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
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.
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.
Sure Enough, It Really Is A Straight Man’s World
This commentary is the opinion of the author and may not necessarily reflect those of other authors at Box Turtle Bulletin.
September 4th, 2009
Earlier this week, LGBT activist Mike Rogers confirmed that South Carolina’s anti-gay Lt. Governor Andre Bauer is actually a closeted gay politician. I found that revelation interesting and even newsworthy, but didn’t run with it because, well, my time was limited and I just thought there were more important things to cover. I’m not against outing, but I’m also not one to jump up and down and clap whenever a politician is outed. There are some people who I’d just rather not have in our little club, if you know what I mean.
But there’s another fascinating story going on that isn’t just about the outing itself, but the reaction to it. Rogers points out that, despite his 100% track record of accuracy on his outings, the mainstream media continues to ignore the behind-the-scenes hanky-panky of politicians who work against LGBT causes (see Mark Foley and Larry Craig, for example), even though they have no problem probing the sex lives of straight politicians regardless of their political leanings. Based on that experience, Rogers predicted that the mainstream media and non-LGBT blogs would ignore this one as well. But that’s not quite what happened.
One local television station in South Carolina ran a one-sided story in which the reporter refused to call Rogers for comment or even mention his name. The story then got picked up by Politico.com, which blamed the outing not on Rogers, but on S.C. governor Mark Sanford, the Appalachian Trail-hiking governor whose sex life the mainstream media and blogosphere has been having a field day with, and who S.C. lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are pressing to resign:
The timing of this smear campaign is obviously not a coincidence. Last week, Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer called on Governor Mark Sanford to resign, and last weekend, the House Republican Caucus decided almost unanimously to move forward to ask Gov. Sanford resign from office, under threat of impeachment,” Knotts, who is a close ally of Bauer, wrote in the letter.
“This attack was orchestrated on behalf of Mark Sanford, either directly or indirectly, and financially subsidized by him or one of his many ‘front-groups,’” he wrote.
And from there, it goes to CNN:
An outspoken critic of Mark Sanford is accusing the embattled South Carolina governor of orchestrating a smear campaign against Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer.
In a letter to each member of the General Assembly, [State Sen. Jake] Knotts, of West Columbia, said Sanford is behind recent, unsubstantiated Internet reports that Bauer, 40, is gay. Knotts, a former police investigator, produced no proof to tie Sanford or his allies to the Internet reports. Instead, Knotts said the Internet campaign mirrors one used against him by Sanford allies in a bid to derail Knotts’ last re-election campaign.
…One Bauer political supporter said the Internet campaign has some earmarks of tactics that Republicans typically use when they want to divide the GOP: race and sexually.
That’s right, the outing had nothing to do with Mike Rogers, the guy who spent more than a year doing the investigative legwork, tracking down leads, and seeking out multiple sources with independent corroboration. He’s not getting the credit — or even the blame — for the outing. It’s a smear campaign by Sanford and his people.
This is downright bizarre. Instead of crediting Rogers who first broke the news — and who claims a 100% accurate track record on outings — they’re discrediting the story by calling it a smear campaign by an unpopular, embattled politician. But it wasn’t a smear campaign when reporters staked out Gov. Sanford at the Atlanta airport. Sure enough, it really is a straight man’s world.
LGBT Insurrection Against The Democratic Party
June 15th, 2009
[Update: Three more LGBT advocates have declined to attend the DNC fundraiser in Washington next week. See below.]
President Barack Obama has repeatedly said that he won’t make a move to end “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the ban on LGBT people serving openly in the military, because ultimately it is up to Congress to change the law. His spokespeople have repeated this in answer to questions about why he hasn’t issued a stop loss order in order to halt the ongoing discharges of qualified gays and lesbians from the armed forces. They have, in effect, thrown the ball completely into the Congress’ court.
Now we have word from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid that the reason the repeal of DADT has gone no where in the Senate is because no one has sponsored the legislation in the Senate. What’s more, he threw the hot potato right back into the President’s hands:
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid speaking at a press conference Monday said he has no plans to introduce a bill to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell” in the Senate.
“I haven’t identified any sponsors,” he said. “My hope is that it can be done administratively.”
A Democratic aide later clarified that Reid was speaking about the possibility of using an executive order to suspend discharges or perhaps halting enforcement of the policy by changing departmental regulations within the Department of Defense.
Which, of course, won’t happen because the President is waiting on Congress, which in turn is waiting on the President.
This shouldn’t be that hard. This isn’t 1993, when DADT was signed into law by a Democratic Congress and a Democratic President. It is now 2009, when 69% of the American public believes that DADT should be repealed. When’s the last time two-thirds of Americans were united on anything else? What’s more, even 58% of Republicans and 60% of weekly churchgoers thing it’s time for DADT to go.
With public support like this, the age old question — If now now, when? — becomes less of a rallying cry and more of a taunt. Seriously, if not now, when? We don’t need a “fierce advocate” for this one. All we need is for someone to grow a pair — and they don’t have to be very big ones.
But that’s not likely to happen. John Berry, the White House director of the Office of Personnel Management and the highest ranking gay official in the Obama administration, spoke with the Advocate’s Kerry Eleveld about progress on LGBT rights. He predicted that the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes bill would pass the Senate sometime this week. But what about repealing DADT and DOMA, or enacting a fully inclusive Employment Non-Description Act? Well, he says, they want to do it sometime “before the sun sets on this administration.”
This nebulous timetable is meaningless. If it doesn’t happen well before the 2010 mid-term elections, then we will be dependent on Obama winning a second term. After all, the next Presidential campaign will effectively begin in 2011. And there’s no guarantee that Obama will win that second term.
Which means either it happens now, or the Democratic party will essentially hold LGBT rights hostage for 2012.
With that news, coupled with the recent Department of Justice brief defending the Defense of Marriage Act which insults the integrity and intelligence of LGBT people everywhere, leading LGBT Democratic political veterans are beginning to register their disgust with the Democratic Party. Heck, even the Human Rights Campaign, often derided for its soft touch with political leaders, sent a sternly worded letter to Obama concerning the DOMA brief.
Meanwile, the DNC will hold a fundraiser next week in Washington, dubbed the LGBT Leadership Council Dinner. The featured speaker at the fundraiser will be Vice President Joe Biden. Openly gay Congressional representatives Barney Frank, Tammy Baldwin, and Jared Polis will be in attendance.
But some key gay activists are beginning to turn down their invitations to this event. Confirmed now-shows so far include political strategist David Mixner and blogger Andy Towle. [Update: Additional withdrawals include Alan Van Capelle, Executive Director of the Empire State Pride Agenda and Foundation, former top Clinton administration aide Richard Socarides, and HRC National Field Director Marty Rouse] Michelangelo Signorile has suggested that we “cut off the money flow.” Sean Bugg agrees, while Mike Rogers (a.k.a. “the most feared man in Washington”) puts an even finer point on it:
As long as tens of millions are being spent by the Pentagon to enforce Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, gays should say to politicians “you have our money, go get it back from Secretary Gates.”
Outrage Over “Outrage”
May 8th, 2009
The documentary Outrage is certainly living up to its name. Filmmaker Kirby Dick delves into the secret lives of Washington politicians (all of them men) who publicly denounce LGBT people by day, but who secretly seek the comfort of other men by night — the very men they worked against during the day. Many of these figures are very powerful and well-known. Blogger Mike Rogers, who features prominently in this film, has been dubbed “the most feared man in Washington” for his dogged efforts to unmask Sen. Larry Craig, Rep. Ed Schrock, and many others.
On May 7, Mike Rogers appeared on a local Washington, DC talk show with host Doug McKelway about the film. McKelway, despite not having seen the movie yet, obviously had quite an axe to grind. At about the 2:45 mark McKelway said he wanted to take Rogers outside and punch him across the face:
I think Mike did a remarkable job of holding his ground, and even tripping McKelway up in admitting that he agreed with the principle behind Mike’s outing of hypocritical politicians.
After receiving numerous complaints, McKelway addressed calls for an apology for his behavior. McKelway’s response? “Mike Rogers, you’re not getting one!”
Outrage opens tonight in select cities.