Outing Politicians: Does It Ultimately Help or Hurt Us
Owing to a solid record of outing closeted gay Republicans including defiled names like Larry Craig and Mark Foley, gay political blogger Mike Rogers has developed a reputation for consistency that's becoming increasingly difficult for mainstream media to ignore.
But Rogers' latest conquest, Illinois Republican Congressman Mark Kirk, the story is a bit different than the norm. Kirk, a leading candidate for Obama's former Senate seat, is generally considered socially moderate, holding onto an 85 percent rating of his LGBT issues voting record from the Human Rights Campaign as recently as 2008 - although he was outed following his vote against Don't Ask Don't repeal in late May.
Most controversially, unlike Larry Craig, there were no recorded admissions from sources with knowledge of Kirk's gay exploits. There was no undercover cop to receive an airport bathroom toe tap. In fact, there was no traceable record of any kind.
The evidence Rogers presents in his latest outing relies on two anonymous male sources. One claims to have had sex with the Congressman during his college days. The other is a vague insinuation of same-sex attractions Rogers himself witnessed when he met Kirk at a D.C. event in 2004.
The Kirk story has grabbed some traction with media, particularly amidst a flurry of "misremembered" statements the Senate candidate has made regarding his military record and award history. Following a recent VFW meeting, a WGN reporter asked Kirk about Rogers' "allegation," which he awkwardly tiptoed around outright denying. The bizarre interaction caught the attention of respected bloggers at CQ Politics, the Huffington Post and the Village Voice.
Still, the partly cloudy circumstances of Kirk's outing begs important questions not only of Rogers' methods, but also of the very ethics surrounding an elected public official's right to privacy. Has Rogers lowered the threshold of proof required before throwing a politician to the gay wolves? Does this entire culture of "outing" perpetuate the stereotype that being gay is a negative label one can be "accused of"?
Mike Rogers on Kirk, on record
When EDGE spoke with Rogers, the blogger whose outing work's profile was further raised in last year's documentary Outrage, his tone was staunch and defiant. Rogers reacted to the mention of the word "rumor" with surprise.
He firmly denied that he'd at all lowered his standard of information required to back up his assertions.
"I thought everyone in Illinois politics already knew Kirk was gay," Rogers told EDGE. "It's not a rumor and it's not new. I've met the man. He is gay. I didn't think this would even be a story and wasn't seeking out coverage."
Indeed, the gay rumors have been heightened against Kirk since he divorced former wife Kimberly Vertolli, who has insisted her ex is straight, last year. Right-wing extremist Andy Martin first brought the rumors to the mainstream late last year, but was dismissed due to Martin's reputation for incendiary, bogus claims against his political adversaries.
Rogers' timing coming forward with his report on Kirk's sexuality is a direct response to Kirk's vote in opposition of the Don't Ask Don't Tell repeal compromise. Rogers describes the vote as hypocritical and an unconscionable betrayal to "his own people." The vote allegedly resulted in the phone calls from Kirk's former sex partners "within hours," providing the basis for Rogers' report.
"His [Kirk's] voting switch is a complete bending over for those military people on the hard right. It's nothing more than a bone to throw at them, because he thinks the right hates the gays," Rogers said.
"If he was genuinely against gays serving in the military, I'd respect him. He would be honest then, but now, he's going to the people of Illinois saying he's against the gay community. It's unbelievable that he would turn on his own people. It's unacceptable in 2010."
Does outing help or hurt the community?
While morally questionable on a personal level, if Kirk is indeed gay, many LGBT activists and leaders remain unsure whether the outing of the closeted Craigs and Foleys who vote against pro-LGBT legislation is a politically productive strategy. Particularly in a matter like this, there remains no on-the-record, concrete evidence of gayness, which makes it even more problematic.
Rick Garcia, political director for Equality Illinois, has closely followed LGBT issues in the state's politics for decades. Recounting names like Robert Bauman, a conservative leader who fell from power amid a male prostitution scandal in 1980, he is among those who question the likelihood of outings leading to political victories.
"I have seen more downsides from so-called 'outing' than upsides," Garcia said. "Besides, you're not accused of being gay, you're accused of being an embezzler, stealing or murder. I don't understand that concept. I don't see any real political benefit to outing someone."
Denis Dison, spokesman for the Victory Fund, which supports the efforts of openly LGBT politicians running for public office, agreed: "Having somebody who is secretly gay in public office doesn't really help [the community], but the process of dragging that person out of the closet can have a negative effect if it reinforces the idea that being LGBT is extremely negative to the point somebody would want to lie about it," Dison told EDGE.
How does Rogers respond to such accusations that his outings perpetuate the idea that gayness is a negative trait? Rogers makes a distinction about outing a politician simply as gay. He makes it a policy to only go after those politicians who take an active stance against the community of which they are ultimately a member.
"It's not a negative being gay, it's negative being a hypocrite," Rogers said. "I don't engage in vindictive outings, like the kind that happens after a bad break-up, or the kind Perez Hilton does. But the kind of 'outing' I do is reporting strictly on hypocrisy. If we're sold down the river before an election, I take that into account."