The film is called Outrage, a documentary made by writer/director Kirby Dick baring the slogan “Do Ask, Do Tell” a reference to the military policy Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell which bans openly gay service members. The film’s purpose is to tackle politicians in America that systematically vote against legislation for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people whilst, at the same time, being closeted homosexuals themselves, or exposing the “Politics of Hypocrisy” as the film terms it.
But is it ever okay to “out” anyone? Is it justified, as the film suggests, when politicians are voting for and backing anti-gay agendas which set-back gay rights progress? This is the debate being had throughout the gay community at the moment.
The film itself includes cases such as outing Florida Governor Charlie Crist (in spite of him getting married last December, which the film alleges is a cover-up, as he and his wife live apart). Also outed in Outrage is the Californian Representative David Dreier. Both men have staunchly opposed gay rights initiatives and LGBT rights legislation. Governor Crist, in particular, vehemently supported the Florida state constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.
Others spotlighted in Outrage range from former Rep. Jim, McCrery to former Senator Larry Craig (more moderate than the others but still a supporter of the DADT policy), all of whom helped to shoot down the addition of sexual orientation to hate-crimes legislation, but were later, and somewhat salaciously, found out to be homosexual. There’s also Fox News’ Shepard Smith (though alleged and not confirmed) and Bush’s 2004 campaign manager Ken Mehlman.
The film also expresses its outrage at the fact that the media continually cover for closeted politicians, for instance in Mr. Mehlman’s case when, the film alleges, he was outed during an episode of Larry King by Bill Maher, but that statement was edited out by CNN. The very next day Mehlman resigned his post, but still denies being gay. This point has been illustrated quite ironically in reviews of the film in which commentators who have talked about specific persons have had their reviews altered to fall in-line with the “no-naming” policy of many online retailers and sites.
I have to confess, I never really cared about a politician’s sexuality. Apparently, neither does Kirby Smith as, in making Outrage, he points out that those politicians who wish to remain closeted but who do support gay rights legislation are not outed and shouldn’t be. But is it every okay to out anyone?
In everyday circumstances, no, it isn’t– a general, sweeping statement with a few exceptions, I’m sure, but given the personal and sometimes volatile nature of “coming-out”, it shouldn’t be something forced on anyone. Yet this is politics, so I ask myself, do the same rules apply?
On the one hand, and to take the film’s point of view, these are (alleged) gay politicians who are voting against things like transgender protection bills and hate-crime legislation. There’s a sense there that the LGBT community has been betrayed by these people. More than that, they’ve failed in their duties as politicians to be honorable and authentic in both their public lives and in the way that they vote.
But sexuality is very much a private thing. There’s a line that’s drawn between the two. The film deals with this by saying that gay politicians erase that line by their hypocrisy in voting against LGBT legislation. I aren’t utterly convinced by this, but then again I’m not overly enamored by the fact that politicians like Larry Craig can go around supporting Don’t Ask Don’t Tell whilst being homosexual themselves.
So we come back to the issue of “outing”. It feels a bit like Madame Guillotine, so off with their heads for their betrayals. And perhaps some of that is justified. To take Florida Governor Charlie Crist for example, imagine, somehow, that a gay marriage bill reached his desk. He’s covering up his sexuality, so which way is Crist’s decision going to go? Would he feel pressure to veto so as to keep his own (alleged) secret? I’m sure he’d be professional and consider the welfare of his State above his own personal life, but the doubt seeps in like cold in the depth of winter and suddenly there’s suspicion all around.
And that’s perhaps the problem with Outrage. It misses the complexity of the issue, all be it in a well meaning (for the gay rights movement) kind of way. Suppose any Governor as a gay man or woman is opposed to gay marriage for ideological reasons. Not equal protections and benefits under law in the form of civil unions, but gay marriage as a concept. Or, for another example, they fundamentally disagree with the Hate Crimes bill. Some gay people do afterall.
Now, I’m a staunch supporter of both, but is it fair to waggle the weapon of a public outing every time a closeted gay politician does not fall in line with the LGBT consensus? No, and that does feel like it could be just one slippery-slope away with the release of Outrage.
So, is all fair in Love and Politics? Do closeted gay politicians who vote against gay legislature deserve to be outed? I feel, at the very least, that Outrage makes the politicians in question accountable for their actions, and that can only be a good thing, but the ends justifying the means is an equation of tenuous balance, i.e. the pain of a few politicians in exchange for the advancement of rights for LGBTs throughout America, and it is that question of balance that I’m sure will continue to divide people. What are your thoughts?
Photo used under Fair Rights Usage with all credit given to Chain Camera Pictures.