Debating Outing as a Political Tool

Debating Outing as a Political Tool

Panel examines the effects of outing elected officials who oppose gay rights

After more than an hour of talk about outing during a panel discussion about the practice of exposing closeted homosexuals, one audience member asked the evening’s most pointed questions. “How does this further us?” she asked during the October 12 event held at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center. “What does this do for us? I wonder if we use it as a point of attack are we saying that [being gay] is a bad thing?”

Michelangelo Signorile, a columnist for the New York Press and one of the panelists, said that outing advances discussions about the queer community. “I do think it furthers our movement dramatically,” he said. Outing homosexuals, including some who may be hated in the community, also gives young people role models. “I think they are seeing the spectrum,” Signorile said. “I think they are being offered that spectrum.”

Signorile has been closely identified with outing since he worked at Outweek magazine in the late 1980s where he exposed closeted public figures , typically people in the entertainment industry, in a weekly column.

But for all the lofty motivations that the panelists assigned to outing, they said it typically was about telling the truth. Ann Northrop, a co-host of Gay USA and a panelist, said that the mainstream press will not publish or broadcast the fact of a public figure’s homosexuality and so it is left to community activists.

“I consider the entire profession to be intellectually bankrupt,” she said. “I think there is no question that journalists should tell the truth about people’s lives, no holds barred…This is a question about journalistic integrity.”

Michael Rogers, the third panelist, agreed with Northrop. His Web site,, has outed two Republican congressmen as well as several staffers who work for Capitol Hill Republicans and the Republican National Committee. “Colloquially, it’s known as outing, but it’s really just putting out the truth,” Rogers said.

One of those congressmen, Ed Schrock of Virginia, has decided to not to seek reelection. The other, David Dreier of California, is fighting for his seat against Democrat Cynthia Matthews, an out lesbian. Some queer activists refer to that contest as the first all-gay race in American history.

Some outing proponents have said it should be used to expose hypocrisy. Dreier earned a 17 percent ranking from the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest gay lobby, for his voting record in the 2001-2002 congressional session. Schrock received a zero.

Rogers indicated that his efforts are part of a battle against the Bush administration and America’s right wing. “Ultimately, on November 2, I believe that our country is making a decision about good and evil,” Rogers said. “If Bush is elected, I’m leaving the country.”

It is a fight in which the right wing, despite its embrace of so-called traditional values, often seems to be willing to distort facts or lie outright. “There are no rules,” Rogers said. “We need to fight these people as hard as we can.”

Rogers implied that the consequences of a Bush win could be dire. He referred to “internment camps” that he said are being refurbished in Washington, Oregon and Idaho. “I know what happened to gay Jews who didn’t get out fast enough last time,” Rogers said.

The panelists noted that outing has changed. It was widely opposed when Signorile began the practice in Outweek magazine in some cases by closeted, mainstream journalists.

The recent revelations on has received some mainstream press coverage though Rogers reported that he still meets some resistance.

The ironic twist on outing came last August when James E. McGreevey, the married Democratic governor of New Jersey, was effectively threatened with being outed by Golan Cipel, an alleged former lover. Early in his administration, McGreevey had put Cipel on the state payroll as an advisor that included informing the governor about counterterrorism initiatives, a post that critics said Cipel was not qualified for. It has been just one among many corruption allegations that have dogged McGreevey.

Some gay community members said that McGreevey used his coming out to gloss over the corruption that he was effectively admitting to when he declared, “I am a gay American,” during a televised press conference.

“We’ve come along way because 25 years ago a politician would have come out and said ‘I’m corrupt’ just to hide the fact that he is gay,” Rogers said.

Four queer political clubs — the Gay and Lesbian Independent Democrats, the Stonewall Democratic Club, the Lambda Independent Democrats of Brooklyn and the Lesbian and Gay Democratic Club of Queens — sponsored the event that was moderated by Paul Schindler, the editor in chief of Gay City News.

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