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Outrage As Film Outs Closeted Gay Politicians

Outrage As Film Outs Closeted Gay Politicians

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?

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Photo used under Fair Rights Usage with all credit given to Chain Camera Pictures.

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72 comments

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12:12PM PDT on May 23, 2009

for me it's not so much a matter of hypocrisy but personal integrity. if they're *living* a lie then how can they be trusted? it's one thing to simply not bring it up, but to actually lie to cover it is a different story. not only could it "potentially" taint their voting, but also leaves them open to blackmail and other unsavory forms of coercion, potentially compromising not just their integrity on LGBT legislation but national security as well - and indeed the higher the stakes the more likely such tactics would be applied.

as a lesbian libertarian i'm mixed on the so-called "gay" issues myself, supporting gay marriage as an equal-privilege issue but preferring we nix "privilege" for *all* couples - we singles should shoulder more of the tax burden just cuz we don't have a cuddle-bunny? MEH! and also against all hate crime legislation, but again, if we're gonna apply a standard we must do it equally. so there's a perfect example of just some of the subtleties involved. but if a public official is lying about something then i think they're already compromised and they need to be outed - not from the closet but from office.

i'd say if someone is confronted about their sexuality during a campaign they're entitled to refuse to answer and let the voters make of that what they will, but the double-life crap is bollox.

in the case of Craig he probably lied to his WIFE, too (though maybe not), and if she can't trust him neither can we.

10:10AM PDT on May 16, 2009

I posted once, but, after seeing some of the posts since, I feel a need to respond again, especially to Lynn and Marilyn. These people have made MY private life the object of public debate. They have used my PRIVATE life to win votes. They have used MY PRIVATE life to cause public hatred for my partner and I. They have used MY PRIVATE LIFE to take power and then use that power to expose me and my partner and GLBT high school kids to harassment, abuse, beatings and other violence. They are OBSCENELY interested in MY PRIVATE LIFE. And you say they have a right to privacy?

What about my right to privacy?

You say they should be protected from harassment and violence? Why shouldn't gays and lesbians be protected from harassment and violence?

You say we shouldn't be interested in their private lives? Then tell them to quit using MY PRIVATE LIFE as a weapon against me and my family by making it an issue of public debate and hatred.

To repeat, when you use hatred against a group of people to win public power and use that power to actively discriminate against that group of people when you ARE one of those people, you have ABROGATED any right to privacy and grounds for sympathy.

Theses politicians are using me and my life as a weapon to hold onto dictatorial powers and as a weapon against me and my family.

What's wrong with using their own weapon against them?

7:10AM PDT on May 16, 2009

Lynne, what you're forgetting is that a politician is not a private individual. He is a public figure.

He has no expectation of privacy because of that. And most politicians don't seem to mind displaying their private life for all the world to see when they think it benefits them - parading their wives and children around at photo ops and interviews and on podiums. Talking about their childhood and their religious beliefs. Having photos taken of them in church. Showing off the family dog.

They put themselves in the public arena. And they can't have it both ways. And shouldn't - because we need to know who they are. What their beliefs are. What their thoughts and needs are. That tells us a great deal about their character and whether or not they are likely to govern in the way that we would want them to.

And they know all that in advance. And choose to enter public life of their own free will.

I don't want to give up my own right to privacy with regard to my personal life. Which means that I would never, under any circumstances, run for any elected office. It wouldn't be worth it to me. But politicians obviously believe the risk is worth it to them.

11:10PM PDT on May 15, 2009

@Marilyn Kay & Lynne Patterson,

please read carefully at least once (more) excellent and honest comments written here by Bruce C., Alice B., Lindsey O., Rob and Jay B., Charl K., George Box, Dominick J. Di Noto, Virginia M.,

-and you (Marilyn K. & Lynne Patterson) will see why you're not correct.

6:19PM PDT on May 15, 2009

It's none of your business. If you don't like the way they vote, then work to get them defeated in the next election, but stay out of their private lives. Or, it is too much hard work for you to walk the street, knock on doors, take people to the poles,....? There is a Constitutional way to handle what you like or don't like about a political representative. Invading a person's right to privacy is not it.

3:39PM PDT on May 15, 2009

Why are we so interested in other people's lives? The concern should be that they are not doing anything illegal, not hurting or stealing from anyone. What happened to personal privacy?

Take care of your own business and priorities and do not look to control other peoples actions by exposing them for any reason.

11:50AM PDT on May 15, 2009

I would never have a problem with outtin any politican who is not only gay but is fighting to repress the rest of us in the GLBT community.

11:02AM PDT on May 15, 2009

Who Cares, as long as they do not tread on the rest of us.

10:53AM PDT on May 15, 2009

You're right Lindsey. God forbid America became a true democracy, right?

10:32AM PDT on May 15, 2009

Not necessarily, Doris. I expect my representatives to be more intelligent and knowledgeable than I am (they often, perhaps usually aren't, but that's what I both hope and expect). And I expect them to use that intelligence and knowledge to make the best decisions possible - whether I agree with those decisions or not.

Any politician who always goes along with what his constituents want is a mere puppet. Because people so often want only what is best for themselves in the short term - rather than considering what is truly best. And so often vote with their prejudices as well.

A good politician should have the courage of his convictions, even if it brings him into conflict with the voters. Otherwise, all we have is mob rule.

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