It's happened so often that it's now a cultural cliche: the gay politician pretending to be straight. In most parts of the nation, homosexuality or bisexuality is a clear electoral liability.

Not in Center City's 182d state House district. There, it's a badge of honor.

Veteran Rep. Babette Josephs (D., Phila.) last Thursday accused her primary opponent, Gregg Kravitz, of pretending to be bisexual in order to pander to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender voters, a powerful bloc in the district.

"I outed him as a straight person," Josephs said during a fund-raiser at the Black Sheep Pub & Restaurant, as some in the audience gasped or laughed, "and now he goes around telling people, quote, 'I swing both ways.' That's quite a respectful way to talk about sexuality. This guy's a gem."

Kravitz, 29, said that he is sexually attracted to both men and women and called Josephs' comments offensive.

"That kind of taunting is going to make it more difficult for closeted members of the LGBT community to be comfortable with themselves," Kravitz said. "It's damaging."

But others said the remarkable quarrel itself was a sign of progress.

"We've hit a new high point when candidates are accused of pretending to be gay to win a seat," said Mark Segal, publisher of the Philadelphia Gay News and a pioneering civil rights advocate.

"I've been doing this for 40 years, and I never have heard of this kind of charge in any race in the nation," he said. "I take that as flattery. It shows how far we've come."

In her pitch, Josephs was pleading for money and volunteers to help her watch polling places in the May 18 primary. "There will be cheating if he can get away with it, because he already has tried to lie to people about a whole bunch of stuff, including his sexuality," Josephs said.

For good measure, Josephs also told her listeners that Kravitz was a "trust-fund baby" with no discernible job history who was running for the House because he was bored.

Josephs, 70, first elected in 1984, has the endorsement of the Liberty City Democrats, the preeminent LGBT political organization in the city. A blunt-talking liberal, she worked to block passage of a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and to add sexual orientation to the state's hate-crimes law.

In an interview, Josephs said she stood by her comments about Kravitz. She said her opponent told her he was gay, then showed up at a campaign event with a woman who introduced herself as his girlfriend. On the trail, Kravitz has described himself as a "proud member of the LGBT community," and he discussed his bisexual orientation while pitching Liberty City for its endorsement.

"He's said so many things to so many different people that I am puzzled," said Josephs, a widow. The issue is Kravitz's credibility, she said, adding that she did not like identity politics.

"My sexuality is not a qualification for office," Kravitz said. "I bring it up only in the context that it's important for the LGBT community to have a seat at the legislative table." He said that it would be good for "right-wing" lawmakers in the capital to work with an openly bisexual colleague.

Kravitz denied that he had ever talked to Josephs about his sexuality, and said he did not recall telling people that he "swings both ways."

Segal, who is supporting Josephs, said he had no reason to doubt Kravitz. "I take him at his word," Segal said. He added that he believed Kravitz had a bright future in politics, but that it was important for lesbian, gay, and bisexual activists to reward political allies regardless of their personal orientation.

Kravitz is Center City's second self-identified bisexual candidate in as many election cycles. Anne Dicker, a married anticasino activist who ran unsuccessfully for the First District state Senate then held by Vincent J. Fumo, advertised her bisexual orientation.

Josephs, in her 10-minute speech, challenged Kravitz's qualifications.

"I wouldn't be concerned except for the fact that he's a trust-fund baby, he has as much money as needs; he does not have a job, he's 29 years old, he's never had a job; and so 24/7, he is out there talking to my friends, my supporters, my constituents, and saying, 'She's entrenched. She's part of the problem.' And I've been told he's even said, 'She's old.' "

Though she has been around and has deep support among longtime district residents, Josephs told the gathering she was worried because at least 10,000 voters have moved into the district since her last campaign, and they don't know anything about her.

Kravitz said that he did not have a trust fund - "I wish it were true" - and that he had worked on Wall Street and in politics. He was a trader for Schoenfield Securities (now T3 Capital), then worked for a political fund-raising firm and as a consultant on several congressional campaigns. Before announcing his candidacy for the state House, Kravitz was a spokesman for Sixth District congressional candidate Manan Trivedi.

The Kravitz campaign said that a tape of Josephs was made by a supporter who was in the Black Sheep and was invited to join the event in the second-floor bar area, though she did not have a ticket for the fund-raiser. The campaign provided a copy of the tape to The Inquirer.