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.


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