Gay & Lesbian Manners: Is Outing Closeted Legislators Unethical?

11/03/2009 09:20 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Q: I've heard a good bit about the controversial new film Outrage over the past few days, especially the filmmakers' outing of closeted gays in Republican circles. What's the deal on outing? I always thought that members of our community agreed that coming out was a highly personal decision. Is this good manners or bad manners?

A: Well, it's a good question and a timely one as the movie is opening this weekend. As I've written before: "Don't legislate the schedule or the degree of someone's coming out... Coming out is an extremely personal decision." And, in my previous book, The Essential Book of Gay Manners & Etiquette I added: "Outing a colleague - intentionally or unintentionally - is a violation of that person's privacy. Don't do it!"

So, what do we see in this new film by director Kirby Dick, but a hard hitting documentary that squarely takes aim at Republican lawmakers who are believed to be closeted gays. The film's trailer notes that these deep in the closet politicians lead "secret double lives" as they have sex with men but fight against same-sex marriage, vote against AIDS research, and denounce adoptions by LGBT parents. And, indeed, names are named.

To cut to the chase, we have two conflicting values at war here: privacy versus hypocrisy. At the time I wrote Gay Manners - back in the '90s --I often said in interviews that were I to have known that Senator Jesse Helms had had same-sex relationships, I thought it completely appropriate that they be disclosed and that he be outed. The harm his policies caused to LGBT people in this country - for instance, his hatred of gays and his refusal to support AIDS funding initiatives - would have been more than sufficient to outweigh any right to privacy.

Today we have a new cadre of elected leaders who vote against LGBT rights and under cover of dark - or away on vacation - maintain liaisons with same-sex companions. That is the definition of hypocrisy and as gay Congressman Barney Frank says in the film: "People who make the law ought to be subject to the law."

Manners usually takes up on the side of privacy, but when hypocrisy is at play, truthfulness and honesty are our more important companions in our struggle for fairness and equality.

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