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BISMARCK, N.D. -- A North Dakota lawmaker who has voted against extending legal protections to gays and lesbians is defending his decision to send a graphic photo of himself to another user of a gay dating website, telling his hometown newspaper that he is gay and "that's what gay guys do on gay sites, don't they?"

Rep. Randy Boehning, a Fargo Republican, did not return several phone calls from The Associated Press. In an email, Boehning said he wouldn't be doing any more interviews.

The 52-year-old contractor, who is single, has served in the North Dakota Legislature since 2003. Boehning told The Forum newspaper that he thought his exchange with the man was being made public in retaliation for his vote against a bill that would have protected gays and lesbians from discrimination. Boehning sent the man sexually suggestive messages and an unsolicited explicit photo. The newspaper reported that it learned of the exchange from the man, who contacted The Forum earlier this month.

Boehning's comments mark his first public acknowledgment that he is gay. North Dakota House Majority Leader Al Carlson told the AP on Wednesday that he and most others in the GOP-controlled Legislature were unaware of Boehning's sexual orientation.

Legislative records show Boehning has been absent from the Legislature since April 20. Carlson, a Fargo Republican, said Boehning has been out of state attending a funeral. Boehning did not reveal to The Forum who he thought was behind the retaliation.

Carlson said he may call for an internal legislative investigation into "blackmail" after Boehning returns and he can confer with him.

"I have not met with Randy face-to-face," Carlson said. "I will talk to him and see if that's true."

House Minority Leader Kenton Onstad, a Democrat from Parshall, and Fargo Democratic Rep. Josh Boschee, the state's first openly gay lawmaker, said no one from their party threatened Boehning about outing him as payback for his vote.

"We had nothing to do with it," Onstad said.

Boschee said he worried for Boehning and called the fellow lawmaker's sexting "probably questionable judgment."

"I just hope he has a support network that sees him through this," Boschee said.

More than 35 GOP lawmakers signed a letter that was intended to be sent to North Dakota newspapers defending Boehning, but the decision to send it was scrapped, said Rep. Rick Becker, R-Bismarck, the letter's author.

"Randy did not want to drag any more people into this," Becker said.