Outing Gay Leaders A Bad Idea

Andrew Sullivan makes a compelling argument against the recent “outings” of allegedly gay Republicans in his TNR piece “Out Rage.”

[O]n the face of it, the obvious hypocrisy of a few does seem to merit accountability. If Congressman Ed Schrock is seeking gay sex on phone lines in Virginia, it’s probably hypocritical for him to be calling for stringent enforcement of the military’s ban on openly gay servicemembers, or for banning marriage rights to his fellow homosexuals. But the key word there is: probably.


[F]rom the outside, it is impossible to know which psycho-sexual malfunction is really operating. Is an Ed Schrock a monster or a coward? Is he in denial or in deep cover? Do his two lives represent a conscious choice for self-advancement–or a coping mechanism for helpless internal conflict? I do not know. But what I do know is that forcing this man to cope with all of this in public, as an exercise in public humiliation and disgrace, is simply and manifestly cruel. And if the gay rights movement is about anything, it should be about the abatement of cruelty. Especially when directed by one gay man toward another.

I’d rather argue that malice can only beget malice; that outing Schrock’s cruelty doesn’t end the cycle; it perpetuates it. Is Ed Schrock now an advocate of gay rights? Is his successor in his Virginia district likely to be any better? All we know now is that a) some gay men are so screwed up that they happily persecute other gays and b) other gay men are happy to persecute them as well. Has this advanced the argument for equal marriage rights? Has it made the story of gay people more understandable and accessible to the straight people we need to persuade? Hardly.

The truth is that in every movement for social change there are bound to be cowards and traitors. Some are merely afraid; others may decide to disagree or take convenient cover; others still may cash in their integrity for advancement. But all these people live in their own private hells, hells which the gay movement is trying, however fitfully, to bring light into. The point is not the hell, but the exit. And every moment we spend obsessing about the enemy within is one moment not spent spreading the message without. The thrill of exposure, the momentary feeling of self-righteousness and power that outing brings, may often surpass in excitement the daily grind of changing minds and witnessing to the truth. But only the grind moves us forward. And everything else ultimately takes us back.

While public figures, by definition, give up some of their privacy as a condition of their position in society, it is not clear to me that they should have to give up all of it. Where one draws the line is problematic. Presumably, somewhere short of revealing things that will ruin people’s lives even though they have essentially nothing to do with public policy.

FILED UNDER: 2004 Election, US Politics, , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. legion says:

    What Andrew fails to appreciate is that a hostile-to-gays member of Congress is no longer in power. While that may or may not justify the invasion of Schrock’s privacy, it certainly must be weighed in the “plus” column…