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17.9.04

Vengeance By Outing

I think both Hugo Schwyzer and Abiola Lapite (make sure to see their further remarks in comments) have basically the right take on the tactic of outing closeted politicians who support anti-gay measures. Here's Lapite's take in his comment section:

I do think it acceptable to "out" people who go about crusading against homosexuality, but I don't see how the case of someone like Dreier could ever be rationalized to fit that schema. His refusal to oppose the FMA isn't what I'd call wise, but it is no more a sign of hypocrisy or self-hatred in my eyes than is some black person's opposition to affirmative-action. ...

I suppose what really gets me about this "outing" campaign is the underlying assumption that there is only one right way that a gay politician is supposed to think and vote, and that any wavering from that line makes one fair game for harrassment.


In other words, it's justifiable (though not necessarily pragmatically effective) to point out that a politician's personal life is at odds with his or her public pronouncements when the person engages in activity that he or she wishes to make illegal. It's not justifiable when the person's private life makes him or her part of a group that the accuser believes would be hurt by his or her policies. In other words, having gay sex while advocating a ban on sodomy is grounds for outing. Having gay sex while advocating a ban on gay marriage is not. If the latter were the case, then John Kerry would be a huge hypocrite for advocating higher taxes for millionaires.

There are two things that bother me about the outing campaigns. One is emotional. When I read pro-outing posts, I can imagine the writer waving their arms and yelling "oh yeah! Snap!" That kind of gloating schadenfreude is very disturbing to me -- perhaps because in general vengeance isn't an emotion that resonates with me, or perhaps just because I haven't been exposed to enough homophobia to develop a taste for sweet revenge against gay rights opponents.

The second thing is that it places this special burden on members of an oppressed group to act in ways approved by the critic's view of their interests -- something we also see, for example, in the agonizing about "why do those stupid rednecks vote for Republicans, who favor the wealthy?" I can understand the expectation that members of a group would have a special motivation to hold a certain view, but that doesn't mean they have a greater responsibility to do so. Same sex marriage would be just as banned regardless of whether the people who voted for it were straight or gay. If the cause of gay rights is just, then heterosexuals are morally bound to support it.

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