Scott Barnes

More on Forced Outing

Filed By Scott Barnes | October 16, 2006 8:16 AM | comments

Filed in: Politics

I heard part of a story last week on NPR about the ongoing outing of political figures and the members of their staffs in Washington. It's clear that as the Republican party has become more intolerant of GLBT issues, those on the Democratic side have been outing closeted gay Republicans with more fervor, but something else started recently (perhaps since Foley): some Republicans are also starting to out their own. NPR interviewed a Republican (clearly a member of the religious right) who pretty much said that "being gay doesn't fit with being Republican," and expressed his desire to expose the gay members of his own party with the intention of seeing them booted out (by convincing those who vote Republican to turn against them). That could be the subject of a whole post, but right now, I'm thinking about forced outings in general. What do you think of it based on the current political climate?

It seems this has always been a touchy subject — this includes among gay people I know who live in Washington D.C. who know and defend closeted political figures. Do you think it's right to out closeted gay politicians? What if the closeted gay politician has a record of voting against GLBT rights and issues, would you be more inclined to want to see him/her outed? Or does a person — even a politician — have a right to privacy that always overrules his/her actions and/or voting record?

Use comments to share your thoughts with me, please.

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Don Sherfick | October 16, 2006 8:52 AM

You're right...this is has been a controversial issue within the GLBT community itself for a long time. I tend to be one who believes that a public offical who bashes and espouses/supports legislation harmful to us ought to be exposed as a hypocrite. Otherwise, I believe his/her privacy should be respected. One example of a gray area, though: A publicly homophobic legislator has a staffer who himself is closeted, may not himself be in the public eye, but whose efforts support his boss, without his own name being attached to press releases, etc. Maybe the legislator himelf may not know his underling is gay/lesbian. I think he ought not be publicly outed under that circumstances, but am not totally comfortable with letting the hgypocricy of that situation go.

Great post, Scott. And a damn good question too!

While I generally can respect someone's need for privacy, I think the line in the sand is - for politicians - have you voted anti-gay when you're gay and hiding it? The "eat your own" mentality of doing whatever is necessary to hide your own orientation sickens me. I'd say this applies too with the staffers of the particularly homophobic politicians. How can you stand to work for someone that refers to the LGBT community as "sodomites" for example. Do we see African-American staffers working for politicians that refer to people of color as "Negroes" or other last-century terms that are meant to be degrading?

Great question-- Frankly, when you go into politics, you have to lay your entire life open-- your arrest record, your finances, your employment, your familial status, your religious and political philosophies-- AND your orientation. It's all part of the package. AND, if you don't want anyone to know or to find out-- then don't run.

As far as staffers -- the situation is the same.. although someone COULD have begun to work for someone and THEN begin to realize his own orientation.. and be working through all of that. I can envision that possibility, after knowing SO many men who are married and trying to still figure it out.

BUT, the way politics is today-- you'd better have your shit together and your ducks in a row, if you don't want to get shot down. Let's be honest -- forthright-- and do it BEFORE the otehr guy gets wind of it.

The other question that begs discussion is how do these outings impact those of us fighting for our rights? Has Mark Foley damaged our progress? Has he reinforced the rhetoric of the Religious Right that all gay men are pedophiles?

If the politician's conduct does not violate laws or rules of conduct (as in House rules, etc.), his/her private sexual life should not be a matter of public record, by force.

If (s)he continually votes against our issues, pity them. If (s)he becomes a demagogue, pity them real hard.

But this business of "outing" is harmful. There are often other human beings or children involved who did not bargain for the public exposure.

Hopefully times are changing.

Anyone care to guess how many bi or gay Republicans serve in our legislature? Many of us know several closeted legislators, and a few who can't quite admit it to themselves yet (even in leadership). I'd no sooner out any of them than I'd vote Republican.

Many of us are aware of a city council member who fits into the denial category. This person had publicly announced a policy of HRO opposition. Then the person started taking calls from many of us, and opening up...and the threat of former lovers sitting on the front row probably helped a bit. That kind of subtle persuasion cna be much more effective than a public outing.

This is a generational and philosophical controversy in our community, and it's good to discuss it. Younger "out" people have far more oppoprtunities and far less prejudice to deal with than older gay persons did at the same age.

Sooner or later, they all have to get honest with themselves. We can't and shouldn't be about the business of publicly forcing their hand. But pity...yeah, I can pity the hell out of them.

Marla R. Stevens | October 17, 2006 1:00 AM

By expecting me to keep someone's secrets, you're putting me in a position to be a liar -- and nobody gets to do that to me without at least the courtesy of asking me personally to with the understanding that I do so only when the balance scales of danger have tipped to the point where secrecy is a moral imperative, such as not outing a child to a bigotted parent who might well become violent or throw the kid out on the street.

It's not a matter of privacy. It's a matter of secrecy and secrecy and governments are usually a lousy combination.*

Furthermore, if you're planning on hiding behind a false cloak of heterosexuality while sniping at me and my community, you've gone far beyond mere personal secret territory and entered the realm of political hypocrisy. That's newsworthy in every traditional sense of the word so expect me to hunt for evidence of it and to actively expose it.

You can't claim access as a community member to some unspoken "lie-for-me-and-I'll-lie-for-you" pre-Lawrence privilege when you've intentionally put yourself outside the community by screwing us, after all -- if adhering to such an en masse pact was ever my responsibility, which I emphatically have lived as if it has never been all my life. For one thing, I've never lied about my sexual orientation so it's rather a heavy one-sided imposition, filled with juggling of who-it's-okay-to-tell-and-who-it's-nots and such. I have enough legitimate things to remember in life without having to mind your oxymoronic open secrets.

In short, unless you've gotten my promise to keep your secrets, keep them yourself. If I can know them absent your telling me, then they aren't exactly secrets, are they?!!

*If you're interested in the particulars of privacy vs. secrecy, read Richard Mohr's superb treatise on the subject in "Outing and Other Controversies".

Marla, I agree. In addition, add that I really do not get why most make the distinction between public and private employment status. All policy/strategy that has a negative impact on GLBT equality is intolerable, regardless of origin (corporate or government level), yes?

Marla R. Stevens | October 17, 2006 6:58 PM

Yes, Kay, it is. But the policies of a corporation might be expressed as such and might be ones that not all of their employees fully embrace -- they'd be more properly addressed as corporate policies with culpability rising as the responsibility for their creation and maintenance in the company rises.

The big difference, though, is that of the notion of the public figure, which people in elected office are by definition whereas an employee of a corporation might well not be.

But, as I don't make a distinction where sexual orientation secrets are concerned between public and private figures, it's not that big a deal for me. I make a distinction in the behavior of people who use a false cloak of heterosexuality to hurt us and that distinction is one determining whether I merely speak the truth that comes to me or whether I actively seek out information regarding salient hypocrisy -- public or private figures really don't play into that, although it tends to be more public than private by the nature of the situation.

Marla R. Stevens | October 17, 2006 7:09 PM

Let me be clear -- I will out anyone whose sexuality is known to me because, if it's known to me, it's not a secret and I don't think it's bad -- it's just a fact that I will include in conversation when relevant except when necessary to protect people who can't protect themselves from the bad acts of those who think it's bad -- children or people under the thumb of violently anti-LGBT government regimes like Iraq's and Zimbabwe's.

I will go out of my way to establish evidence of hypocrisy and expose that -- the hypocrisy as something bad -- when I need to to help protect my community from the bad people trying to hurt us.

I've pointed this out in the past -- I really try not to use the euphemisms "outing" and "closeted" because it masks what we really mean -- being honest about sexual orientation, or lying about it -- and because the terms are so pervasive we no longer think of the issue as an ethical one.

We really have built into our culture this shelter for people who lie about their sexual orientation. In many ways, that's nurturing for people who are still coming to terms with themselves, but it's also destructive in many ways. It allows predators to run rampant, it allows people to dodge stigmas they shouldn't get to dodge, it allows a general air of dishonesty envelope our community that people take as license to be dishonest in other ways.

Marla thanks for your added thoughts. While I do agree that culpability increases up each wrung of a hierarchy, I also agree that distinctions based on type of employer, position held or means of employment selection shouldn't matter.

To my way simple way of thinking, all individuals are elected/chosen for their employment. Some are selected via a polling booth others in a human resource office. The only common denominator and goal of any selection process is determining how well the candidate/individual will meet the needs of those seeking to hire them.

Public and Private employers who incorporate in their EEOC policy the inclusion of LGBT persons don't do so just to protect those whom the law does not protect but to encourage/gather the broadest/diverse group of individuals possible. While it seems clique, diversity focused hiring is still the gold standard of progressive organizations as it has proven to avoid stagnation -- groupthink phenomena.

All of which is to say that because I understand EEOC queer inclusion policy to be an implied agreement that all parties will work together openly, I can't find any reason to excuse anyone for not doing what they agreed to do. Beside, I think the sooner LBGT folks stop covering for our hypocrites/cowards the sooner we'll get some balance of equality-- especially, I hope, by first outing those that when push comes to shove will gladly throw another under the bus if it means they'll keep their free ride or power!

Marla R. Stevens | November 14, 2006 12:54 PM

Steph nails it.
Kay makes great points about the value of inclusion to business, to which I'd add that, short of your business being religious political extremism or homohatred, it also just plain works in supporting a healthy bottom line on the business' balance sheet.