According to The Daily News, the 2009 film:
(Outrage) isn’t always perfect and may not always be fair, but if you like straight talk, pardon the phrase, you’ll get it here. Agree or disagree with director Kirby Dick, you know exactly where he stands and why.
(Read the full article: HBO documentary ‘Outrage’ hits hypocritical gay politicians with an angry call to clean the closet).
The documentary focuses on elected leaders who live a double lifestyle, hanging out in gay bars by night and then voting against gay rights by day. Dick’s project never tries to conceal its “outrage” toward such politicians, and the film as a whole brands these individuals as hypocrites.
At the same time, some activists interviewed for Outrage find sympathy for the conflicted politicians, arguing that these men’s lives will be incomplete for as long as they stay in the dark and lonely closet. Dick rounds up a handful of formerly-closeted, gay politicians–including Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank, former New Jersey governor Jim McGreevey, and former Arizona Congressman Jim Kolbe–all of whom say they’ve been much happier since “coming out.”
The activists featured in Outrage show varying degrees of anger and compassion. But all of them are concerned, in one way or another, about the phenomenon of closeted gay politicians. Their unified message is that elected officials who legislate from the closet are hurting the LGBT community (either actively, or through omission).
Part of their project, then, is to expose not-yet-outed influential persons who they feel have perpetuated anti-gay laws and attitudes (from Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, to gay marriage and adoption rights).
Fox News’ Shepard Smith and former New York City Mayor Ed Koch are among those the documentary claims are closeted homosexuals. The film accuses Koch of running his ex-lover Richard Nathan out of New York in an effort to protect his political reputation.
Of all the powerful men accused of being closeted homosexuals in the film, Kirby Dick seems most obsessed with Florida governor Charlie Crist. (This is presumably because he was seen as a likely 2012 Republican presidential candidate as of last spring, when Outraged was released). The film even asserts that the longtime bachelor’s marriage to Carol Rome in 2008 was a sham for ulterior political motives.
Dick lands a minor coup when (Charlie Crist’s) ex-girlfriend, Kelly Heyniger, tells Dick’s film crew that ‘I think I should just keep my mouth shut…call me in ten years and I’ll tell you a story.’ (Read Zeitchik’s full article here).
Kirby Dick’s rationale behind outing these men is complex. It is not (at least, not solely) based on a vindictive quest to destroy their careers.
Some of the activists in the film are hopeful that closeted politicians will change for the better after they’re outed. This doesn’t mean doing 180s, becoming Harvey Milk clones overnight—just that they won’t be agents of homophobia, paranoid about supporting gay rights.
But a closeted politician’s fear of being outed might not be the only reason he votes against gay rights measures. America is, after all, a representative democracy. That means (in theory) citizens should vote for politicians we’re confident will represent our needs. If the representatives we elect selfishly disregard the will of the people to maximize their own bliss, then we’re supposed to vote them out of office next time around.
So what happens if a gay man is elected to serve in a conservative district that opposes gay rights? Does he still have to respect the will of the people, or is there a clause that lets him unilaterally blow them off whenever their views don’t mesh with his personal needs?
It’s a tough call. If he ignores his own self-interest, he’s a “hypocrite” and unhappy; if he ignores the will of the people, he’s a tyrant, and eventually unemployed.
Let’s revisit the story of recently outed California State Senator Roy Ashburn, a man who claims he’s been in that situation for the last eight years.
Roy Ashburn Example
Roy Ashburn was arrested and charged with DUI after leaving a gay bar on March 3, 2010. After details surrounding the incident were made public, Ashburn basically had no choice but to confess to reveal to world that he was gay. From his interview with local radio host Inga Barks:
“I am gay. Those are the words that have been difficult for me for so long… My personal life is my personal life,” Ashburn said. “I’ve already said that I’m gay. The facts are what they are. I acknowledge what I did and I’ll pay the consequences for that. But what happened last week — my private life became public and so now I acknowledge that I am gay. I think that’s what people want to know.”
Like the many politicians profiled in the Kirby Dick’s documentary, Ashburn’s private sex life was inconsistent with his voting history. His “coming out” thus sparked criticism from gay rights protesters, who echoed director Kirby Dick’s outrage and called Ashburn a hypocrite.
As the Bakersfield Californian reported:
Ashburn has taken heat… for having been both closeted and a consistent voter against gay-rights related legislation.
Hypocrisy or Democracy?
As much as I hate to question any project aimed at exposing hypocrisy in Washington, I’m having trouble understanding Kirby Dick’s fury. Why does he put so much emphasis on closeted gay politicians, when we have an entire society full of ignorant homophobes to enlighten? Why is the entire film so much madder at the Larry Craigs of the words than at equally ignorant straight idiots?
Men like Roy Ashburn are often called hypocrites for privately engaging in homosexual behavior while publicly opposing basic rights for gay people. In response to that criticism, Ashburn insists he voted the will of his constituents in the conservative 18th Senate District.
“I took a position based on what I believed was the will of my constituents, not mine, necessarily,” Ashburn said. “We have a representative form of government … where citizens select people to cast votes on their behalf.” (Read the full article here).
Should we really consider politicians to be hypocrites if they vote against their own interests? Politicians are too greedy as it is; and yet, activists in Dick’s video seem angry at the gay ones for not being selfish enough.
By calling Ashburn a hypocrite, it seems gays are advocating for a society where politicians pursue their own interests without regard for representing the citizens. That might work out for them in the short run, in the specific instance of gay politicians voting on gay rights issues.
But then what?
Do we institute this Selfish Politician policy across the board, for all votes, in all jurisdictions and situations? Or, is this doctrine applicable only when the outcome we favor personally (a) is compatible with our Representative’s selfish agenda, and (b) happens not to coincide with the will of the majority?
These are questions that don’t seem to be resolved in Outrage.
So again, I ask, are politicians hypocrites if they vote against their personal needs in the name of representative democracy?
If so, then what alternative would the protesters propose? Would we prefer a guy like former Vice President Dick Cheney, unapologetically abusing power to pursue his own agenda at the nation’s expense?