GAY FILM REVIEWS BY MICHAEL D. KLEMM
Rated R, 94 minutes
"There's a right to privacy," states out Congressman Barney Frank, "but there's no right to hypocrisy." This is the theme of Outrage, a 2009 documentary by Kirby Dick (This Film Has Not Yet Been Rated), that examines the loathsome phenomenon of closeted politicians who live a secret gay life while, at the same time, abusing their power by spewing homophobic venom and voting against gay civil rights.
|An investigative report that mixes prominent talking heads with news footage from various media, Outrage spills the beans on a number of politicians known, or believed, to be closeted. It also tells the stories of the crusading journalists and activists who go after them. Acting almost as a master of ceremonies is Michael Rogers, a gay activist who outs closeted politicians on blogActive.com. Rogers calls them "traitors to [his] people." He makes it his policy not to out people who just happen to be gay; he only goes after those who work against the community that they are supposed to protect.|
Outrage covers territory that will be familiar to anyone in the gay community who has been following politics for any length of time, but much of this should prove eye-opening to the population at large. Some will be shocked to learn that such elected officials would betray their own people. A clinical psychologist, interviewed for the film, describes how closeted gays often have such internalized homophobia that one of the ways that they feel better about themselves is by aligning with the very forces who would do them harm. Thus, they speak out, and legislate, against gay rights in order to deflect attention from themselves and this amounts to institutionalized hypocrisy.
|Several of the film's talking heads report that there are more closeted officials than most people realize. Lobbyist Tom Sheridan reports that directly underneath the 2004 election, and all the anti-gay rhetoric, there was a cadre of gay people. Another remarks that Washington is gayer than San Francisco and that there are so many gay staffers that "You can't swing a dead cat without hitting [one.]"|
|Rodger McFarlane, former Executive Director of Gay Men's Health Crisis, is quite adamant when he insists that the closet kills. "Before AIDS, we were concerned with privacy. After AIDS, that was collusion with genocide," he explains, referring to officials who failed their responsibility to respond to the health crisis because they were too busy hiding in the closet. McFarlane cites a prominent politician "dancing at The Flamingo on the weekends and propping up the most right wing homophobes by day." Outrage argues that these individuals should be exposed before they can do any more harm.|
|An early title card states, perhaps a bit sensationally, that "there exists a brilliantly orchestrated conspiracy to keep gay and lesbian politicians as closeted as possible. This conspiracy is so powerful the media will not cover it." The film actually shows a concrete example of this when former Politically Incorrect host Bill Maher outs Bush/Cheney campaign manager, Ken Mehlman, to Larry King on CNN. The original broadcast, is shown, and is followed by a re-broadcast that edits out the reference to Mehlman. This, apparently, is not an isolated incident. Rich Tafel, Former Executive Director of the Log Cabin Republicans, talks about reporters being gay but, because they are part of the Washington culture, they stay in the closet and don't report gay issues. Ironically, when Outrage was reviewed for NPR, the news organization's editors removed the names of the officials who were cited in the film, thus unintentionally adding credence to Outrage's hypothesis regarding media cowardice and complicity.|
|Am I about to do the same thing? Certainly not. The film begins with the audio tape from Idaho Senator Larry Craig's police interview when he was arrested for soliciting sex in an airport men's room. In 1982, we learn, rumors surfaced that Craig was involved in a sex scandal involving congressmen and teenage pages. Later we see the Republican Senator's voting record on gay rights and he earned a whopping 7%. Other politicians exposed in Outrage include Rep. Ed Schrock, (R) Virginia, whose voice was recorded on an internet chatline seeking hot man on man action (voting record: 0%); Florida Governor Charlie Crist (R) and his many beards; Mayor Ed Koch's response - or lack thereof - during the early years of the AIDS crisis in New York City; and Rep Jim McCrery, (R) Louisiana, who, according to an old college acquaintance, was a gay atheist and liberal before becoming a churchgoing right wing Christian Coalition candidate. We also hear from Jim Kolbe, former US Representative (R) Arizona, former New Jersey Governor James McGreevey and Tammy Baldwin, US House of Representatives (D) Wisconsin - three politicians who came out and felt relieved after finally doing so.|
|Rogers, at one point, discusses California Representative David Dreier (R), whom he calls "a frontline member of a political party hostile to gays." Rogers received a tip to check out "the boyfriend," Brad Smith, Drier's Chief Of Staff. He finds records that they traveled together all over the world but one always arrived one day behind the other - something that would normally raise a red flag to the press. We hear journalist Michelangelo Signorelle asking Drier on his Sirius radio program if he's gay and the congressman evades the question. Other talking heads argue that if Drier was really straight he would just say so instead of dancing around the question; another talks about all the euphemisms and codewords for gay that the press used in describing Drier: confirmed bachelor, conservative bachelor and dapper bachelor. Drier, a frontrunner for the position of House Majority Leader, didn't receive the post because others in power considered him "too moderate." A funny quote from Barney Frank follows: "Yes....in the same sense that I marched in the 'moderate' Pride Parade last summer and went to a 'moderate bar.'"|
|Outing is a controversial practice that has its detractors even within the gay community. Signorelle was an early proponent of outing and he has a lot to say on the subject. David Catania, a gay Washington, DC Councilmember explains how bigoted politicians have been chasing us for years and praises Michael Rogers' crusade to out them all. "This fox chases the hounds," he says, "and they're scared." Dan Gurley, former National Field Director of the Republican National Committee, counters that outing is a fundamentally wrong thing to do because no one knows the journey someone has to take to accept being gay or lesbian. Even journalist Andrew Sullivan, from The Atlantic, expresses sympathy for those that are exposed that way. But Barney Frank is right when he says that people who make the laws should also be subject to them. Catania goes even further when he says that, for pols like Craig "who engage in homosexual activity one minute and then try to write us out of existence the next, there is no punishment harsh enough for them."|
|Whatever your views on outing, take the example of Dan Gurney who was threatened with outing for his role in the 2004 Presidential campaign - which went out of its way to demonize the gay community and misinform the general public about gay marriage. Rogers outed Gurney and then later discovered that Gurley joined the board of Equality North Carolina. "This is why I started my blog," Rogers proudly tells the audience, because Gurney is now using his considerable skills for good rather than evil.|
|Outrage is, ultimately, less concerned with the politics of outing and more about how the hypocrisy of these public figures harms the gay community. This hypocrisy is a longtime tradition. The example of lawyer Roy Cohn is pointed out by McFarlane and by playwright Tony Kushner. Cohn was Senator McCarthy's right hand man during the communist witch hunts in the 1950s (their other favorite targets were homosexuals or "perverts"). The torturous ways in which such closeted gay men will rationalize the ways in which they lie to themselves about their true identity is brilliantly illustrated with a clip from the HBO film of Kusher's Angels in America. Al Pacino, as Cohn, explains to his doctor that he is not a homosexual, he simply "fucks around with guys." To Cohn, a homosexual is someone who cannot get a "pissant anti-discrimination bill" passed because they are nobodies and, unlike Cohn, have "zero clout."|
|Kevin Naff, Editor of The Washington Blade, remarks that being in the closet makes people do "crazy things" - like a Senator reduced to finding sex in a restroom. Tom Sheridan calls being a closeted politician "dangerous" and that "it deeply convolutes your perspective of what's right and wrong. It makes you less genuine." If our leaders aren't true to themselves, how can they possibly be true to us? Rich Tafel says that once you're out of the closet, your delusional thinking falls by the wayside,|
|The results of such self-hatred and subsequent inaction on gay rights is really hammered home during the segment that examines President Bush's call for an amendment to the Constitution to ban gay marriage. Elizabeth Birch, former executive director of The Human Rights Commission, states that the galvanizing issue of gay marriage was a "gift" to conservatives. Kevin Naff calls it "a surreal experience" to watch the State of the Union address and hear the President of the United States attack you and demonize you while the whole world is watching. Gurley says that it was "a gut check for him and all gay Republicans." Neil Guiliano, former mayor of Tempe, states that most attacks against gay people are the result of some public proclamation and by leaders who spew hatred of gay and lesbians. A populace that doesn't know any better just follows their lead. This is followed by a montage of hate crime newscasts and ends with Bush calling on Congress to pass the abominable amendment.|
|Outrage is a serious documentary but, like Michael Moore, Kirby Dick also knows when to inject some humor. How can you not laugh at the hypocrisy when you see Senator Craig on TV calling then President Bill Clinton a "bad, naughty boy," or Ed Koch in a top hat singing "Lullaby of Broadway?" There is a deliciously comic scene where Rogers, on route to Fox News to appear on Sean Hannity's show, practices with his partner in the limo to make sure he is prepared for anything the conservative pundit throws his way. The best howler is a Fox News clip in which the allegedly closeted Shepard Smith talks about Jennifer Lopez returning to her hometown and uses the term "blow job" instead of "block party" after uttering the phrase, "curb job." There are also a number of visual puns, including several phallic shots of the Washington monument, as well as a liberal use of irony in the way the smiling head shots of the offending politicians appear as ghostly images behind their appalling voting records.|
|Much of the film is very sad. Governor McGreevey talks about accepting all the messages of hate while growing up. He believed that being gay really was shameful because he was having sex in rest stops. This, he insists, "becomes unhealthy for the soul." (At this point the film returns to Senator Craig's police interview so that we can hear him deny being gay again). Elizabeth Birch talks about closeted politicians "crying in her arms" because they don't know how to come out.|
|Some might say that this film preaches to the choir, but director Kirby Dick and his authoritative talking heads make a persuasive case as they connect all the dots. A few reviewers claimed that the film's subjects are being slandered by too much rumor and innuendo. It is possible that some of the men who have come forward are lying but this could also be true of the wives who are seen enabling their powerful husbands. Rogers speaks of two men, who were unknown to each other, who came forward with the same damning story about Governor Crist. There is no concrete evidence that Crist is gay but his 1979 marriage lasted only six months, two alleged boy toys both fled Florida during Crist's gubernatorial campaign, and Crist began dating during his campaign only to break up with the woman soon afterwards (when contacted by the filmmakers, she said: "I think I should just keep my mouth shut. Call me in 10 years and I'll tell you a story."|
|Conservative pundits have called Outrage a piece of muckraking. Does the director omit certain details? Yes; for example, there is no mention of the sex scandal that forced Barney Frank to come out so as not to taint his "sainthood." There is also no smoking gun to prove conclusively that Governor Crist is secretly gay. Whether he is or not, Crist seems especially dangerous because he has appointed two Florida Supreme Court justices who strongly oppose gay marriage and he continues to support the ban on gay adoption even after a Florida judge ruled it unconstitutional. Ironic footage of his recent marriage actually becomes scary when a title card announces that Crist is one of the top contenders for the Republican Presidential nomination in 2012. Be afraid, be very afraid.|
The title of Outrage is apropos. As stated by Rogers, McFarland and famed activist author Larry Kramer (who, predictably, is very vocal on this subject): a good activist is driven by rage, responding to something that you know is wrong. If this film doesn't piss you off, then maybe you should check to make sure you have a pulse and that you're not dead.
Oh, and by the way, the film's director is straight.
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