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The Voice of Reason: Outrage (Documentary Review)

Produced in 2009, Outrage is a documentary that exposes viewers to the hypocrisy of our nation’s politics, especially where conservative politicians and gay rights are concerned.  Also exposed in the film are the aforementioned conservative politics, outed for being gay while simultaneously voting for anti-gay legislation and aligning themselves with conservative groups that oppose gay rights.

The film begins with Senator Larry Craig. For those of you who do not recall this scandal, Idaho Senator Larry Craig was arrested in 2007 in Minnesota for having solicited sex in a men’s bathroom in the airport. The documentary continues to tell the story of various other conservative politicians, including former New Jersey Governor, Jim McGreevy, and Florida Governor, Chris Christie. The film’s Director and Writer, Kirby Dick, juxtaposes montages of politicians spouting anti-gay rhetoric with headlines of those same politicians coming out or being exposed as gay, finally closing with their lifetime voting records for anti-gay legislation. Needless to say, their lifetime voting records are appallingly devoid of support for any pro-gay rights or HIV/AIDS funding-related legislation. The film is also interspersed with interviews of prominent gay community members, who advocate for gay rights.

Michael Rogers is one of the main individuals this documentary follows. He is a blogger in Washington D.C. and is known for playing an active role in outing politicians that support on anti-gay legislation. He began his blog in 2004 to expose politicians (of any party, but the majority are conservative), and in addition to having his own radio show now, is a feared presence on the Hill. He feels that by outing politicians that have a record of voting for anti-gay legislation, politicians will then have no choice but to stop voting for such legislation. That the damage will be so severe from the outing, the politician will have nowhere to go but to acknowledge his/her sexuality and will then be unable to vote for anti-gay legislation.

One of the main debates threaded throughout the documentary involves the ethics of outing these politicians. There are some individuals interviewed who argue that coming out is a very personal process for any individual and outing a politician is unethical and violates their right to privacy. Politicians leading a double life may not ever be ready to out themselves, and it’s not anyone else’s job to speed up that process.

On the other hand, Michael Rogers and Congressman Barney Frank make the argument that it’s not simply outing someone for outing purposes. Rather, these politicians have played an active role in voting for anti-gay legislation and have spewed anti-gay rhetoric, and they should be exposed for the hypocrites many people believe they are. They argue that advancing basic rights in support of the LGBT community as a whole is much more important that keeping an individual’s sexuality in the closet, and to call out the institutional hypocrisy. Barney Frank states, “There is a right to privacy, but not a right to hypocrisy. It is very important that the people who make the law be subject to the law.”

This is the point where I’d like to take up discussion with my readers. As an individual that very much respected the right of privacy of all U.S. citizens, I honestly kept asking myself how I felt that a blogger was marching around outing individuals? Do I understand the argument that Rogers makes, that upon outing, a politician will finally be able to know who he/she really is without hiding, and can begin voting in support of the gay community? Yes, I absolutely do. I was drawn to another argument however, that coming out is a very personal decision and it is a process. Is it right to out someone if they are not ready to acknowledge their sexuality, and perhaps they even harbor self-hatred for leading what they think is an abhorrent lifestyle?

I’m really torn on this one, because I feel like they are arguments on different levels that don’t necessarily correspond to one another. The argument to privacy is on a personal level. The argument that Rogers and Barney Frank make addresses the issue on an institutional level, and uses the personal situation of outing to make structural changes to the system of Washington politics.

I have to tell you, after thinking on this for some time, I’m still undecided. I think part of my problem with accepting Rogers argument, is that I don’t know that I’ve seen politicians make those changes in their voting records – at least the documentary didn’t show that to me. And for all of the coverage of Charlie Christ of Florida, he still got married and continues a life of denial (assuming he is gay) and proposing anti-gay legislation in the State of Florida. I guess I’m not seeing the intended structural results Rogers promised us would happen upon outing conservative politicians. Instead, I see either continued hypocrisy, or a de-sensitization of being outed. Politicians these days also don’t seem to care when they are caught in a situation that shows them to be hypocritical; the lack of embarrassment that exists in politics now is somewhat embarrassing in itself. That poltiicians are so stuck in their ways, that even when show something is the truth, it doesn’t even matter. In fact, the documentary showed a gay staffer mailing out campaign materials around anti-gay legislation to constituents. The hypocrisy is so clear to the viewer, yet there have to be some intricacies that I don’t understand, or some disconnect, because I’m not seeing any of the rest of Washington getting it.

I was surprised about the suggested complicity of the media in all of this institutional hypocrisy. The film briefly discusses the media’s complicity in not outing conservative politicians, and the reasoning is very interesting. There are apparently many gay journalists who also do not want to be outed, because the political and media climate are not welcoming in Washington, D.C. So the cycle continues.

NPR is a perfect example of this. NPR ran a review of this documentary, intentionally leaving out names that the writer had included in his piece of politicians outed in the film as being gay. Citing a policy of protecting the privacy of public figures, an NPR superior cut the names of current Florida governor Charlie Crist and former Senator Larry Craig from the review after writer Nathan Lee and his assigning editor at NPR had agreed on the text of the piece.

“What ensued was a classic journalism debate between privacy and the public’s right to know. NPR came down on the side of privacy; (movie reviewer Nathan) Lee squarely on the other side. Caught in the middle is society’s ongoing — though no longer complete — unease with discussions of sexual orientation.”( http://www.npr.org/blogs/ombudsman/2009/05/outrage_over_nprs_handling_of.html)

Final soapbox moment: The hypocrisy must end. Collusion between politicians and the media around gay politics must end. How do we change the structures that are so firmly embedded in Washington politics? I don’t know that we can, given the increasing polarity of our government and our nation. My hope is that it becomes increasingly common to openly discuss sexuality; my hope is that gay rights advocacy groups don’t lose the energy to fight and to keep lobbying; my hope is that with every new generation, the anti-gay vitriol diminishes so that it doesn’t matter if you’re gay AND conservative. Supporting gay rights should be universal regardless of political affiliation. I think younger generations are more inclusive, and I hope that’s the direction our government is moving in. I’d like to see my government actually reflect the population it serves in the laws it approves and to support and give the same rights to all of its people.

The Wife

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