It's been a while since we had an old-fashioned political outing: the public revelation that someone seemingly heterosexual is in fact of the homosexual variety. The highest-profile, most sensational outing of recent memory was back in 2007, when former Republican Senator Larry Craig was arrested for lewd behavior in an airport bathroom, an arrest that proved rumors he had been hooking up with men in toilet stalls for years. The scandal, which Craig side-stepped with his "wide stance" claims, came hot on the heels of the outing of anti-gay preacher man Ted Haggard. And both made perfect sense at the time.
Both men had histories of discriminating against and ostracizing LGBT people: Craig used his political powers, Haggard, an evangelical cohort of George W. Bush's, used the pulpit. Though Haggard's outing was a spectacular surprise -- a male prostitute alleged they had done meth together -- Craig's had been building for months, if not years, after blogger and activist Michael Rogers said three men claimed to have had sex with Craig in a Union Terminal bathroom.
Rogers was also responsible for the 2004 outing of GOP Rep. Edward Schrock, who decided not to run for reelection after Rogers revealed Schrock had used a gay sex phone line. Schrock never officially came out, but the writing was no longer on the wall. It was all over his face.
Now Rogers says he has a short list of three homophobic Republicans who have been living in the closet, and he plans to release those names. It's just a matter of getting the evidence in hand. "It's going to happen because it has been happening for a long time," Rogers told U.S. News and World Report.
And as with all outing news, Rogers' claims revive the debate about the practice's acceptability. Most people agree that tabloids who go after famous people cross a line. But Rogers believes outing is a weapon to be wielded against hypocrisy. "There's a big difference between outing and reporting," said Rogers. "I'm a reporter, I report on hypocrisy... I will never be sued for what I do because I'm right." But does being right make outing right?
Adolf Brand, the German founder and publisher of seminal gay magazine Der Eigene, believed that "when someone -- [such] as teacher, priest, representative, or statesman - would like to set in the most damaging way the intimate love contacts of others... In that moment his own love-life also ceases to be a private matter." And Dan Savage is fond of describing outing as a "brutal tactic" that should only be used on anti-gay "brutes." Outing depends on a subjective perception of privacy and hypocrisy.
Outings have destroyed lives and reputations, yes, but also destroy hypocrisy. And sometimes we see people who, outed either by opponents or their own failings, turn what could be embarrassing situations into catalysts for personal growth and acceptance. Jim McGreevey, the New Jersey Governor who resigned after announcing "I am a gay American," has tried to become an Episcopal priest (and is the subject of an HBO documentary, Fall to Grace). California State Roy Ashburn, once a staunchly anti-gay conservative lap dog, told the truth after the press reported he had been arrested for drunk driving after leaving a gay bar. He would later apologize for his anti-gay politicking.
Not all people are as dignified, of course. Craig still claims to be straight. Haggard, leading his own church after being booted from the mega-church that made him famous, claims he's miraculously straight. And Arizona Sheriff Paul Babeu played down his anti-gay alliances when it was revealed the supposedly straight lawman had blackmailed his Mexican boyfriend.
But with the nation more accepting of homosexuality in general, and with the political tides clearly turning toward equality, anyone outed today will be faced with similar choices: be true to oneself or live more lies. With the nation more accepting of homosexuality in general, and with the political tides clearly turning toward equality, the choice seems starker and the stakes higher. An outed official who digs his heels in will look even more shameful, but one who admits their mistake, who says he misused his power and apologizes -- ready to use their experience as a teachable moment -- well, they have endless opportunities for redemption.