realize it may not happen immediately, I am hopeful this examination of my social media activity will conclude and we can soon all get back to ensuring Tennessee remains the best state in the union to live, work and raise a family,” he concluded.