Photo by Ralf Ruhmeier
Sitting on a cozy sofa in my Tel Aviv apartment and reading all the details of the Aaron Schock controversy is fascinating. We're all biting our nails to see how it ends as we went through the same thing a few years ego. Back then, however, I was accused of "outing." It was under different circumstances, but maybe Aaron Schock can learn something from it.
Four years ago, there was a brutal murder of gay teens a youth center in Tel Aviv. A man entered a popular gay youth place called Bar Noar (youth bar), killed a teenager and one of her mentors in cold blood, wounding 10 more kids. It was a moment that brought all Israelis to their knees. There was a national sense of mourning. It was a real shock. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu came to the crime scene to show his support, and President Shimon Peres spoke in a rally I hosted a week later in front of 80,000 people.
For the one year anniversary commemoration, the Tel Aviv LGBT center was planning a rally. The organizers announced that the singer at the event would be a popular heart throb, Harel Skaat, runner-up on the second season of Israeli Idol. The problem was Skaat was in the closet. When I heard about it, I thought the organizers had lost their minds. A closeted singer was going to honor people who died just because they were gay? This was a sad joke. I called them, and they explained they were aware of the problem and so were his publicists, who were saying he was on his way to coming out publicly and he'd say something meaningful to that affect while onstage.
The memorial was touching. No eye was dry after hearing the speakers. And then Harel Skaat took the stage. He came up and said, "Good evening, I am glad to be here. Thank you for inviting me." And then he started singing. I couldn't believe my ears. "Thank you for inviting me?" In Hebrew it sounds even worse: He was actually saying, "I thank you people for inviting me." I was furious, and I guess my face showed it. Before I even noticed it, a microphone was stuck in front of my face.
"How do you feel about Harel's performance tonight?" the blond entertainment news girl asked me. I was very emotional as I looked at her and answered: "This performance humiliates me and all my community." Then I walked away.
The next evening, the entertainment news ran a long segment about the event. The highlight was my comment, which was followed by an explanation that I was furious because Skaat was gay and closeted. Within the next hour, all the big websites were full of items and comments all stating that I had just outed Harel Skaat.
His fans, mostly young girls, filled the web with negative comments about me. it became a controversy that lasted a few weeks, the highlight being a psychiatrist writing for Ynet, Israel's biggest website, accusing me of sexually harassing him--as if outing was a form of sexual harassment.
The strangest thing, however, was that, while the web was burning, the traditional press didn't mention it. For them, Skaat still was not gay. They all waited. Half a year later, during a celebrity documentary movie titled Breaking the Silence that aired on Israel's popular channel 2, Skaat said: "I don't have anything to say about my love life. I am single. When I will find a boyfriend, I will not hide him from the public." Only then did the press start relating to him as gay.
I was pinpointed as the furious "outer" and have carried this label proudly ever since. The funny thing is that Skaat, very quickly, became one of the community's best spokesmen. He fell in love with a sexy model who's also a lawyer and, after years of running away from paparazzi, his hot photos kissing his boyfriend in public filled the media. He later said that coming out was the best thing that ever happened to him.
In the rhythm of "It ain't over till the fat lady sings," Aaron Schock will not be out till the New York Times, ABC news, or any big traditional media will decide so. I personally believe that this might be a great opportunity for Schock to come out on his own. Maybe this little push out of the suffocating closet will be the best thing ever happened to him. I believe that, if he's smart, he'll use this moment to his advantage and maybe start living the life he's supposed to live.
I am sure it can save his political career, although it will take a lot of work and many apologies to the gay community. It's all up to him now. The sad truth is that bold and brave gay bloggers--such as John Aravosis and our own Tel Aviv-born Itay Hod--cannot really out someone even if they really want to. And he really deserves it.