“Outrage”: The Case for Outing

Updated to add additional details

CristKirby Dick’s “Outrage,” debuting at Tribeca this week, certainly is the kind of doc that gets attention. It’s about closeted D.C. politicians, and it makes the case for why it’s hypocritical if not downright dangerous for them not to come out or be outed.

It’s a compelling argument, one that has largely been the domain of the gay press and bloggers (including Mike Rogers, who is heavily featured), When it comes to outing, the argument is still the subject of bitter debate. The idea is that a closeted politician gives up his right for privacy when he has a clear voting record against gay issues, moving their private lives from the gossip pages to the political sphere.

But enough with the high-minded reasons for the documentary — the film’s initial burst of attention is bound to be on who’s in it and what do they got.

None of the names will shock anyone who’s a regular reader of the LGBT press, the alternative press, blogs and, in many some cases, the mainstream media. Former Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho), Rep. David Dreier (R-Calif.) and former Rep. Jim McCreary (R-La.) are among the lawmakers, and Ken Mehlman, former chairman of the Republican Party, is among the party officials. Fox anchor Shepard Smith is named, even though he is not a politician. It’s not all Republicans — former New York Mayor Ed Koch is highlighted, along with a charge that he largely turned the other way when the AIDS crisis hit in Manhattan in the 1980s. Of the latter, producer and playwright David Rothenberg comes forward with conversations he had with Richard Nathan, alleged to be Koch’s lover, before he was driven out of town when Koch became mayor.

Extra focus is placed on Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, who supported a bill banning gay marriage last year, and the doc recounts a string of stories from Florida’s alternative press. There’s a few anonymous interviews with people who claim to have had conversations with a man who boasted of having sex with Crist, who when asked about rumors has denied them.

The doc sought out Kelly Crosby Heyniger, one of Crist’s girlfriends until the end of 2007, who didn’t appear on camera but gave them a statement about what broke them up: “I think I should just keep my mouth shut. Call me in ten years and I will tell you a great story.”

 One of the final scenes of the movie is of Crist’s wedding last December July, and a reminder that he’s considered to be one of the top contenders for the GOP nomination in 2012 (although his support of President Obama’s stimulus package could complicate that). In a bit of judicious editing, ala Michael Moore, Crist tells a reporter, “If your wife can’t help you in a campaign, who can?”

Yes, much of it rehashes stuff that has been out there — whether it be called innuendo or second hand accounts — and tries to break some new ground. (One man claims that, after a sexual encounter with Craig in the mid-80s, the then-congressman told him, in a line fit for the ‘Dynasty’ era, “Just remember, I can buy and sell your ass a hundred times.”)

The most effective interviews are with once-closeted politicos who came out under the threat of being outed, including former New Jersey Gov, Jim McGreevey, former Arizona Rep. Jim Kolbe and Dan Gurly, once national field director of the Republican National Committee — all of whom talk of the fear before coming out and the relief they felt afterward. But they also recount the heavy toll exacted on their emotional life. McGreevey, for one, outlines the skillful way that he would issue non-denial denials when asked if he was gay.  

The movie goes to great lengths to explain that what the closeted class amounts to is a kind of “tyranny,” i.e. closeted politicos aren’t just hurting themselves but the public, a homophobia driven by their double lives. “There’s a right to privacy, but not hypocrisy,” says Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.). Oddly enough, there is no mention of Mark Foley, save for an interview with his former chief of staff.

The pic argues that the mainstream press has overlooked the sexuality of gay elected officials, even when they vote against various pieces of legislation that would help the LGBT community.

“Outing” remains largely the domain of the alternative press and bloggers like Rogers. But the struggle over whether to “out” a politico extends to gay advocates as well. Some gay leaders, like Elizabeth Birch, former head of the Human Rights Campaign, talk of politicos, crying on her shoulder, wondering what do to about their sexuality in the public sphere. But Birch didn’t “out” those people she knew, which leads me to believe that even among those pushing for gay rights legislation, there are still deep divisions on the ethics and the means of taking such an action.

Photo: AP

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  1. Rhonda says:

    Let’s not forget this President’s “experiment” with gay sex -well documented if these Democratic filmakers care to look for it.

  2. Brian Petty says:

    Signorile and Rogers are grandstanding maniacs. Many who they would “out” are thoroughly decent and never took hypocritical stands on gay issues. I very much doubt any pol cried on Elizabeth Birch’s big padded shoulders either. And why is the focus only on men? There’s a fair number of lesbians in high elected places, starting with Barbara Milkuski. Enough already.

  3. Rick says:

    Michelangelo Signorile was demonized by the likes of Andrew Sullivan and Randy Shilts for years for speaking honestly about these gay public figures. Then Mike Rogers continued that great work. Hopefully people who see the documentary will know who laid the groundwork for this work and who fought to preserve the double-standard of the closet.

  4. Sara Whitman says:

    Um… this is all Mike Roger’s work. I notice a brief mention at the end but I find this … stealing of work.
    Mike Roger’s. Not Kirby Dick.

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