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The ethics and etiquette of outing

This commentary is the opinion of the author and may not reflect that of other authors at Box Turtle Bulletin

Timothy Kincaid

June 1st, 2010

I have not been a fan of outing.

Most of us have, at some point, lived in the closet. And we know the trauma and upheaval that can come from a public acknowledgment (or disclosure) of one’s sexual orientation in a world that does not treat gay people equally. Choosing to publicly identify as gay is to choose to be subjected to disapproval and animus by some and to be treated as an oddity or eccentric by others.

And because every person’s circumstance, family dynamic, social network, and financial situation are different, I generally favor allowing each person to decide on their own when is best for them to take the step towards honesty and disclosure.

On the other hand, the closet is debilitating and oppressive. Virtually everyone who has left the closet, whether voluntarily or though embarrassing scandal, agrees that life is much better in the light. The constant worry about who knows and what might happen should you be discovered is a heavy burden, and when it is lifted you feel free.

Take, for example, CA Sen. Roy Ashburn who sort of outed himself by means of a DUI on the way home from a gay bar (with the help of others who blogged about the event). Held hostage to fear, Ashburn’s closet life was limiting and his new found freedom was exhilarating.

“I would not have been speaking on a measure dealing with sexual orientation ever prior to the events that have transpired in my life over the last three months,” Ashburn told his colleagues. “However, I am no longer willing or able to remain silent on issues that affect sexual orientation and the rights of individuals. And so I am doing something that is quite different and foreign to me, and it’s highly emotional.”

And things have improved over the years. Support is available, and with each passing year the cost of being honest is lower.

There is no question that leaving the closet is the right decision, almost without exception. But less certain is who is entitled to pick the timing and the circumstances under which the closet door comes down.

One argument for outing is that it is appropriate when a politician or person in a position of power is using their authority in ways that actively harm the community. And there is a certain amount of logic to that criterion; the purpose is not to punish, but rather to stop the harm.

But the problem is in how we define “harm”.

For some, being registered as a Republican would be adequate cause for outing in as humiliating a way as possible. But this is based more in a desire to punish them for the “sin of being Republican” than it is in any real effort to protect the community.

For others, a voting pattern that is not 100% in alignment with the stated position of our various organizations deems one to be an enemy. But I find this to be a bit too much like extortion for my taste. And, frankly, I find many of the bills that our community organizations support to be ridiculous partisan posturing which has little actual value or meaning. Is someone “anti-gay” or doing harm to our community if they think that a Harvey Milk Day is a pointless waste of scarce resources?

And beyond questions about the definition of harm is the inherent assumption within the concept of outing that being gay is something that is shameful or shock-worthy. Outings that are designed so as to deliver maximum damage to the party being outed rely on the ill will of the public and not only validate homophobia but encourage it.

Which is why I am troubled by Mike Rogers’ outing of Illinois Republican congressman Mark Kirk.

Many Washington insiders, including Rogers, have known for years about Kirk’s same-sex attraction. Republican party insiders in Illinois have no illusions about Kirk, either.

In fact, in a blatant appeal to homophobia, a primary opponent tried to out Mark Kirk just this past December. This effort that resulted in the obligatory (and vague) denial by the candidate and condemnation of the bigot by the party structure.

And like a number of politicians across the nation, both Democratic and Republican, Kirk has kept his closet intact by having a relatively supportive record on gay issues. Rogers notes this as his reason for not outing Kirk earlier.

Until now, Mark Kirk elected not to play the typical Washington game. Instead of supporting his party’s dismal record on gay rights, Kirk received Human Rights Campaign ratings of 67% in 2002, 88% in 2004, 76% in 2006 and 85% in 2008. That’s more impressive than a lot of Democrats.

Rogers knows that in the long run a usually-supportive Republican can be even more effective than a reliable Democrat because he can provide the oh-so-necessary bipartisan vote. And Kirk, a military reservist who recently served in Afghanistan and is on the record as supporting DADT, has not changed his position.

But Mike Rogers has decided that today is the right time to reveal Kirk’s same-sex attraction. Here is the reason he gives:

Now, for the first time in his congressional career, Mark Kirk really had the chance to stand up and do what is right with the power of a vote. When I heard that five GOPers voted to lift the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell ban I instinctively though Kirk would be one of them. What a disappointment when he wasn’t.

Rogers would have us believe that this vote was the impetus, the motivation, the single action that compelled Mike to act. And I might find that vote to be an adequate reason, if I believed him.

But I don’t.

You see, the timing is just a bit too convenient. Although he has been running slightly ahead of his Democratic opponent for US Senate, Alexi Giannoulias and Kirk now appear to be very close in the polls. This may have been just too opportune of a moment for Rogers to pass.

Had Mike Rogers made an appointment with Kirk, expressed his intention in reporting the claims of his witnesses, allowed Kirk to respond or plan his own revelation, I might doubt my instinct. Had Rogers waited until after November, had the vote gone the other way, had it not been bipartisan, any of these might lend him credibility.

But the gotcha nature of the report negates any possibility that Rogers was simply seeking to reduce harm to our community. No, his primary goal was to embarrass, humiliate, and damage Mark Kirk.

And if my suspicions needed confirmation, Rogers adds another element. He references another potential scandal/criticism of Kirk, one that has nothing to do with his sexual orientation. This piling on makes it apparent to me that Rogers’ outing of Kirk is based less on his disappointment with Kirk’s vote and more on his desire to influence the outcome of the election.

No doubt many readers will find the advancement of a Democratic candidate to be an absolutely acceptable reason to out Mark Kirk. They may believe that we are in battle and that anything that lowers the chances of a Republican majority in the Senate is fair game. Some may argue that anything which hurts any Republican candidate at any time is a tool to be employed without question.

I do not.

Because while it is possible that Rogers has hurt Mark Kirk, it is absolutely certain that he has also hurt the gay community.

Because by introducing Kirk’s sexual orientation into the senate race, Rogers is reinforcing homophobia. By giving anti-gay voters a “reason” to vote against Kirk, he is validating bigotry.

And Rogers has now justified the actions of Kirk’s bigoted primary opponent. He’s confirmed that appealing to homophobia is a valid tactic to be used in politics and sexual orientation is a weapon to be wielded against those who are gay.

UPDATE:

Mark Kirk was not one of the five Republicans who voted to include the compromise amendment in the Defense Authorization Bill. Those were Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL), Charles Djou (HI), Judy Biggert (IL), Joseph Cao (LA), and Ron Paul (TX).

But he was among the five Republicans who joined them to vote for the Defense Authorization Bill which included the repeal. Those were Charlie Dent (PA), Mike Castle (DE), Mark Kirk (IL), Mary Bono Mack (CA), and Dave Reichert (WA).

Ron Paul voted for the amendment but not for the bill.

Comments

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Neil D
June 1st, 2010 | LINK

Agreed. We are, fortunately, way past the point where a closeted politician can do us harm.

Still, gay conservatives have a lot to answer for if they expect to be left alone. I can’t be expected to treat him or her as part of the “gay community” if they insist on enabling the poisonous atmosphere in DC today. I don’t support outing, but don’t look to me for political support either.

Lindoro Almaviva
June 1st, 2010 | LINK

I see both sides, as you do. I think what tips the scale for me is when they not only vote against their own, but, Like Rekers, use their pulpit to put down the very same people that they will have sex with when the light are off, the cameras are gone and the hormones demand attention.

I think you are right, this was done as punishment. Is it right? That is open to debate. I think there is a group in the community that is taking the same tactics and spirit that brought groups like ACT UP! to existence. There is a section of the population (and I am one of those), that is tired of apologizing for existing and apologizing for asking that our rights and our lives be treated like the tax payers we are. It might not be right, or popular, or pretty, but it takes all kinds.

A gay man voting to keep his/her brothers and sisters in harms way because of a forced closet is as despicable as a black man joining the KKK. We might not all agree on what consequences he should face, but I think we all agree that a certain amount of backlash he SHOULD face.

So, seems like he is forced out of the closet, so his brothers and sisters can serve out and proud to our country. Might not be a fair deal, but again, it takes all kinds.

jcrr
June 1st, 2010 | LINK

He could have been discharged under DADT and yet votes against repeal — how is this excusable?? How is this NOT hypocritical and an attempt to hurt those currently serving in silence?

Jim Burroway
June 1st, 2010 | LINK

I fully support Mike Rogers in this. The timeing was driven by the vote, pure and simply. The vote was last week, and it was material to the political campaign in Illinois, as you can be sure it would have been material if he had voted yes.

Waiting until November would have made no sense. Ashburn didn’t chose his timing; it was chosen for him. Sorry, but the same is true with Kirk. Knowing his vote on DADT and the probability that protecting his closet door may have conributed to his vote (just as Asburn’s open door contributed to his parallel vote on DADT), is absolutely material and relevant

Voters deserve to know whether Kirk voted because he thinks gay soldiers are detrimental to morale, or whether he felt that he needed to protect his closet door against a primary opponent to his right. As we’ve seen with other politicians from Kolbe to Ashburn, it really does make a huge difference.

It is absolutely fair, as it would be fair to out a gay Democrat that voted against DADT.

Burr
June 1st, 2010 | LINK

Is the Democrat better on the issues? If not then it was a stupid, partisan move probably.

I’m personally for outing those that do harm, a vote against repealing DADT probably fits that for me. I don’t care if he was supportive on more fluffy measures or kept his mouth shut on other things, that one is a big one. Maybe he should have been confronted and given a chance before the vote. I can see that.

I don’t think it’s necessarily playing to homophobia, but more about exposing hypocrisy. The more the bigoted idiots on the right realize that they’re being led by self-loathers and not anyone who actually shares their values they more they’ll realize how phony those values really are and how they’re just being taken advantage of.

Timothy Kincaid
June 1st, 2010 | LINK

Jim,

Kirk has no primary candidate to the right. The primary was in February.

Timothy Kincaid
June 1st, 2010 | LINK

Burr,

The Democrat is better on the issues which is why HRC rightly endorsed Giannoulias over Kirk (whom they have endorsed in the past).

Kirk’s voting record is absolutely relevant to his Senate campaign.

Jim Burroway
June 1st, 2010 | LINK

Keep in mind, Mike Rogers knew that Kirk was gay for at least six years and kept quiet. Thre elections came and went and Mike kept silent when defeating a Republican would have been very tempting to a “democratic operative.” If you question the timing, then it’s fair to question why now vs. why not six years ago when Rogers first learned that Kirk was gay?

If all this was about was bringing down a gay Republican, then the timeline just doesn’t make sense. Mike could have done that years ago.

No, the timing was of Kirk’s choosing. He could have voted to support his fellow servicemembers — his fellow GAY servicemembers. Voting as he did, given who he is, opens him to legitimate scrutiny. Five Republicans voted to repeal DADT, but Kirk wasn’t one of them. He let his fellow servicemembers down, and he let the gay community down. And as voters, we deserve to be given the information we need to ask why he did that. We have as much right to ask that as the homophobes do, and no less.

Priya Lynn
June 1st, 2010 | LINK

Timothy said “For some, being registered as a Republican would be adequate cause for outing in as humiliating a way as possible.”.

Such people would be extremely few and far between. I have never heard of such a person.

Scooter J
June 1st, 2010 | LINK

REALLY? Are you actually comparing the localized state issue of Harvey Milk Day with arguably one of the most important national gay policy issues of this legislative session?

REALLY? Are you acutally trying to soften this man’s voting record by showing that he has a better score than some democrats? Voting yes on a national pink shoe day, voting yes on national lisp awareness day and no on DADT gives me a 67% approval rating by HRC–really!

REALLY? Are you really trying to make more out of this outing than it actually is? Candidate A learns something juicy about Candidate B and the election is over. Who cares about the motivation, or timing or if it injures or not? In this internet age, if a politician has skeletons of any sort it is 100% certain that they will eventually be revealed. Ignoring this fact is simply bad strategy or ridiculous arrogance.

I apolgize for the sarcasm, I really do enjoy your webiste, but at what point will we stop supporting/defending these men? In the very least, the outing of such dispicable characters like Larry Craig will most certainly cause them to go away.

Tap, tap, tap!!!

Dan
June 1st, 2010 | LINK

I’m a little torn on this issue. It troubles me that someone the right wing tried to out is also being outed by a gay blogger. If I’m not mistaken, Kirk has supported ENDA, and as Tim pointed out, his vote against repeal didn’t harm the community because the repeal vote passed. This isn’t like the New York marriage vote, which was upended by card-carrying homophobes.

I’d have to know more about his record. If it’s just a matter of Kirk voting a bit less pro-gay than Giannoulias, then I don’t think it rises to an “outable” offense. In this election, I can see myself campaigning for his opponent, but outing under these circumstances seems vindictive and disproportionate to the act.

I’m not sure that outing him would encourage homophobia. Some Republicans might see that a gender minority person can be one of them. They might actually become more accepting. But given that Kirk’s career could be ended, I’m troubled by the prospect of outing.

elaygee
June 1st, 2010 | LINK

Queer and in the closet and running for office is a serious character flaw that demands revelation so voters can make an honest choice.

tim
June 1st, 2010 | LINK

@Priya Lynn

Such people would be extremely few and far between. I have never heard of such a person.

Seriously? Almost every member of the HRC or GLAAD I have met would have no problem with this. Its one (of many) reasons why I completely refuse to support either organization.

Priya Lynn
June 1st, 2010 | LINK

I don’t buy that in the slightest Tim – you’re full of it.

TampaZeke
June 1st, 2010 | LINK

I have to go with Jim on this one.

Eddie89
June 1st, 2010 | LINK

All’s fair in love, war and “public” office.

John in the Bay Area
June 1st, 2010 | LINK

I agree with Mike Rogers. Kirk’s vote against repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is an absolutely valid reason to out him. In fact, I hope that they have time to kick him out of the military before the implementation of the repeal begins.

My partner retired from the Army after 22 plus years. I was with him for many of those years. Any closet gay candidate who supports Don’t Ask Don’t Tell should be outed.

Also, if he doesn’t think that openly gay Americans are fit to serve in the military, I don’t think he is fit to serve on the county dog catching commission, let alone the Senate.

Jeff
June 1st, 2010 | LINK

I usually find BTB’s opinions compelling, but I think they got this one wrong.

Rewarding a service member who risked their lives for their countrymen with dismissal is despicable. We are aware of many career members who have lost their pensions and benefits from this horrendous law. Others have been involuntarily separated and forced to pay back their sign-on bonuses and the cost of their education.

As a gay member of the armed forces, Kirk was unique position to understand that gays and lesbians do, indeed, serve admirably. To betray fellow soldiers in this way deserves punishment.

Well, maybe Kincaid is half-right. This outing was meant to punish. Not for being Republican: For being a traitor to his country and to his community!

Emily K
June 1st, 2010 | LINK

i’m sorry, but i’m a tad confused how this is truly an outing if the inner cadre actually “unofficially knew” about his being gay. I got the idea from the article that “everyone pretty much knew” the truth about him… so why would this be a shocker to anyone, let alone an election-changer?

NARNC60AC
June 1st, 2010 | LINK

what gets me is that most of you are jumping on the “kirk is wrong-rogers is correct” bandwagon without remembering a a few CRUCIAL items:
1]could kirk have possibly voted “no” on the repeal to prevent a headlong rush?
remember, the pentagon [the boots & brass, & the very people who will have to implement the repeal] is working on a study [due to be finished around dec 1 2010 i believe] on, yes, read this: on how to properly implement the repeal from the top brass down to the rank & file should congress repeal the ban
2] when the military was ordered by truman’s executive order to desegregate back in 1947-it took 5 years to completely & fully implement that order, & back then, the military was “forced” [just like today] into coming up with a plan to accomplish that order
now, i’m all for repealing the ban, BUT, here’s the 3rd point: do it properly!
repeal dadt AFTER the military has come up with a plan to properly implement it, timeline & all-do not just “shove it down the collective throats” of the military!
congress is rushing headlong “full speed ahead-damn the torpedoes/bull in the china shop” to repeal the ban without waiting for the “boots & brass” to come up with a plan to implement the repeal-even after admiral mullen said they were doing a study on how best to implement the repeal, & he asked congress to wait until that plan was ready!
isn’t that putting the cart before the horse?
or is that forcing the military to do what the democrats feel is “politically expedient”?
having an issue just “shoved into their faces” without plans to help the rank & file suddenly deal with a “gay platoon member” or a plan to deal with the ramifications and/or future problems is just going to make the military more resentful of congress!
4] so he voted “NO” on the repeal, but “YES” on the authorization-did anyone care to ask kirk for the reason why he voted “NO” on the repeal before jumping all over him with all 4 feet & destroying his political career out of spite? [i didn't think so]
5] this just plays right into the oppositions hands-they can use this as yet another example of how “destructive & petty the politics of the homosexual community is”
not to mention the opposition will bring up the fact that a man’s political career was KILLED out of spite to score a few “brownie points” cause more than a “few people” didn’t bother to remember the “backstory” [the backstory is the pentagon doing that study on how to implement the repeal]
6] u can bet that mr kirk, someone who is a reservist, a man who serves with the “boots on the ground”, would understand better than us “armchair quarterbacks” what implementing the repeal of dadt means for the rank & file as well as the officers & brass
7] mr kirk, who was an ALLY of your “community”, even if he is a republican: his political career is finished-all cause of someone who got po’d cause he voted one way & not the other [i go back to my "ask him why he voted no"]
8] this will bite the dems come november-every single republican running for the house & senate will bring this vote up as “congress running roughshod over & forcing a ‘political expedient measure’ down the throats of the military”

Ryan
June 1st, 2010 | LINK

You make a very compelling argument, and I can’t really rebut it. In this instance, Rogers is not much different than Porno Pete. He’s hoping to cause a loss for Kirk by trading on Illinois citizen’s homophobia. I do find it odd that people think these type of “outings” matter, though. Just like with Crist, Rogers offers no actuak evidence. And just like with Crist, he’ll be dismissed as a gossip-monger with ulterior motives. You can’t offer unnamed sources as your only evidence; that’s just lazy journalism.

Ryan
June 1st, 2010 | LINK

NARNC, you know very well that waiting until after the study is complete will greatly reduce the chances of repeal passing, as Congress will likely be a lot more red. Also, you know very well that repeal won’t take place until the Pentagon finishes it’s repeal anyway. So your fears of the military getting anything shoved down its throat are unfounded. Finally, I know very well that you’re quite obviously not “all for repeal”.

Lynn David
June 2nd, 2010 | LINK

This Illinois election should be fun. Might be people downstate will now stay away from the polls in droves and more democrats will be elected from those congressional districts. Well, one could hope.

Fred in the UK
June 2nd, 2010 | LINK

Very thought provoking post. I am undecided on the issue as a whole, although I do have a few points/questions.

Did Congressman Kirk vote no on the amendment confident that it would pass anyway? If he did then his vote was pure symbolism without risk that it would actually prevent the repeal of DADT. Only if he were not confident of the amendment being passed can we confidently say that he either genuinely supports DADT or is prepared to sacrifice gay and lesbian service men and women to political expediency.

Several commentators have implied that being gay makes his vote against the repeal of DADT worse, i.e. that ignorance on this issue by heterosexual Congressmen is forgiveable. Surely, on a matter that has generated such heated political discussion and concerns national defence all members of Congress should have made sure they were fully informed on the issue.

Leaving aside the ethics of outing Kirk, there is also the question of its wisdom particularly at given the approaching elections. Should ammunition be given to the anti-gay lobby? How much harm is done to the ‘gay-rights’ cause by getting rid of a Republican who was, for the most part, an ally? How much slower/harder will it make change with the Republican party as a whole? How many Democratic Congressmen are keen to ensure their HRC scorecard is not consistently beaten by a Republican?

CPT_Doom
June 2nd, 2010 | LINK

I find this whole discussion interesting, because I think it’s missing a far larger point – what exactly is “outing”? Back in the 70s, most people had to keep their sexuality secret for fear of losing their jobs. There was an understanding within the LGBT community that one did not discuss what happened within the community, so it was relatively easy to be openly gay within the community, while still closeted professionally and/or to one’s family.

The situation is far different today – particularly for educated, upper-class men like Kirk. Clearly if “everyone” in official DC knew he was gay, and the IL GOP promoted his candidacy anyway, then is there really a threat to his professional career if Mike Rogers talks about a chance meeting years ago? I agree you can question Rogers’ timing, but is his action all that bad? Kirk was open to all the people in his life who mattered, and moved easily within larger gay social circles. The only people who did not know were the voters.

Additionally, if we decry this “outing” aren’t we simply accepting the premise that being LGBT is something shameful? It is clear that many in the wider society still believe so – look at the reaction to questions about Elena Kagan’s sexuality. It was treated as an insult even to ask the question. The media won’t even touch the issue unless forced – they also still treat calling someone “gay” as a potential insult and it is far too easy to get the MSM to “in” known gay people (yes, I mean you, Anderson Cooper).

But if we believe that being LGBT is totally normal; if we understand that there are simply a small but measurable portion of the population who are LGBT, and we are found in every walk of life, then should we not act on those beliefs? Should we not treat being gay as simply another interesting fact about someone? When Lance Bass chatted with Andy Towle of the Towleroad blog while holding hands with his boyfriend in line for the bathroom at the largest gay bar in P-town, has he not outed himself? Should Andy Towle have kept that information silent?

All Rogers did was mention that Kirk asked about another man as a potential romantic partner. If Kirk weren’t really gay, he could have easily dismissed this with a “I was trying to set up a friend” excuse, although that would entail admitting he had gay friends. Given that opposition to the DADT vote was based on the idea that gay and lesiban military members are so freakish that they can never be integrated into the military, and Kirk signed onto that point of view, is it really so horrible for Rogers to point out the fallacy, using Kirk as an example?

IMHO, once you have revealed your sexuality to any other person, you risk it being known more widely. At some point, you have let enough people know (e.g., Ed Koch, Barbara Milkulski, David Drier) that you are out and just need to deal with it.

NARNC60AC
June 2nd, 2010 | LINK

ryan-
you don’t know me, you’ve never talked to me or discussed this issue, so your statement of “Finally, I know very well that you’re quite obviously not “all for repeal”” is blatantly incorrect & a false assumption on your part
just because someone has a differing opinion or sees something in a different way than you do doesn’t automatically mean they’re taking an opposite stance than yours
i’m FOR repeal of dadt [as well as FOR reinstatement of those previously discharged under it]-my opinion is just that congress is “ramrodding” this issue while the pentagon is still formulating plans on exactly how to implement the repeal
[i'm gonna assume that the repeal will pass the senate, which will make some of my points in this discussion moot]
i’m also of the opinion that the repeal & the implementation of said repeal needs to be at a measured steady pace-not hurried & definitely not at such a slow a speed that the implementation will take a decade to accomplish
like i said in my 1st post, it took 5 years for the full implementation of truman’s executive order to desegregate
i can see the implementation of the repeal of dadt taking at least 2-3 years
congress is making [or in this case, repealing] a law, it’s up to the military to make that law or repeal work
a plan for implementation of the repeal for the army will not work for the navy, etc since each branch will have it’s own unique set of issues & circumstances
AND-here’s the clincher…..in case your forgot, while the election’s in november, the newly elected congress doesn’t convene until january
so…..even if the republicans are elected into control of congress in november, they wouldn’t be seated until the new congress in january
the pentagon’s study will be completed by early december-that would have given the democratically controlled congress how much time before their “winter break” to repeal dadt?

Ben in Oakland
June 2nd, 2010 | LINK

Timothy, I usually agree with just about everything you say. I find you to be informed, logical, and compassionate, and unusually balanced in your approach. I find your comments here equally balanced, but I’m only partly in agreement with you.

When outed earlier, Kirk denied that he was gay. So, assuming he is gay, he’s a liar. (Not to mention that award that he actually did not receive. Also an honesty deficit).

Kirk did not vote (voted against?) to include the compromise in the defense bill. Did he make a speech to denounce the stealth tactic? Did he denounce DADT at all? Especially, given that he is a reservist and gay, did he have a word to say about it, or the morality of anti-gay laws, or the loss to our national security? If he agrees with the rationale of DADT, then he agrees that he is not fit to serve. Did he say a word about that? No, he wants to appear heterosexual, and maintain the from-birth advantages of that status, the cost to other gay people be damned. He might not be a grade-A hypocrite– Craig, Haggard, Souder, and Vitter are way out of his league. But he is certainly in there trying, at least on this issue. The substance of a good life–integrity– is in question.

You might say he has been trading his pottage for a mess o’ birthright…

Arguing about the morality of outing is to create a moral question where there really isn’t one. The right or wrong of it is a matter of opinion and circumstance, as this case so clearly shows. But what is always true is the reality of consequences for every decision.

I’ve always seen outing in this context–reality. Reality: any gay person who sticks his/her nose out of the closet, from posting anonymously on a website to tattooing ‘homosexual’ on his forehead, runs the risk of being known or thought of as a homosexual. And this includes Kirk; let’s not forget HIS responsibility here. A secret told, no matter how quietly, is no longer a secret. There are consequences for it, ranging from a shrug of the shoulders to a parade to murder– depending on who and where you are. Any gay person who lives an out and proud life takes the chance of great joy, or equally, severe retribution. The closet provides mostly fear and its bastard twin– the illusion of security.

As an editorial aside, for myself, I’m not fond of secrets. I remember what it was like to be in the closet, however briefly that was, and I know what the effort it takes to stay inside, so if a public figure doesn’t even make that minimal commitment, I have no reason to make it for him.

There are two sets of consequences for coming out. There are the consequences for being homosexual. Straight people who hate gay people, and more importantly, wanna-be-straight-but-ain’t’s, have set up those consequences wherever possible to be negative and automatic; they should not be surprised if those consequences ensue. Nor are they allowed to avoid those consequences, because they are responsible for them. They are responsible, as are all of us, for their actions. To say that they deserve a break from those consequences would be self serving of them, to say the least, and is an argument against the validity of the disapproval and sanctions to begin with. “You should be punished, but I shouldn’t be, because I am on the side of right, except when I’m down on my knees in the men room at the Minneapolis airport.”

Does Kirk believe that he deserves a break from those consequences? I have no idea. I note only that as far as I know, he made no speech against DADT. His prior good voting record is neither a defense or an excuse.

Then there are the consequences of hypocrisy. These can range from public disgrace to laudatory hymns of praise, and also depend on who and where you are. Wide Stance Larry suffered a lot of public embarrassment, but stayed in the Senate, as did Vitter. Such is its privilege. Ted Haggard believed his own press (I’m God’s right-hand man) and bit the balls he was licking– always a mistake when someone’s foot is in your groin. My experience with holier-than-thou Christians is that they really only like the kind of hypocrisy that allows them to maintain their myths of moral and spiritual superiority. Even the apologies for slavery and segregation contained a subtle bid for reasserting moral superiority– we used to think that but way, but now we don’t, and so now we’re even better than we were before. We finally have it right, if by finally, you mean we’re getting away with it.

The kind of hypocrisy that reveals them to be no better than anyone else– or quite a bit worse– is really not going to be tolerated, unless it is heterosexist hypocrisy , which is always worth a re-election bid.

And here’s the crux of the issue, and why this is not a question of morality at all, but of hypocrisy. When the gay haters out people, it is good. DADT is the perfect exemplar of that thinking. But when we out people, it is bad. Really, in either case, it is simply a matter of the consequences which other people have set in motion. And what about someone like Kirk who, though he has attempted to maintain the advantages (to himself) of the closet, has outed himself?

Consequences, not morality, not ethics.

If you are going to argue that outing is immoral, then it is entirely hypocritical unless you are willing to tackle the initial immorality– the fear, hatred, and persecution of gay people. Because that is where the actual roots of the problem lie. If you don’t attack the roots, the weeds still sprout in the garden.

NARNC60AC
June 2nd, 2010 | LINK

now, as for the “outing” issue:
i don’t agree with the “outing” or the timing of it since i’m of the opinion that it was all for political points & political gain
i don’t think kirk is or was “ashamed” by his sexuality
i believe kirk is just like i am in regards to “announcing” sexuality:
out & open, but without the need or desire to openly “advertise” the fact that we’re homosexual
[oh, btw, i prefer the clinical description of heterosexual & homosexual, since calling heterosexual's "straight" implies that we're "bent" or "wrong" somehow]
there are those that live openly & honestly without the need to loudly proclaim our sexuality [isn't that the "community" is fighting for-inclusion & making homosexuality just as accepted as heterosexuality?]

Priya Lynn
June 2nd, 2010 | LINK

Narn said “…..even if the republicans are elected into control of congress in november, they wouldn’t be seated until the new congress in january
the pentagon’s study will be completed by early december-that would have given the democratically controlled congress how much time before their “winter break” to repeal dadt?”.

Very, very little.

Timothy Kincaid
June 2nd, 2010 | LINK

Ben,

Thanks for the thoughtful commentary. But you and Rogers (and many others) share an assumption that I’m not sure holds up to closer inspection.

The word most commonly used in justification of this outing is “hypocrisy”. But is Kirk behaving like a hypocrite?

Generally, hypocrisy is a situation in which a person rails against something that he secretly engages in. So, assuming that Kirk was defending DADT (and not just objecting to the repeal before the study), it might on the face of it look like hypocrisy. But is it?

Personally, I think it is nonsense that closeted gay people can serve in the military while openly gay people cannot. But this is not a bizarre or ridiculous notion; it has been policy for 17 years and many people believe it to be reasonable.

Assuming for a moment that Kirk supports DADT because he thinks it is the best policy for the country, does his service make him a hypocrite?

Actually, no, I don’t think so.

Kirk is holding himself to the terms of DADT. He is serving from the closet, not as an openly gay man.

We can say that he is denying rights to gay people while he is a gay person. But that may be simply unfairness and not necessarily hypocrisy. If it were proven to our satisfaction that open service would seriously hurt our military readiness (an unlikely proposition), I think most gay people would be willing to give up the right to service in order to protect our nation.

So if Kirk’s belief is that open service is distracting or counterproductive to military order, then he’s doing exactly what he thinks gay people should do: be in the closet while in the service. And, one must assume, that is the same advice he’d give any other gay service member.

And if it is his sincere belief that this repeal should not be authorized until the military study the issue, then he would be a hypocrite to support the repeal, not the other way around.

I believe that the appeal was the right thing to do, both for gay rights and for military readiness issues. But my disagreement with him over that issue doesn’t make me more admirable or him more hypocritical.

Of course, this comment is all based on the assumption that Kirk actually believes in the policy, not that he’s just making a decision from political expediency. But that is the problem with outing; it often requires believing (and declaring) motivations that we don’t know.

The final irony in the situation is that Kirk’s outing could result in a situation in which the policy he supported (and observed) may well harm him.

Timothy Kincaid
June 2nd, 2010 | LINK

NARNC60AC,

The issue is not the number of days (about 50), but the method of implementing the law.

The decision was that the repeal should be included in the defense authorization bill. This makes sense for three reasons: 1) DADT was originally included in the defense authorization bill so there is balance in its repeal taking the same path; 2) This is a military matter and this is the most appropriate venue in which to pass military law; 3) It was the likeliest way to ensure passage. By putting the repeal in this bill, the Senate could not filibuster the repeal without filibustering the entire defense authorization (which McCain may try).

The Defense bill was being discussed and passed now, not in December, so now is when the repeal was addressed.

Priya Lynn
June 2nd, 2010 | LINK

Timothy said “Assuming for a moment that Kirk supports DADT because he thinks it is the best policy for the country, does his service make him a hypocrite? Actually, no, I don’t think so. Kirk is holding himself to the terms of DADT. He is serving from the closet, not as an openly gay man.”.

He’s still supporting a bigotted policy – that’s a reason to out him.

Swampfox
June 2nd, 2010 | LINK

Recently there was a British member of Parliament and member of the new cabinet who was outed, David Laws. The scandal was because he accepted taxpayer funds to pay rent to his partner. In 2006 British law made it illegal to use taxpayer funds to pay a partner in such a way.

Scooter J
June 2nd, 2010 | LINK

If Kirk’s belief is that open service is distracting or counterproductive to military order then he is ignoring recent scholarship on the subject, he is discounting the opinions of many high-level US millitary leaders and advisors, and he is ignoring the successful implementation of similar policies in other countries. Assuming that this is an intellegent and thoughtful man, one can only surmise that his motivations are ONLY for political expediency.

steve
June 2nd, 2010 | LINK

“Because by introducing Kirk’s sexual orientation into the senate race, Rogers is reinforcing homophobia. By giving anti-gay voters a “reason” to vote against Kirk, he is validating bigotry.”

Forgive me if someone has already pointed this out in the comments above, Timothy, but I don’t entirely buy this argument.

You may be TECHNICALLY correct, but isn’t it Kirk’s CHOICE in the first place to belong to a political party that would treat him this way in the first place?

If Kirk were a Democrat, he could be openly gay (esp. in Illinois) with FAR fewer political repercussions. He’s chosen to remain Republican. Aren’t they the party of “personal responsibility”, anyway?

CPT_Doom
June 2nd, 2010 | LINK

Kirk is holding himself to the terms of DADT. He is serving from the closet, not as an openly gay man.

Actually, no. He told, and that was a violation of the policy, as well as being an example of why the policy is such a piece of drivel. The military shouldn’t care if Mr. Kirk were interested in another man as a potential partner, as long as he avoided intermingling between officers and enlisted. Clearly Mr. Kirk’s sexuality has not had a negative impact to his career to date.

But the reality is, the military does care, and it requires that military members not only do not discuss their orientations – and remember, third parties can begin investigations by reporting what they have been told, even when they’re not military – AND not engage in any homosexual sexual behaviors. As far as I can see, Kirk violated one, and likely violated the other.

Ben in Oakland
June 2nd, 2010 | LINK

Timothy- your points are good ones, and i mostly agree. But then, you wrote this:

“Of course, this comment is all based on the assumption that Kirk actually believes in the policy, not that he’s just making a decision from political expediency. But that is the problem with outing; it often requires believing (and declaring) motivations that we don’t know.

The final irony in the situation is that Kirk’s outing could result in a situation in which the policy he supported (and observed) may well harm him.”

First, that assumption is a BIG one, and there are very few politicians, even real maverick guys who have (or had) a reputation for straight talk, that i would ever think have that much integrity. After all, it depends on what the definition of “is” is.

Secondly, I’m not sure there is a really strong line between hypocrisy and irony. If hypocrisy is the homage that vice pays to virtue, then irony is surely virtue returning the compliment. Or maybe it’s just the proof of the pudding. I don’t know, I get my cliches mixed up.

But if he is hurt by it, then he is merely getting his just recompense for an evil practice, at least according according to St. Paul.

Fred in the UK
June 2nd, 2010 | LINK

In reply to Swampfox’s comment, the outing of David Laws was purely a side-effect of exposing his misuse of Parliamentary expenses. In order for the Telegraph’s story to be credible they had to identify his partner, and, because his partner was a man, in so doing the effect was to out him. (I am sure that if Laws’ partner happened to be a woman they would have ran the story in the same way.) He has a very strong pro-gay rights voting record.

He has received fairly sympathetic treatment within the media, in part because had abided by the change in rules for Parliamentary expenses, in respect to second homes, he would have been forced to out himself. Also if he had outed himself at that time he and his partner could then have rearranged their affairs and continued to claim the money, if not more, in expenses.

Scooter J
June 2nd, 2010 | LINK

UPDATE: “Mark Kirk Admits To ANOTHER False Military Record Claim”

This guy is not honest about his military service, he is not honest about his military recognition and he is not honest about his sexualiy.

He has created the false world he lives in to appeal to voters and nothing more. Out the kook and the more injurious to his political the better.

Ben in Oakland
June 2nd, 2010 | LINK

I should say, BTW, that I do favor outing, but only becuase the closet is the actual enemy. Actually, I favor the “BIG PURPLE SPOT” solution.

Everyone who has ever had sex (depending on what “is” is, of course) with a person of the same sex gets a purple spot on their forhead. The more they have, the bigger the spot.

End of the lcoset as we know it.

Ryan
June 2nd, 2010 | LINK

NARNC, are you aware of the compromise that says repeal won’t take place until after the study is over and after Gates and Obama have signed off on it? Are you really pretending to believe that a lame duck Congress would vote on such a decisive issue over the holidays, or that the Republicans wouldn’t be able to stall a vote for six weeks anyway? And why the continued offensive “shoving it/ramrodding it” metaphors? Do you really think you’re fooling anyone?

Ben in Oakland
June 3rd, 2010 | LINK

It’s probably way late for this comment, but it might generate a bit of response.

I was sitting in the tenderloin in an Indian restaurant last night, after having had a nice long toke from some of northern Cal’s finest. It was too crowded and the table was to small to read and eat some rather remarkable Tandoor. So I began to cogitate a bit on Timothy’s column and the various responses to it.

And then it hit me. We’re not thinking about this the right way. Even I, who think this way all of the time, wasn’t thinking about it the right way, even though the right way was implicit in everything I have written. I have said repeatedly, in these pages and in others, that the religious right is not the problem. The wanna-be-straight-but-ain’ts ain’t the problem either.

The problem is the closet. End the closet, and most homophobia ends as well, sooner or later. Take the profit out of it, and the moralizing busybodies will fade as well.

Quoting myself: “The closet is about living a lie. It IS a lie, it is based on lies, and it engenders lies. It distorts, perverts, and debases everything it touches, as the sorry life of Ted Haggard will attest. And like all lies, the bigger it is, the longer it is told, the more damage it ultimately causes…As far as I am concerned, if we are willing only to be silent about it, we are consenting to it. We can be polite, but we have to start being truthful. The closet depends on both lies and silence for its power over gay people and its support from heterosexuals. ”

The closet, like lying of any sort, is not respectable, so why respect it? Here is the solution to the problem. EVERYONE comes out. EVERYBODY is outed, friend, foe, and indifferent. Instead of National Coming Out Day, it’s going to be National YOU’RE Coming Out Day… like it or not.

Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell is the embodiment of the closet. The opposite of DADT is not repeal. The opposite of DADT is TELL EVERYONE RIGHT NOW and screw waiting for a few more crumbs to fall from the hetero-imperialist table. (Sorry, my ’60′s roots are showing). Can you imagine the power of 500 soldiers in front of the White House saying, “We’re here! We’re queer! Either process our discharges or repeal this assholery NOW!” Do you think the Holy Maverick would get anywhere with his filibuster? Do you really think senators would say would be able to say that “We don’t need you.” They can say that because there is only Dan Choi standing up to them, and he is only one person. Which is worse: confronting the Taliban, or confronting your fears? Show the right wingers who really has balls, what our military is really made of? Because right now, with a few visible, notable and noble exceptions, most of you look like pussies. You won’t even stand up for your own code of honor, your own integrity, your own sense of self worth. Where is the bravery and the honor in lying, in covering your ass while Dan Choi puts his on the line?

You’re one of a group certain southern senators, long rumored to be big ol’ ‘mo’s, but antipathetic to any gains for gay people? You swore to uphold out Constitution, to stand for the things that allegedly made this country great, but you’re only standing for your own benefit, not the country’s. You don’t REALLY care about the country, because for the sake of the closet, you continue to allow, nay encourage, our distraction from our very real issues while you roll over for the anti-gay lobby. YOU’RE COMING OUT. What, you’ve been so discreet that no one really knows for sure, and what business is it of anyone else’s? Honey, you don’t really believe that, since you are quite willing to make MY SEX LIFE someone else’s business. Just not yours. Sorry for that, but I guess you’ll just have to deal with it. You’re a politician like our boy Kirk, more or less supportive, but still hiding? Sorry, you’ll actually have to be a leader instead of playing one on CNN. YOU’RE COMING OUT!

You’re a famous single actor, long supportive of gay and liberal causes, but always dating some girl or another who doesn’t seem to stick around very long? You shared a house for some years with another very famous, handsome actor, who does the same? Sorry, I don’t believe that you just haven’t met the right girl yet. You’re 50 years old. You’re not going to. Instead, YOU’RE COMING OUT!

You’re my cousin who is too afraid to tell your parents that you’re gay? As my wonderful and witty late partner once said to a friend of his, “You’re 40 years old. don’t you think it’s time to stop lying to your parents about who you really are?” YOU’RE COMING OUT!

You’re the married guy with whom my friend has been having an affair for the last 10 years or so. Unbeknownst to you, he knows your REAL name and what you do for a living. Sorry that this will upset your wife, but you’re the one that’s been lying to her. She’s only been lying to herself. Of course she already knows, she just would prefer not to. YOU’RE COMING OUT!

You’re a gay priest of the RC brotherhood, and you know dozens, if not hundreds of priests similarly situated. You’ve kept your vows of celibacy, you’re not a boy banger or a girl grabber, and have attempted to make the world a better place through your vocation. You’re saddened by the unrelenting homophobia of your church, propagated as you know by wanna-be-straight-but-ain’t bishops who are projecting their own self loathing on to the masses in order to keep their own dark desires in check? Yup, you’re saddened, you’re sur-, op-, and de-pressed, you’re offended, you’re everything but courageous enough to say “ENOUGH!” How about you all speak for the truth, for your very own Fount of Truth, and call those bad boys out? How about 500 of you take the chance of losing your jobs and your special place in the community– like all the rest of us how have to suffer through what your church has been dishing out for the last 1700 years– and assemble on the steps of St. Mary’s with this statement. We’re here! We’re queer! Now let’s start having a dialogue about the proper place of gay people in our society. Maybe we can even get a Methodist or two who hasn’t retired to speak up.

Let’s take our cue from The Fount Itself. “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.” John 8:32 does not say let’s hide the truth and hope no one notices, or hide the truth and put off the consequences, which are only as inevitable as we give them the power to be.

and on and on and on. No one is excepted. Everyone is coming out. Either you tell or I tell. Then we don’t have any more of these pointless debates that Mr. Kirk was not bad enough to be outed, but Mr. Ashburn was, but nobody did. No more fears of people finding out, because they already have, or have long suspected, and don’t care. Or if they freak out, they’ll recover.

I can already hear people chastising me, telling me that people have to come out when they are ready, that this is a personal decision, that there are consequences that people will have to bear, in a perfect world blah job blah family blah church blah blah und blah…

Bullshit. bullshit, and more bullshit. It is just the fear and loathing of the closet. It has the power it has because we give it that power. The whole campaign against Prop. 8 was conducted from the closet, and that is why we lost, as far as I can tell. Can’t show gay people– they’re scary. Can’t show gay families– the Reich co-opted the issues of OUR children. They are ours, not theirs. where did they get that power? Can’t talk about religion. Can’t talk about prejudice. Can’t show our lives. And what did we get for that reticence, the obsequiousness to the soul-destroying power of the closet? $45 million dollars worth of more of the same.

Romanovsky and Phillips used to have a song about “Straightening Up the House” when the parents arrive. Let’s hide the Advocate, the his-n-his towels, and the rainbow chotchkes. In the end they conclude that maybe it is just better to clean the house, instead of straightening it. What I’m proposing is a major housecleaning. Nobody’s closet is exempt.

end of rant.

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