It's long been considered socially unacceptable to "out" closeted gay politicians. A new documentary makes the argument that when they take positions harmful to millions of gay people, it's unacceptable to let them stay in the closet."Traitors to their people" is how one person in "Outrage" describes politicians who live gay lives in secret while campaigning and voting against gay rights in public. "There is a right to privacy but not a right to hypocrisy," openly gay Rep. Barney Frank ( D-Mass.) says in the film.
The default position for many people, even those who are gay or sympathetic to the gay community, is that it's wrong to "out" anyone for any reason. And yet, after seeing "Outrage," they may be less certain.
That's because the film makes painfully clear the policy consequences of letting the personal stay personal. There are recurring checklists of gay rights bills opposed by the politicians targeted by the movie --- marriage, adoption, hate crimes, AIDS funding. There is ominous, sinister music.
It's not subtle. The idea is to make the point in ways that can't be ignored, and in that the film succeeds.
The director of "Outrage" is Kirby Dick, a married father of two whose previous documentaries include the well- reviewed "This Film is Not Yet Rated" (2006), a cutting look at the ratings decisions made by the Motion Picture Association of America, and the Oscar-nominated "Twist of Faith" (2004), which profiles a victim of the Catholic Church's child abuse scandal.
"Sometimes the discussion around outing obscures the fundamental issue," says Dick. "This is hypocrisy that affects the lives of millions of Americans. Documentaries and the press have a responsibility to report on it."
The politicians under fire in "Outrage" already have been written about in gay and mainstream media, so the film doesn't exactly "out" anyone. Furthermore, the filmmakers often fail to nail down definitive proof of sexual orientation.
But they do pile up anecdotal and suggestive evidence, layer by layer, and eventually cases are built if not closed.
For instance, discussing Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, the film notes a long-ago six-month marriage to a woman now living with a female partner; two sources who separately told a reporter about two different men who claimed relationships with Crist; 2006 gubernatorial rival Max Linn saying Crist told him years ago that he was gay; and a former girlfriend, Kelly Heyniger, who responded when contacted by the filmmakers: "I think I should just keep my mouth shut ... call me in 10 years and I'll tell you a story."
Crist supports Florida's ban on gay adoption and last year backed an amendment to the state constitution to ban gay marriage. The governor, who denies being gay, married Carole Rome in December.
Crist is one of only two incumbents featured in the movie. The other is Rep. David Dreier (R-Calif.), who is described as traveling the world with his chief of staff aka boyfriend. When Dreier lost out on a GOP leadership position for reportedly being too moderate, the film quotes Barney Frank as saying that was true in the sense that "I attended a moderate pride parade" or went to a "moderate bar."
In the last Congress, Dreier received a 10 percent rating from the gay advocacy group Human Rights Campaign. Over his career he has opposed, among other things, measures to protect gay people against job discrimination and to add sexual orientation as a federal hate-crime category, which would enable prosecution of such offenses by federal authorities.
Spokeswomen for Crist and Dreier did not respond to requests for response to "Outrage."
The film also targets former New York mayor Ed Koch, a Democrat who is accused of failing to confront the AIDS crisis. It features on-camera interviews with David Phillips, who graphically describes a sexual encounter that he says took place with former Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho), and Gary Cathey, who says former Rep. Jim McCrery (R-La.) was "my first sexual relationship."
It also features audio from Craig's arrest on charges of soliciting sex in a men's room at the Minneapolis airport and voice mails allegedly left by former Rep. Ed Schrock (R-Va.) on a gay phone-sex service. Blogger Mike Rogers of Blogactive.com posted the tapes and allegations in 2004 and Schrock, citing unspecified "allegations," ended his re-election race during the Republican National Convention.
Schrock, McCrery and Craig all supported a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage and have voted against making sexual orientation a hate-crime category. Schrock told the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot in 2000 that he wanted to try to keep gays out of the military. In 2004 The Associated Baptist Press described him as "one of Congress' staunchest opponents of gay rights."
Some of the public figures who are "out" can barely hide their anger at those who aren't. Jim Hormel, who was the nation's first openly gay ambassador, says gay politicians go to gay bars, gay clubs, even gay bathhouses - and they expect to be protected. They think, he says, that they're immune.
David Catania, a gay member of the D.C. City Council, says some closeted politicians are "vicious" because it's a way to deflect attention from their own orientation. They have been chasing gay people for years, he says, and now some gay people have decided "we're going to chase back."
Elizabeth Birch, former head of the Human Rights Campaign, says gay people have no protection, "not one law," at the federal level. But by omission, she provides some to closeted gay politicians. "I've had members of Congress crying in my arms because they don't know how to come out," she says. Onscreen, she doesn't name any.
"Outrage" premiered April 24 at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York. It opens Friday (May 8) in New York, Washington, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Los Angeles before moving into wider release.
For more on "Outrage," read Jill Lawrence's Q&A with the Director