Oct. 07, 2009 - Issue #729: The Secretaries
To out or not to out?
To out or not to out? That's the question that's been on my mind for the
last couple of weeks, ever since I heard Kirby Dick's new documentary
Outrage, a film that pulls anti-gay voting politicians out of the closet and
into the spotlight for their hypocrisy, was coming to town as part of the
Edmonton International Film Festival. I started telling everyone and rounding
up friends to go.
But I didn't realize how divided people are on the ethics of outing. Some think it's evil but necessary, some don't tolerate it under any circumstances and some are open to it at every chance. Perez Hilton's style of outing falls into the latter category, spotlighting any suspected gay celebrity that he deems worthy. It's hard to make an argument for breaking down the closet on any and all stars, but there can be benefits. Take for example Hilton's declaration of Neil Patrick Harris' sexuality. Harris decided to be open once the blogger broke the story and has since had a huge boost in his career.
But politicians aren't just celebrities, they're policy-makers, and something is wrong when those policy-makers are condemning gays at the podium and having sweaty, secret queer sex at night. We're all pretty jaded when it comes to politics but what has the world come to when virulent homophobes are trawling manhunt.com for late-night trysts?
This doesn't only apply to gays. I'd be shocked to see a female politician against women's rights. What about an anti-choice legislator who's gotten multiple abortions? If we say that it's all right that anti-gay legislators are living secretly gay lives, we're saying they're allowed to live in a different world, one that allows them privileges the average homo isn't afforded.
Outrage shares the stories of its featured politicians after thoroughly detailing their terrible voting history on gay-centric issues like marriage, adoption and AIDS. Charlie Crist, the governor of Florida and a man with White House aspirations, is one of the film's main subjects. Crist has voted against gay marriage, civil unions and adoption, as well as appointing anti-gay judges. He has also been dogged by gay rumours for years, has been a confirmed "bachelor" since the '70s, took his chief (male) aide around the world on every vacation he went on for years and had two rumoured ex-boyfriends that abruptly and mysteriously left the state during his campaign. But, no, Charlie Crist is totally not gay.
One of the more shocking moments of Outrage for me was the revelation that the "beloved" ex-mayor of New York City, Ed Koch, was a big ol' homo. In the film and in interviews, prolific activist Larry Kramer explains that Koch had been partnered for a long time with a man named Richard Nathan. Once Koch started his campaign for mayor in the '70s, Nathan was kicked to the curb and was then reportedly intimidated and bullied until he feared enough for his safety that he moved across the country. Kramer and AIDS writer Randy Shilts both believe that Koch refused to address the health crisis in the early '80s for fear of being outed, a choice that resulted in a lot of lost lives.
That's the crux of the problem: these closeted politicians are making decisions that affect the lives and livelihoods of queer citizens. It's not simply about voting on a same-sex marriage bans; adoption, job discrimination, health care, don't-ask-don't-tell, hate crimes, education and many other issues are serious subjects that affect the lives of the average queer citizen. What possible argument can be made that the privacy of a public figure trumps the healthy lives of citizens?
Openly gay Massachusetts Representative Barney Frank justifies outing thusly: "There is a right to privacy but not a right to hypocrisy. It is very important that the people who make the law are subject to the law. People who are not subject to laws will make harsh laws because they don't have to live with them."
This stance is known as "the Frank Rule," where a person in a position of power should be outed if they use their influence to hurt queer civil rights. According to some analysis, politicians' voting records become a lot more positive on gay issues once they've come out, which suggests that while secretly gay they're voting to protect themselves by deflecting speculation, not because they really are against gay protections.
I suppose that outing people is a little dirty. But what do you do with an establishment that hasn't been fair? Sometimes hitting back requires unsavoury methods, but no one ever got change by politely asking for it. Who cares about protecting the lives of people who seem more than happy to aid in destroying ours? V
Natonal Coming Out Day is October 11. Outrage is playing on HBO Canada this week.
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