The politics of outing: a congressman’s abrupt retirement has reignited debate over exposing closeted antigay lawmakers

The politics of outing: a congressman’s abrupt retirement has reignited debate over exposing closeted antigay lawmakers

Christopher Lisotta

Virginia U.S. congressman Ed Schrock’s surprise August 31 pullout from his November reelection bid following an online campaign to out him as gay has further inflamed a long-running debate: Is publicizing the sexual orientation of closeted public figures who support antigay causes an invasion of privacy that does nothing to advance gay rights? Or is it a political imperative?

For two weeks activist Michael Rogers posted items on his Web site accusing Schrock, a two-term Republican, of being a closeted gay man. Schrock neither confirmed nor denied the allegation, but before and after his withdrawal, Rogers posted audio files that be claims are Schrock’s ads on a gay party line to solicit sex from men. Schrock is a cosponsor of the Federal Marriage Amendment, voted in July for the antigay Marriage Protection Act (which limits federal judges’ jurisdiction on the Defense of Marriage Act), and has criticized the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy for not outright barring gays from serving. “My site is about exposing hypocrisy,” Rogers said. “My ultimate goal is to stop legislators who expect protection and secrecy from the community when they work against the community.”

Outing has been criticized by the Log Cabin Republicans and the Gay, Lesbian, and Allies Senate Staff Caucus; Rogers’s brand of activism has included outing staffers who work for antigay congressmen. But he has not been the only person ever to use such tactics. “This is in line with the guerrilla activism we saw in the 1980s,” said writer and radio talk-show host Michelangelo Signorile. “Today, you just put up a Web site.”

A day after Schrock’s announcement, Signorile, while discussing the Marriage Protection Act during an interview for Sirius Satellite Radio’s OutQ channel at the Republican National Convention in New York City, asked Republican California congressman David Dreier if he is a heterosexual. Dreier declined to answer, saying, “I am not going to talk about this issue.” Dreier voted for the Marriage Protection Act, something that makes him a fair target, said National Gay and Lesbian Task Force executive director Matt Foreman. Unlike with congressional staffers, he said, “reporting factually about someone’s sexual orientation when they are … making policy that’s antigay, that’s appropriate.”

Chuck Wolfe, president and CEO of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, which helps to elect out candidates, said his group only offers to help closeted politicians who are looking to come out voluntarily. But he was hesitant to condemn Rogers. “It takes an entire array of efforts in the civil rights struggle,” he said. “You have lobbyists; you have grassroots activists. All of these folks have a role to play.”

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