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'Outrage': Kirby Dick kicks open Washington's closet door

Would a host of key members of the Washington political establishment be less hostile to gay rights if they came out of the closet and acknowledged being gay themselves?

That's the question at the heart of "Outrage," Kirby Dick's rabble-rousing new documentary that debuts tonight at New York's Tribeca Film Festival. (It opens  May 8 in L.A. and four other cities, including Washington.) Clearly pulling no punches, the film investigates the secret lives of closeted gay politicians, some of whom have spent years in office with only the skimpiest of scrutiny from the mainstream media. If nothing else, "Outrage" establishes Dick as a formidable force in the investigative documentary field, especially coming on the heels of his last doc, "This Film Is Not Yet Rated," which bashed the MPAA's impenetrable and often irrational film rating system.

Daviddreir I know what you're thinking. If you've seen the film, spill it already. So who does he out? Dick's targets include Florida's current  governor, Charlie Crist, who was viewed for a time as a front-runner to be John McCain's vice-presidential pick; David Dreier (R-San Dimas), who was once a leading candidate for the House majority leader post when the Republicans still controlled Congress; Ken Mehlman, George Bush's campaign manager during the 2004 election and former Republican National Committee chairman; former New York City mayor Ed Koch; the now-retired Idaho Sen. Larry Craig; Jim McCrery (R-La.), a ranking member on the House Ways and Means Committee who retired last year; Ed Schrock (R-Va.), who retired in 2004; and -- gasp -- the prominent Fox News anchor Shepard Smith. 

It is pretty obvious from this list of names that the film's real issue is hypocrisy. With the exception of Koch, the outed politicians are all conservative Republicans who have repeatedly voted against gay rights legislation that would allow gay marriage, gay adoption or include gays among those protected in hate crimes laws. (Though he wasn't an elected official, Mehlman is included because he ran the Bush re-election campaign of 2004, which was propelled by a push for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, which was seen by many as a cynical effort to lure evangelical conservatives to the voting booths.) 

Dick's world view is best expressed in the film by Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), one of the few gay congressmen who has voluntarily come out of the closet, who says: "There is a right to privacy, there's no right to hypocrisy." Dick makes a strong case that closeted gays are often the most enthusiastic opponents of gay rights legislation, in part to establish their bona fides in the straight world. He gives a wealth of screen time to Michael Rogers, a blogger who has been a leader in outing closeted gay politicians, using his wealth of contacts among gay congressional staffers and Washington journalists.

Outrageposter Like Jon Stewart on "The Daily Show," Dick has a wonderful eye for capturing telling moments of political sanctimony and posturing. He shows clips of Craig, on the Senate floor, extolling his wife's virtues on Valentine's Day, not long after he plays us an audio tape of Craig being interviewed by an undercover agent whom Craig had played footsie with in an airport men's room. After airing reports that Dreier had a longtime relationship with his male chief of staff -- a story first reported in 2004 by the L.A. Weekly -- Dick shows photos of various exotic vacation locales around the world that were visited by Dreier, noting that each time, Dreier's chief of staff would arrive at the same getaway spot a day later. 

Dick is especially hard on the mainstream media, who  he clearly believes have turned a blind eye to the hypocrisy issue, perhaps out of old-fashioned respect for privacy, perhaps -- as former RIAA Washington lobbyist Hilary Rosen contends in the film -- because straight journalists are squeamish about dealing with gay issues. To prove the point, Dick shows Bill Maher's original Nov. 8, 2006 interview with CNN's Larry King, where Maher refers to Ken Mehlman as a closeted gay man -- and then shows how CNN edited out the remark from later editions of the program. (Mehlman, who isn't interviewed in the doc, has publicly denied that he's gay.)

My only issue with the film is that in its fervor to open up every closet door, it doesn't always offer us the full story -- or ample justification for the outing process. The mainstream media has clearly been behind the curve in terms of reporting about closeted gay politicians and their anti-gay voting records. When Dreier, for example, lost a bid to join the GOP congressional leadership, it was widely reported by the mainstream media that his defeat came because he was viewed as being too moderate -- while many insiders actually believed he lost because the GOP thought giving the post to a closeted gay man was a potential political disaster. In the film, asked if he believed Dreier was passed over for being too moderate, Barney Frank quips: "Yes, in the sense that I marched in the moderate pride parade last summer and went to a moderate bar." The GOP clearly seemed more attuned to its potential PR debacles than the Washington media: The day after Maher outed Mehlman on CNN, Mehlman resigned as party chairman. Was that really just a coincidence?  

Still, I wish Dick had made time to interview some establishment Washington journalists so we could hear their justifications for remaining so silent on the issue. I'm also not entirely convinced that he has any good reason to out Fox News' Smith -- even if he works for a conservative news network whose commentators have often been critical of gay rights, he's a news anchor, not a strident opinionator, like Sean Hannity or Bill O'Reilly. But Dick doesn't pretend to be objective. He has a case to make and he makes it well, reminding us that it was closeted gay political figures who were usually the last ones to join the fight against AIDS or lend support to any gay anti-discrimination efforts. When the closet door is securely shut, it's awfully dark inside.

Photo of Congressman David Dreier, left,  and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger by Brian Vander Brug / Los Angeles Times

 
Comments () | Archives (16)

The comments to this entry are closed.

I understand Dick's frustration, but Dick is egregiously incorrect to justify the outing of individuals simply because he sees these individuals as being hypocrites. I am in favor of gay rights and I think most politicians, including Barack Obama, position themselves more conservatively on the gay rights issues in order to get elected, but I don't fault politicians for that. Dick instead wants to cast a glib blame on a few individuals, and publicly shame them like an episode of Dateline. It's arguments like these, as recently echoed by Perez Hilton, that actually do more damage than good to the progressive movement. Does Dick think he's a hero for making this movie, and does he really think the answers are that simple?

But then, what else should we expect from the director of This Film Is Not Yet Rated, another chimerical "fighting the man" type documentary. And should we blame Dick for pandering to his audience just as shamelessly as did Larry Craig? No, but then we should probably be more critical when listening to the two of them make their case.

Barney Frank says:

"There is a right to privacy, there's no right to hypocrisy."

That is completely and totally incoherent -- on a score of counts.

(1) It makes the right of privacy not a general right (if it's a constitutional-penumbra, then it has to be generally available, right?), but a conditioned one, for some only. And coincidentally the basis for that right is a certain set of political ideas.

(2) There is no way to expose any supposed hypocrisy without divulging information that cannot be released without violating privacy. Or to put it another way, only if a right to hypocrisy exists is the right to privacy effective.

(3) There is no "hypocrisy" involved, except under the stipulation of a set of political ideas, another set of ideas about sexuality, and a further set of ideas about religion. Which means, of course, that "hypocrisy" is simply a code word for authoritarian imposition of Goodthought, again as a precondition to privacy.

(4) "Privacy" does, in fact, presuppose a right to hypocrisy, i.e., a division between public and private and a recognition that for any number of reasons, even a thing's being true doesn't justify its being a public matter.

And lastly -- I'm not numbering it because it's about "outing" as a response to hypocrisy, i.e., not exactly what makes Frank's statement nonsense on its face. But even stipulating that there is somehow not a right to hypocrisy, what principles (and enforced how) give any actual particular outsider (Kirby Dick, Barney Frank, Joe the Plumber, etc.,) any right to determine whether one's private conduct has become hypocritical. Saying that this attitude merely sanctifies gossip would seem rather diplomatic on my part.

To wax personal, I have committed acts of gay sex that I acknowledge to be wrong, but where is the hypocrisy if (as I do) I oppose the criminalization of such acts. And no, my acknowledging that such acts are wrong only itself constitutes hypocrisy if every thing a person ever does imposes on him the obligation to think such acts were moral. (Suffice to say that no serious person believes THAT).

What about Rush Limbaugh and Matt Drudge?


(1) It makes the right of privacy not a general right (if it's a constitutional-penumbra, then it has to be generally available, right?), but a conditioned one, for some only. And coincidentally the basis for that right is a certain set of political ideas.

What? He's saying everyone has the right to privacy - plain and simple!

(2) There is no way to expose any supposed hypocrisy without divulging information that cannot be released without violating privacy. Or to put it another way, only if a right to hypocrisy exists is the right to privacy effective.

Regarding the elected official's rights to privacy: These are public officials. They do have the right to have gay affairs - awesome, I'm glad they found love. What is immoral is that they use their privileged status to extol the beliefs and "virtues" of their party's platform --and then turn around and vote to enforce laws that limit the rights of others. They then take advantage of their privileged status further to violate the laws they just enacted against the gay lifestyle, and perform acts that they condemn in others. Their elevated status shelters them from the stigma and the shame - until they're caught. But then the religious right leaders can just say the devil made them do it and they'll pray away the gay. We all know how effective that's been.

(3) There is no "hypocrisy" involved, except under the stipulation of a set of political ideas, another set of ideas about sexuality, and a further set of ideas about religion. Which means, of course, that "hypocrisy" is simply a code word for authoritarian imposition of Goodthought, again as a precondition to privacy.

So, is what you're saying is that hypocrisy is just a judgment term used by Big Brother --more or less? That's what I'm concluding from your bullshit response. Look, hypocrisy is a real word for a real situation. It’s not a code word, but a real word in the dictionary and everything. This condition has been around since the dawn of man, or at least politics. It’s a human foible to overcome -- it becomes unjust when its manifestation hinders the happiness of others.

4) "Privacy" does, in fact, presuppose a right to hypocrisy, i.e., a division between public and private and a recognition that for any number of reasons, even a thing's being true doesn't justify its being a public matter.

....more bullshit. Hypocrisy and privacy are not related. You can actually avoid hyprocrisy in public. We can actually be ourselves and not impose beliefs, and in these politicians cases, LAWS, that impede the happiness of others in an effort to convince the voting base that they might retain control over some people. Look, let's get something straight. These gay men are living the lives they want to live. Then they fight for the enactment of laws that impede the lives of other human beings and attempt to stigmatize them to the public. It's a heart rendering situation when you think about it. And some of us do.

And lastly -- I'm not numbering it because it's about "outing" as a response to hypocrisy, i.e., not exactly what makes Frank's statement nonsense on its face. But even stipulating that there is somehow not a right to hypocrisy, what principles (and enforced how) give any actual particular outsider (Kirby Dick, Barney Frank, Joe the Plumber, etc.,) any right to determine whether one's private conduct has become hypocritical. Saying that this attitude merely sanctifies gossip would seem rather diplomatic on my part.

Well, that would be the principle of decency.

To wax personal, I have committed acts of gay sex that I acknowledge to be wrong, but where is the hypocrisy if (as I do) I oppose the criminalization of such acts. And no, my acknowledging that such acts are wrong only itself constitutes hypocrisy if every thing a person ever does imposes on him the obligation to think such acts were moral. (Suffice to say that no serious person believes THAT).

We agree, gay sex should not be criminalized – and no, you are not a hypocrite because you were brainwashed into thinking gay sex is immoral. Look, I’m a straight 53 year old woman, and I think you should just let your freak flag fly dude. I don’t thing gay sex is immoral between two consenting adults. I’m not religious, but I was raised Catholic, and I’ve got to say, I really think Jesus was all about peace and love. I’m glad you waxed personal so we could see that you’re just hurting and in pain about that gay thing, and I guess that’s why those politicians lie to the world, they are just in so much pain as well. Look, people, most straight people don’t care if you’re gay -just the control freaks and those who are using it to make political points. Keep that in mind – we’re all human and we all have something to hide…but this issue is just getting stupid. I always said those republicans were too mean to be on the level. I know a lot more information will be “outed” to prove my point. Keep up the good work!

In response to CourageMan:
(1) It makes the right of privacy not a general right (if it's a constitutional-penumbra, then it has to be generally available, right?), but a conditioned one, for some only. And coincidentally the basis for that right is a certain set of political ideas.

What? He's saying everyone has the right to privacy - plain and simple!

(2) There is no way to expose any supposed hypocrisy without divulging information that cannot be released without violating privacy. Or to put it another way, only if a right to hypocrisy exists is the right to privacy effective.

Regarding the elected official's rights to privacy: These are public officials. They do have the right to have gay affairs - awesome, I'm glad they found love. What is immoral is that they use their privileged status to extol the beliefs and "virtues" of their party's platform --and then turn around and vote to enforce laws that limit the rights of others. They then take advantage of their privileged status further to violate the laws they just enacted against the gay lifestyle, and perform acts that they condemn in others. Their elevated status shelters them from the stigma and the shame - until they're caught. But then the religious right leaders can just say the devil made them do it and they'll pray away the gay. We all know how effective that's been.

(3) There is no "hypocrisy" involved, except under the stipulation of a set of political ideas, another set of ideas about sexuality, and a further set of ideas about religion. Which means, of course, that "hypocrisy" is simply a code word for authoritarian imposition of Goodthought, again as a precondition to privacy.

So, is what you're saying is that hypocrisy is just a judgment term used by Big Brother --more or less? That's what I'm concluding from your bullshit response. Look, hypocrisy is a real word for a real situation. It’s not a code word, but a real word in the dictionary and everything. This condition has been around since the dawn of man, or at least politics. It’s a human foible to overcome -- it becomes unjust when its manifestation hinders the happiness of others.

4) "Privacy" does, in fact, presuppose a right to hypocrisy, i.e., a division between public and private and a recognition that for any number of reasons, even a thing's being true doesn't justify its being a public matter.

....more bullshit. Hypocrisy and privacy are not related. You can actually avoid hyprocrisy in public. We can actually be ourselves and not impose beliefs, and in these politicians cases, LAWS, that impede the happiness of others in an effort to convince the voting base that they might retain control over some people. Look, let's get something straight. These gay men are living the lives they want to live. Then they fight for the enactment of laws that impede the lives of other human beings and attempt to stigmatize them to the public. It's a heart rendering situation when you think about it. And some of us do.

And lastly -- I'm not numbering it because it's about "outing" as a response to hypocrisy, i.e., not exactly what makes Frank's statement nonsense on its face. But even stipulating that there is somehow not a right to hypocrisy, what principles (and enforced how) give any actual particular outsider (Kirby Dick, Barney Frank, Joe the Plumber, etc.,) any right to determine whether one's private conduct has become hypocritical. Saying that this attitude merely sanctifies gossip would seem rather diplomatic on my part.

Well, that would be the principle of decency.

To wax personal, I have committed acts of gay sex that I acknowledge to be wrong, but where is the hypocrisy if (as I do) I oppose the criminalization of such acts. And no, my acknowledging that such acts are wrong only itself constitutes hypocrisy if every thing a person ever does imposes on him the obligation to think such acts were moral. (Suffice to say that no serious person believes THAT).

We agree, gay sex should not be criminalized – and no, you are not a hypocrite because you were brainwashed into thinking gay sex is immoral. Look, I’m a straight 53 year old woman, and I think you should just let your freak flag fly dude. I don’t thing gay sex is immoral between two consenting adults. I’m not religious, but I was raised Catholic, and I’ve got to say, I really think Jesus was all about peace and love. I’m glad you waxed personal so we could see that you’re just hurting and in pain about that gay thing, and I guess that’s why those politicians lie to the world, they are just in so much pain as well. Look, people, most straight people don’t care if you’re gay -just the control freaks and those who are using it to make political points. Keep that in mind – we’re all human and we all have something to hide…but this issue is just getting stupid. I always said those republicans were too mean to be on the level. I know a lot more information will be “outed” to prove my point. Keep up the good work!

Ken Mehlman hasn't gone away by any means. He now heads Governmental Affairs at KKR, the notorious private equity barbarians who are pushing their right wing agenda on the corporate management of companies they've acquired. Mehlman is the gift that keeps on giving, and Kirby Dick is to be commended for his brave work.

Bible Thumping Homosexual hating Republicans who are Gay need to be outed...family values is one of the Republicans manta..I hope the film included Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions whom was my sex partner while in law school at the University of Alabama.. if I had come forward with the information no one would have believed me. He's married with Children and a past Sunday school teacher all of this which has offered him good cover for 30+ years.

I

The film got it right. It was not about outing these people; it was about their hypocrisy. There is something particularly vehement about rabid anti- gay legislation being supported by closeted homosexuals. These people have destroyed lives with their votes- and in the name of protecting themselves? They are the worst kind of traitors! I can handle the idea that ignorance will allow people to make bad choices when they don't know any better. But to be gay, and vote in a way that limits LGBT peoples' rights for the sake of disguising yourself, is utterly disgusting. They should be outed- not for being gay, but for being the hypocrites they are.

A persons' right to privacy ends when that person is placed in a position of power, and uses that power to approve or deny rights to the rest of the population. The MPAA may seem like an innocuous organization until you realize that its' decisions are a form of censorship in that they can determine what films the general public can see. If you've seen "Not Rated" you understand that anything more than an "R" rating (and sometimes even that) can basically keep a movie from being released - or lead it to be released in a version that undermines the intent of the piece. As for the privacy vs. "outing" issue, of course it feels like a despicable invasion of privacy. But, weigh that against civil rights, public policy, etc. and what is the alternative? If someone in a position of power denies rights to a group of individuals (or empowers them), while secretly being a part of that group, isn't it reasonable to expect that his/her right to obscure that fact has been given up. If I lived in the South, and was black, and someone outed my congressman to be a member of the Klan, am I not entitled to know that fact, and how it effects my life? If my son or daughter joins the military, and is sent to war, am I not entitled to know that my congressman might secretly benefit from the prosecution of that war? Why does sexual orientation get the "MC Hammer - U Can't Touch This" banner of a privacy issue, while religion, business affiliations, etc. are considered fair game for investigation? If you're going to place yourself in a position of power, you should give up an expectation of being treated like the anonymous guy in the neighborhood.

 
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