How not to out a congressman

The Week

Journalist Itay Hod has taken an axto a politician's glass closet, and I think he misses the mark. Widely.

here's a hypothetical: what if you know a certain GOP congressman, let's just say from Illinois, is gay... and you know this because one of your friends, a journalist for a reputable network, told you in no uncertain terms that he caught that GOP congressman and his male roommate in the shower... together. now they could have been good friends just trying to conserve water. but there's more. what if this congressman has also been caught by tmz cameras trolling gay bars. now what if you know that this very same guy, the darling of the gop, has also voted against repeal of don't ask don't tell, opposed the repeal of doma, is against gay marriage; and for the federal marriage amendment, which would add language to the us constitution banning gay marriage and would likely strike down every gay rights law and ordinance in the country?

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Outing used to be divisive and controversial. Not anymore. The pressures associated with forcing someone to live differently than they want to is given little heed, especially if the closeted person is a hypocrite in a position of power. The hidden law that governs such things is simple: if you're going to exercise power and you're gay, you are not permitted to live in the closet if you vote or otherwise act to institutionalize or perpetuate inequalities among gay people.

Still, I hope it's not controversial to hope that the outers themselves treat their victims with a dignity befitting the ultimate goal of their outing. After all, we want all people to live as they wish, partnering with whomever they choose, contributing meaningfully to the community as much or as little as they want. Degrading a closeted hypocrite's dignity for the sake of the collective is the moral tradeoff that outing places front and center. And yes, it's vengeful and mean, if not done with at least a modicum of concern for the other equities at stake, like Shrock's own tortured self-assessment, the impact on his family, and a smart assessment of whether the fact of his homosexuality really matters anymore.

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I think Hod, a freelance contributor for CBS News, understands the danger of coming off like a doucebag. That's why, instead of just outing Shock, he marshals arguments made popular in the halcyon days of the Clinton administration to justify his decision to Facebook truth to power:

we've been so effective at convincing everyone that outing people is a crime against humanity, that we've made it impossible for any network or news organization to talk about this "hypothetical" gay republican congressman and his hypocritical vote against gay rights. they won't touch it for fear of retribution from GLAAD or HRC. (in fact when my friend's network interviewed said hypothetical republican, he talked about wanting to find a nice woman to marry... and the network aired it... knowing it was a lie...

Who thinks like that anymore, Itay?

Twenty years has passed since I first read stuff like this, and a lot has changed. Outing is no longer fascism. It's mainstream. The proper skepticism applies to how outing is done. We out carefully, because we respect what is at stake more than the person who we are outing. Gay rights has become a majoritarian cause. A lot of gay Republicans have already been outed. Some have chosen to come out. The "closeted gay Republican" has become a trope.

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Why the need to build straw men? I don't get it. If he's gay, and you've got evidence, and you think you need to justify your decision to out him, then say it, show your hand, don't be defensive, and accept the consequences.

Hod also brings an Alex Jones's amphitheater's worth of sketchy presumptions to bear, namely that Shock is gay, not bisexual, that showering with someone of the same gender somehow makes them gay, that the characteristics Hod associates with Shock -- his abs, his personal style, his appreciation for fashion, his appearance in Details Magazines, are so self-evidently gay. Because, you see, gay people are just like that. Sexuality is so simple! You can judge a gay by his cover!

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So, someone I know saw this dude in a shower, and so he's gay, because that confirms all of my presumptions about it, but because I don't feel entirely comfortable letting the evidence speak for itself, I need to dress up my assertion in more assertions, including an appeal to everyone's dislike of hypocrites, to justify my -- what really is a -- best guess.

Outing is ok. Outing clumsily... that's bad form. And a disservice.

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