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Allison Hope Headshot

Is It OK to Out Someone?

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News of journalist Itay Hod trying to out Congressman Aaron Schock is rocking the airwaves. While indications (and gaydar) point towards this legislatively homophobic Illinois official's potentially contrasting homo attributes, the whole story begs the question: is it OK to out someone?

The question is an ethical one for sure, and is quite nuanced.

"We've been so effective at convincing everyone that outing people is a crime against humanity, that we've made it impossible for any network or news organization to talk about this 'hypothetical' gay republican congressman and his hypocritical vote against gay rights," said Hod in his Facebook post that's getting a lot of play.

Most of us would say that no one has the right to out a private individual who doesn't judge others or throw hate. But the standards (and the law) are different for public figures. We've decided as a culture that public figures don't have the same right to privacy as the average individual, and we scrutinize everything from their choice in shoes to their choice in lovers. We publish pictures of celebrities buying milk at the grocery store and believe we have a right to comment on their morning hair.

We take even more liberty when it comes to judging the personal decisions of politicians. If we suspect that their private lives don't match their public votes, we call them on their shit. And don't we have every right to do so? We elected them to office after all, and we expect those who represent us at the highest levels and who make decisions on our behalf to live at least as genuinely and consistently as their constituents. When so-called role models like religious leaders or politicians are deceptive and mismanagement of their personal lives seeps into policymaking that threatens our livelihood, we get mad.

While I'm all for exposing hypocrisy, the concern with outing someone else is evident in Hod's statement. "Hypothetical gay" is as far as he can responsibly go because identity is only as true as the person who claims it as their own. Until Congressman Schock schedules his confessional press conference and apology (which I anticipate and hope is soon to follow), we can't in good conscience claim his identity for him. As self-righteous as us out and proud queers feel, there was a time when we too were scared and not ready to come out (even if we were four years old), and it wouldn't have been fair if someone dragged us out of the closet before we were ready.

"Doesn't the media have an OBLIGATION to expose his hypocrisy?" Hod wrote in the post. "If he had done something so hypocritical and he wasn't gay, wouldn't we demand journalists do their job? but they can't... because we won't let them. you're not allowed to out ANYONE, we tell them."

I'll sit here and yell aloud in my living room for any number of celebrities that I'm sure are gay to come out. The more respected public figures (and the rest of us) who come out, the more authentic and accepting the world will be of diversity. But as a responsible journalist, I won't publish evidence that doesn't fully add up about someone's personal identity no matter how vile they might be. The news media can fault public figures and elected officials for bad policy, but outing someone feels just one step too far in the direction of invasive speculation.

I'll wait for the prostitute to come forward and admit his client is a well-known religious figure who's been doing bumps of cocaine off his ass, or a senator's intern who says his boss has been assigning more than just paper filing. Because gay always comes out in the wash, and I believe the truth will prevail. And the truth is that much sweeter when it comes out in its own, dysfunctional way in its own due time.

Do you think it's OK to out someone?