Though decried by many gay-rights leaders, “outing” — the practice of exposing secretly gay public figures — is expanding into new terrain as Internet bloggers target congressional staffers, political strategists, even black clergy whose sermons and speeches contain anti-gay rhetoric.
Few issues are as divisive within the gay community. Numerous gay organizations, such as the Human Rights Campaign and the Log Cabin Republicans, staunchly oppose outing, yet many other activists support it when the targets are public figures — or their aides — who work against gay rights or condemn homosexuality.
“It’s not the gay thing that’s the problem — it’s the hypocrisy,” said Michael Rogers, creator of a Web log that has been at the fore of several recent outing campaigns. “I’m going to be calling out the politicians who vote against us and work against the interests of the very community they come from.”
Hurting the cause?
Christopher Barron, political director of the Log Cabin Republicans, said he understands the anger that activists such as Rogers feel but believes they are wasting their energy.
“Outing is not an effective tool,” Barron said. “I don’t know a single vote on gay-rights issues that was changed because of outing. ... Folks should be focusing on the hard work that needs to be done and not get bogged down in personal attacks.”
Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said outing can backfire by distracting attention from more substantive political issues or by prompting conservative politicians to harden their anti-gay views after aides and associates are outed.
Black pastors targeted
Two black gay-rights activists are now taking aim at prominent black pastors who — in the activists’ view — have gone too far in assailing homosexuality from their pulpits. In a campaign begun on their Web sites last week, activists Jasmyne Cannick and Keith Boykin are soliciting information about the pastors’ private lives — including whether some might be gay.
So far, the pair has collected only uncorroborated “tips,” not any solid information that any of the pastors is gay, but Cannick defended the campaign. “We know there are people who preach one thing and do another,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with investigating.”
Many other recent outing targets have been Republican politicians and operatives. Among the cases:
- A GOP congressman from Virginia, Edward Schrock, dropped out of his re-election race last year shortly after allegations were published on Michael Rogers’ Web log that he solicited sex with another man on a gay phone dating service. Schrock, a married ex-Navy captain, was an outspoken foe of gays in the military and supported a constitutional ban on same-sex marriages. He did not comment specifically on the allegations.
- In 2003, U.S. Rep. Mark Foley, a Florida Republican, called a news conference to denounce a report in an alternative newspaper that he is gay. Foley declined to answer questions about the subject, saying his sexual orientation was irrelevant to his political duties. He contended the story was circulated to derail his U.S. Senate campaign, which he abandoned four months later.
- The GOP mayor of Spokane, Wash., James West, faces a recall election prompted by newspaper articles accusing him of offering City Hall jobs, sports tickets and cash to young men he met in an online gay chat room. West, who as a state legislator often opposed gay-rights bills, acknowledged poor judgment but denies doing anything illegal.
Not all outing campaigns gain traction. A cadre of activist bloggers and alternative-media journalists have been contending for more than a year that another Republican congressman is gay and yet has often voted against gay-rights legislation. Thus far, the mainstream media — both national outlets and those in the congressman’s home region — have declined to report on the campaign, although the effort is common knowledge among political reporters and on Capitol Hill.
Three openly gay members of Congress
Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., who in 1987 became the first member of Congress to voluntarily make his homosexuality public, said he does not know if the targeted congressman is gay or not. However, Frank contended that the perception that the congressman might be gay had damaged his standing with some fellow Republicans in the House — and Frank said this issue of bias should be aired publicly.
“I think he’s wrong to be silent about this,” Frank said of the congressman. “You should not cover up this act of prejudice.”
Frank is now one of three openly gay members of Congress, and there are about 300 openly gay elected officials nationwide, according to the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund. The president of the fund, which recruits out-of-the-closet gay and lesbian candidates to run for office, has mixed feelings about outing.
“If we ever outed anyone, we’d lose our credibility with the people we work with,” said Chuck Wolfe. “On the other hand, who can condemn people for using whatever weapons they have to fight for equality and point out hypocrisy? It seems exactly why we have a democracy.”