Thursday, November 09, 2006

Outing Gay Conservatives [Updated]

While talking about gay Republicans on Larry King Live, Bill Maher outed Ken Mehlman, chairman of the RNC. As reported by Huffington Post, CNN later edited out that piece of the discussion when they replayed the interview.

There are a lot of issues here.

1) Why did CNN edit that out? If Maher can't back it up, then it's his ass on the line, not CNN's. And whether he can back it up or not, it makes for morning water cooler talk, which is not something Larry King can often claim with his boring interviews.

[UPDATE: CNN has ordered YouTube to take down the original clip of Maher's comments. John at AmericaBlog received a letter from YouTube to that effect, a cease-and-desist letter. He has also posted the revised transcript from CNN of the interview, which retracts more than the Mehlman statement. HuffPo still has the video up. As usual, the cover-up is worse than the original offense.]

2) Why the hell does Maher feel it is his duty to out gay Republicans? I can see the hypocrisy angle of the GOP being pretty much militantly anti-gay and wanting to make them pay for that, but it feels petty and mean-spirited to do it that way.

3) So maybe Mehlman is gay, so what? Who the hell cares? I don't. I don't dislike him any more because he likes men -- I dislike him because he is a Republican who wants everyone else on the planet to believe what he believes, no matter how little proof there is for anything he believes. He's a narrow-minded little twit -- and that has nothing to do with who he sleeps with.

These are all fair issues, so to make up my own mind, I did a little more digging. Mehlman is single, so he has no family that will get burned in exploring this issue with him as a test case. And he has been targeted as gay for several years.

But Mehlman has evaded the gay question without issuing a denial. Again, from Huffington Post:

But what about RNC chairman Ken Mehlman? His sexual orientation has been the subject of speculation by gay rights advocates for several years and has been discussed on progressive radio talk shows. Mainstream reporters have never asked Mehlman if he is gay but Eric Resnick, a journalist for a gay publication in Cleveland, chased Mehlman down at a GOP fund-raising dinner in Akron. Resnick told Mehlman that he had been outed on blogs and talk radio and he wondered how he justified being gay and pushing an anti-gay agenda. Mehlman was non-responsive. Resnick persisted and finally asked Mehlman if he was gay.

"You have asked a question no one should have to answer," Mehlman responded.

The delicately chosen words annoyed Resnick and John Aravosis of Americablog. According to Aravosis, Mehlman, who is in his early 40s and unmarried, gave a "non-answer, answer."

"He's at the top of his profession in a conservative political party," Aravosis told me last year. "If he's not gay, why wouldn't he react the same way every straight guy does when someone asks them if they are gay? They sort of energetically tell you hell no they're not gay. Mehlman says nothing. Seems like he would want everyone in his party to know he's not gay. Maybe he's a closeted heterosexual."

Maybe you don't even defend being straight as though being gay is a horrible thing, but you simply say, "No, I am not gay."

If it was any other person, I'd say it's nobody's business if he is gay or not. But it's Ken Mehlman, chair of the RNC, a man who has been openly hostile to gay rights. He has said as much.

According to Mehlman and other conservative commentators, George Bush’s victory in 2004, along with GOP gains in the House and Senate, were based a successful two-pronged strategy: (1) emphasizing the need for strong leadership to counter the threat of terrorism, and (2) mobilizing millions of evangelical Christians and other culturally conservative voters upset about gay marriage, abortion, and other threats to traditional values. By aggressively pursuing the war on terrorism and by enacting policies such as a constitutional amendment prohibiting gay marriage and additional restrictions on abortion, these conservatives now believe that President Bush and the Republican Congress can solidify the party’s newly expanded base and ensure GOP control of Congress and the White House for years to come.
Emphasis added.

So, if Mehlman can build election strategies around hating gays and lesbians and taking away their right to equal status under the Constitution, then maybe he has made himself fair game for the media -- and maybe outing him is within the rules of combat.

And then another voice in my head says that just because he is gay (if he is) does not mean he must support gay rights. Assuming he is a Christian, it may be abhorrent to him to be gay. He may pray ever day to be straight (good luck with that).

But Mehlman hasn't gotten himself into the mess that evangelical preacher Ted Haggard got mixed up in. The hypocritical preacher was outed by his gay male prostitute, Mike Jones. One of the main reasons Jones gave for outing Haggard after three years of well-paying sex was Haggard's support for anti-gay rights issues:
Mike Jones, a male escort from Denver, tells The Advocate he revealed his “sexual business relationship” with evangelical leader Ted Haggard to expose the hypocrisy in Haggard’s support for a proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. But he says he doesn’t wish the prominent pastor, who resigned on November 2, any ill will.
When a man does one thing in private and another in public, and he is a highly visible spokesperson, he opens himself to be outed -- at least, that's the rationale.

Part of me -- the part that likes to see idiots taken down a notch or two and likes to see hypocrisy exposed -- thinks this is all well and good. Let the outings commence.

But part of me feels that this is sinking to level of the opposition. In most instances, like Haggard's, much harm will come of the outing. And in the final analysis, it's no one's business what anyone does in the privacy of their own home -- or hotel room, or whatever.

If I want to claim that stance -- the right to privacy -- then I can't violate it simply because the other side is a bunch of hypocrites. If I want to oppose the conservative position on gay rights, then it will be on the merit of the arguments, not own exposing some of those in the other camp as gay or lesbian.

In that sense, I think what Jones and Maher did was wrong.


Anonymous said...

I'm not sure that your argument hits all the bases from my perspective. Is being gay purely and upper left phenomenon? That is, only and exclusively extant "in the privacy on one's own bedroom"? Or is it an identity which necessarily expresses itself in all quadrants (and therefore has consequences with political, cultural, or otherwise extra-individual significance)?

Then there is the issue of: if we believe being gay is "ok" why so much emphasis on "preserving privacy"? You're gay, but I won't call you gay? (You're black but I won't call you black? A woman but I won't call you a woman?) Wierd. Disconsonant.

Thirdly, his political activities are hypocritical, widely hurtful and oppressive to many, and plain ole wrong. If a mild statement of the truth can ameliorate all that, well...

Kai in NYC

Unknown said...

I have a lot of sympathy with Kai's point. Today, now that antisemitism is wholly unacceptable, Would we think it was OK for some Nazis to secretly have been Jews?

Yet, I can imagine good reasons for CNN to alter their transcript. There are some things that when they become talked-about rumours are immediately accepted as true. I think that the media has a responsibility to not be a conduit of hot, unproved, ruinous gossip. CNN isn't acting as a cencor since Maher can repeat his 'accusation' on his own show -- if he thinks the matter is of importance.

william harryman said...


I didn't treat being gay as a social identity because these guys aren't out and aren't dealing with being gay as a social identity. I agree with you that being gay expresses in all quadrants, but until one is out, it's only into the upper two (individual and not collective).

The privacy issue applies because (1) they are not "out" and (2) because this culture is still homophobic and being gay might be harmful for some people in some ways (like being an evangelical preacher). Personally, I think being gay should be about as noteworthy as having blue eyes.

I agree about the political aspect. Still, I think it would be hypocritical of me to out them simply because they are assholes.

And Tom,

I agree with you about the CNN thing to a point -- the Maher comment was speculation, so CNN is not liable or guilty in any way -- only Bill is. Still, it's their show I guess and they can do anything they want.

I don't think that gay Republicans/evangelicals can be compared to Jewish Nazis, but I see your point.


Unknown said...

Melhman stepped down from his RNC job. I am sure that was inevitable, considering the noxious Republican dirty tricks, including the Playboy Bunny ad in TN, and general disaster.

Melhman was always very articulate, but, man, his spinning had no real difference from outright lying. It is good that he's gone; but it is unlikely that the GOP will be re-inventing itself such that Melhman's replacement is much less slimey.

william harryman said...

That was to be expected -- he got his ass handed to him in the mid-terms. I like how they always say the decision had been made a month ago, or something similar. Not sorry to see him go. And I'm sure the next person will be just as bad.


Anonymous said...

I guess my main point is that one doesn't get to pick and choose at which point one's identity become "social" (i.e., before or after "coming out"). All identities (and particularly being gay in this day and era, alas) are necessarily social whether one owns and recognizes that aspect of identity or not.

If you find yourself still resisting that point, go back and consider Wilber's point about Vietnam-era war protestors, and the crucial consideration of WHY they protested. Many because they feared the draft and didn't--blankly and unreflectively--want anyone telling them what to do and where to go; others--fewer--because of genuine antiwar convictions. Similarly, oppposing gay rights, as a heterosexual, because of religious or ideological convictions (odious as that is) differs from doing so as a gay man (for one thing, perpetuating not only hatred, but the vilest sort of self-hatred, which as we all know is harder to resist than external attacks).

I don't particularly like the phenomenon of "outing" folks myself, never have and probably never would myself; but I'm coming to recognize that my squeamishness, especially vis-a-vis these right wing assholes, is probably just idiot compassion. Secretly I'm releived that others are made of sterner stuff (not that it's always necessarily done from an evolved viewpoint; but even so).

Kai in NYC

william harryman said...

If Mehlman chooses not to be an out gay man, how can we impose a gay social identity on him? He lives and conducts himself, as far as any of us know, as someone who is not openly gay, which means he has not assumed a gay identity, social or otherwise. We cannot, of course, know what he thinks of himself in private -- though I'm guessing it's some of that self-loathing you mentioned before.

If Mehlman is operating in the authoritarian/"truth force" meme/worldview, as he most likely is as a Christian, then what he says and does is perfectly consonant with his worldview. How that impacts his psyche is a whole other issue that probably would need therapy.

I tend to agree with you that outing someone is seldom if ever done in the best interest of the person being outed. How many people are there who would out someone with the intent of freeing the gay person from living a lie, or with the intent of helping them in a way that s/he cannot help themselves? Most of the time, no matter the reason given, it's vindictive in some way, or meant to be hurtful.

Accepting that, it's hard for me to support anyone outing someone else, no matter how hypocritical the outed person might be. Maybe I'm squeamish in the same way you are, or giving in to idiot compassion. I don't know.