Thursday, October 19, 2006

On Political "Outing"

While browsing gay blogland recently, I ran across of poll in which readers were asked to vote and comment on whether various hypothetical examples of closeted political figures should be “outed,” or have their homosexuality publicly exposed. The results of this poll, which was most likely inspired by the revelation that the avowedly homophobic Republican Party is riddled with powerful gays, were overwhelmingly in favor of “outing” gay political figures who support anti gay policies and legislation. I can’t go along with this. In fact, I find this attitude somewhat disturbing.

Make no mistake about it. My gut reaction would be to buy billboards, television time, and even a skywriting plane to expose their hypocrisy. But there are some important principles involved that we can’t allow ourselves to compromise, no matter how sweet the vengeance or great the immediate political gain.

“Outing” denies the individual’s right to a private life. Everyone, including political figures, has a right to a private life as long as that private life does not involve any illegal or seriously unethical behavior. Denying public figures a right to this privacy is a tactic that seems to have been invented by the radical right; of course, the most spectacular case was the Republicans’ exploitation of Clinton’s private life in the Monica Lewinsky affair. Aside from the ethical and philosophical issues involved, has America really benefited by bringing the details of people’s personal lives into politics?

Gay Republicans supporting anti gay measures are, of course, hypocrites. But regardless of any hypocrisies that may be involved, what should matter to the public is the person’s public record. Turning the political tables, we can ask ourselves what difference it makes if a congressman hasn’t any gay friends if he strongly supports gay rights legislation? Are we really going to try to destroy politically a tireless fighter for ecology if we find out that his windows aren’t double- glazed. If we want to protect the right to privacy for people whose positions we agree with, we have to do the same for those whose positions we abhor.

Equally important, any victory we would attain by “outing” would probably be short lived, since we would be attacking and destroying only the carrier, and not the disease. What is important is to convince the electorate of the wrongness of homophobia, not just of the hypocrisy of the homophobes. We may politically kill off a few homophobes, but the disease they carry will continue to plague us until we defeat the idea itself.

Moreover, trying to defeat an idea by attacking the personal qualities of its proponents is, of course, intellectually very dangerous. It sets precedents, or continues practices that we really would not want to live with. Ad hominem arguments are intellectually impossibly shabby. We have perfectly sound grounds with which to attack homophobia; we don’t need to debase ourselves with ad hominem arguments.

I can, of course, understand those who say that we have to fight fire with fire; the Republicans began the practice of dredging up aspects of political opponents’ sex lives. It might be emotionally gratifying to give them some of their own medicine. But do we really want to develop a political culture that operates on that level? It’s not just a question of rejecting the idea of the end’s justifying the means; it’s a question of debasing the whole level of political discourse. You can’t build a just society using such shoddy bricks.

In another post I said that we all, and every gay rights organization worth its salt, should apply as much pressure as possible to gay Republicans to get them to leave the party or at least publicly renounce the party’s homophobic stance. But legitimate pressure is one thing; blackmail is quite a different matter.

Monday, October 16, 2006

On gay activism and identity

Recent events have brought up to me once again the issue of gay activism. I am generally not prone to feeling of guilt on a non- personal level; I am generally satisfied with my level of compliance with civic responsibilities. But I am quite aware that the freedoms my partner and I now enjoy, a life in which the nature of our relationship is known to all who are interested and we are respected members of a mixed gay/ straight society (in fact, mostly straight), are the product of years of struggle and sacrifice on the part of many of our gay brothers. Both of us have been quite active in promoting the rights of other groups and minorities, and I myself have been involved with the Democratic Party during the 2004 campaign; so we are not exactly apolitical and distant from social issues. Yet we have nothing for the cause of gay rights. I don’t feel very good about this.

It’s not only a question of shirking political and civic responsibility. The implications of why I have not been involved with gay activism are not easy to face. As I know from my years as a Jewish activist (low key, but nevertheless out there), being an effective activist for the rights of a minority group in which one is also a member requires pretty much full self acceptance of one’s identity within that group.

As a Jewish activist I had not only to have emotionally dealt with any feelings of self hate that growing up in a mildly anti-Semitic environment may have provoked, I had to be willing to be identified with segments of the group not only whose ideas but also whose public image was radically different from mine. I belonged to the fully secular, even anti religious, leftist, university educated (and snobbishly elitist), Israel questioning wing of the Jewish community, and had to stand shoulder to shoulder with Jewish groups radically different from my own not only in content, but --- even more difficult--- in form and public appearance, including cassock clad, forelock wearing, religiously obsessed, homophobic Hassidic Jews. I have not only to defend their rights but also be socially identified with them. This is not the place for me to go into the trials and tribulations of carrying this off, but I think you know where I am heading here: I was--- or at least made myself--- sufficiently self accepting as a Jew; I’m not sure I’m there yet as a gay man.

I feel I can claim sincerely to be at total peace with myself as a masculine (not macho), straight acting, monogamous, homosexual man. I will give my partner a peck on the cheek or even on the lips at a train or bus station, but no more extreme public displays of affection--- but since my partner is from Milan and very socially reserved, he would probably not make out with someone in public even if he were straight, and since I also tend to be a rather private person, I don’t think I would, either. In short, we are pretty comfortable with our own image of what a gay man is.

I’ll go one step further: I don’t have any problem being with or befriending gay people with more radical gay images. I have close acquaintanceships with both rather effeminate men and with leatherboys. I am also quite aware that it was the “queens” who rioted and went to jail during the Stonewall period, not the straight acting, socially more acceptable gay men of my lifestyle. We all owe the “queens” both thanks and respect. Courage has nothing to do with machismo. But it is true that while I socialize with gay men with non- conventional images, I do, in fact, prefer to see them in a gay environment.

I of course have never hesitated to carry on a conversation in public with a nellie or leather clad friend, even if I was also with straight friends or colleagues. But I have to confess that my comfort level was not the same as it would have been in a gay environment or without the straights’ being present. I haven’t run away from such situations, but I don’t quite take them in my stride. As I said, I’m not quite there yet.

More difficult for me still is to deal with the rejection of my rather reserved and outwardly “tame” life style by those whose version of gay is either exclusivist or “in your face.” There is a sector of the gay leather community that is open and friendly to all comers, but there is another that is highly exclusivist that will, by policy, “ice” anyone they perceive to be outside of their narrowly defined group. I understand that since they are they are involved in potentially dangerous practices, they must know and be comfortable with people with whom they associate, but confronted with these guys, I feel as rejected as I did when a Hassidic Jew bearing forelocks and pale from studying the Talmud 12 hours a day, told me that I, as a secular Jew, am personally responsible for delaying the coming of the Messiah.

“Queens” are mercifully tolerant of more “up tight” guys such as myself and my partner (They are still probably the most effectively politicized segment of the gay community), but the more flamboyantly polyandrous guys (I have the impression that “promiscuous” is no longer politically correct.) tend to be moderately to severely scornful of those of us monogamous guys whose life patterns they see as running too parallel to those of conventional, straight society. I have no problem in engaging these guys in an intellectual exchange on this matter, in which they may have, admitted, some very valid points. Their position, however, tends to involve social and emotional rejection of gay men with a more conventional life pattern.

Of course, if it were only a case of my own personal relationship with guys in these groups, it wouldn’t present much of a problem. I could cope as well as I could with being rejected or my own tendencies to reject on the basis of style and image, hoping that I would handle the situation better next time. But being an activist for a minority group means that you must be comfortable with all these groups and issues in order to be effective. Of course, it doesn’t at all mean that you have to be in agreement or share the position of all factions within the group; but you can’t feel threatened personally by the situation. And, as I said, I’m not quite there yet.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Gay Republicans II

For those of us who don't have access to the New York Times, I reproduce here Frank Rich's excellent article in today's (Oct. 15) edition. The only objection I have is one of tone. Rich's tone is serious, but jocular. I can't even crack a cynical smile at the spectacle of a substantial number of powerful gay men working to perpetrate, continue and even intensify the persecution of gay people in America. It is time now for the gay community as a whole, every gay rights organization worth its salt, to repudiate these "scabs." The argument that it is better to have our own people inside the Republican party, and that they will change the party's homophobic stance from whithin, is absurd. The powerful gays in the Republican party have given absolutely no indication of having that intention. Read Rich's article and weep, guys:

Op-Ed Columnist
TimesSelect The Gay Old Party Comes Out
Published: October 15, 2006

PAGING Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council: Here’s a gay Republican story you probably did not hear last week. On Tuesday a card-carrying homosexual, Mark Dybul, was sworn into office at the State Department with his partner holding the Bible. Dr. Dybul, the administration’s new global AIDS coordinator, was flanked by Laura Bush and Condi Rice. In her official remarks, the secretary of state referred to the mother of Dr. Dybul’s partner as his “mother-in-law.”

Could wedding bells be far behind? It was all on display, photo included, on And while you’re cruising the Internet, a little creative Googling will yield a long list of who else is gay, openly and not, in the highest ranks of both the Bush administration and the Republican hierarchy. The openly gay range from Steve Herbits, the prescient right-hand consultant to Donald Rumsfeld who foresees disaster in Iraq in Bob Woodward’s book “State of Denial,” to Israel Hernandez, the former Bush personal aide and current Commerce Department official whom the president nicknamed “Altoid boy.” (Let’s not go there.)

If anything good has come out of the Foley scandal, it is surely this: The revelation that the political party fond of demonizing homosexuals each election year is as well-stocked with trusted and accomplished gay leaders as virtually every other power center in America. “What you’re really seeing is the Republican Party on the Hill,” says Rich Tafel, the former leader of the gay Log Cabin Republicans whom George W. Bush refused to meet with during the 2000 campaign. “Across the board gay people are in leadership positions.” Yet it is this same party’s Congressional leadership that in 2006 did almost nothing about government spending, Iraq, immigration or ethics reform, but did drop everything to focus on a doomed constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

The split between the Republicans’ outward homophobia and inner gayness isn’t just hypocrisy; it’s pathology. Take the bizarre case of Karl Rove. Every one of his Bush campaigns has been marked by a dirty dealing of the gay card, dating back to the lesbian whispers that pursued Ann Richards when Mr. Bush ousted her as Texas governor in 1994. Yet we now learn from “The Architect,” the recent book by the Texas journalists James Moore and Wayne Slater, that Mr. Rove’s own (and beloved) adoptive father, Louis Rove, was openly gay in the years before his death in 2004. This will be a future case study for psychiatric clinicians as well as historians.

So will Kirk Fordham, the former Congressional aide who worked not only for Mark Foley but also for such gay-baiters as Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma (who gratuitously bragged this year that no one in his family’s “recorded history” was gay) and Senator Mel Martinez of Florida (who vilified his 2004 Republican primary opponent, a fellow conservative, as a tool of the “radical homosexual agenda”). Then again, even Rick Santorum, the Pennsylvania senator who brought up incest and “man-on-dog” sex while decrying same-sex marriage, has employed a gay director of communications. In the G.O.P. such switch-hitting is as second nature as cutting taxes.

As for Mr. Foley, he is no more representative of gay men, whatever their political orientation, than Joey Buttafuoco is of straight men. Yet he’s a useful creep at this historical juncture because his behavior has exposed and will continue to expose a larger dynamic on the right. The longer the aftermath of this scandal continues, with its maniacal finger-pointing and relentless spotlight on the Republican closet, the harder it will be for his party to return to the double-dealing that has made gay Americans election-year bogeymen (and women) for so long.

The moment Mr. Foley’s e-mails became known, we saw that brand of fearmongering and bigotry at full tilt: Bush administration allies exploited the former Congressman’s predatory history to spread the grotesque canard that homosexuality is a direct path to pedophilia. It’s the kind of blood libel that in another era was spread about Jews.

The Family Research Council’s Mr. Perkins, a frequent White House ally and visitor, led the way. “When we elevate tolerance and diversity to the guidepost of public life,” he said on Fox News Channel, “this is what we get — men chasing 16-year-old boys around the halls of Congress.” A related note was struck by The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, which asked, “Could a gay Congressman be quarantined?” The answer was no because “today’s politically correct culture” — tolerance of “private lifestyle choices” — gives predatory gay men a free pass. Newt Gingrich made the same point when he announced on TV that Mr. Foley had not been policed because Republicans “would have been accused of gay bashing.” Translation: Those in favor of gay civil rights would countenance and protect sex offenders.

This line of attack was soon followed by another classic from the annals of anti-Semitism: the shadowy conspiracy. “The secret Capitol Hill homosexual network must be exposed and dismantled,” said Cliff Kincaid of Accuracy in Media, another right-wing outfit that serves as a grass-roots auxiliary to the Bush administration. This network, he claims, was allowed “to infiltrate and manipulate the party apparatus” and worked “behind the scenes to sabotage a conservative pro-family agenda in Congress.”

There are two problems with this theory. First, gay people did not “infiltrate” the party apparatus — they are the party apparatus. Rare is the conservative Republican Congressional leader who does not have a gay staffer wielding clout in a major position. Second, any inference that gay Republicans on the Hill conspired to cover up Mr. Foley’s behavior is preposterous. Mr. Fordham, the gay former Foley aide who spent Thursday testifying under oath about his warnings to Denny Hastert’s staff, is to date the closest this sordid mess has to a whistle-blower, however tardy. So far, the slackers in curbing Mr. Foley over the past three years seem more straight than gay, led by the Buffalo Congressman Tom Reynolds, who is now running a guilt-ridden campaign commercial desperately apologizing to voters.

A Washington Post poll last week found that two-thirds of Americans believe that Democrats would behave just as badly as the Hastert gang in covering up a scandal like this to protect their own power. They are no doubt right. But the reason why the Foley scandal has legs — and why it has upstaged most other news, from the Congressional bill countenancing torture to North Korea’s nuclear test — is not just that sex trumps everything else in a tabloid-besotted America. The Republicans, unlike most Democrats (Joe Lieberman always excepted), can’t stop advertising their “family values,” which is why their pitfalls are as irresistible as a Molière farce. It was entertaining enough to learn that the former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed wanted to go “humping in corporate accounts” with the corrupt gambling lobbyist Jack Abramoff. The only way that comic setup could be topped was by the news that Mr. Foley was chairman of the Missing and Exploited Children’s Caucus. It beggars the imagination that he wasn’t also entrusted with No Child Left Behind.

Cultural conservatives who fell for the G.O.P.’s pious propaganda now look like dupes. Tonight on “60 Minutes,” David Kuo, a former top official in the administration’s faith-based initiatives program, is scheduled to discuss his new book recounting how evangelical supporters were privately ridiculed as “nuts” in the White House. If they have any self-respect, they’ll exact their own revenge.

We must hope as well that this crisis will lead to a repudiation of the ritual targeting of gay people for sport at the top levels of the Republican leadership in and out of the White House. For all the president’s talk of tolerance and “compassionate conservatism,” he has repeatedly joined Congress in wielding same-sex marriage as a club for divisive political purposes. He sat idly by while his secretary of education, Margaret Spellings, attacked a PBS children’s show because an animated rabbit visited a lesbian couple and their children. Ms. Spellings was worried about children being exposed to that “lifestyle” — itself a code word for “deviance” — even as the daughter of the vice president was preparing to expose the country to that lifestyle in a highly promoted book.

“The hypocrisy, the winking and nodding is catching up with the party,” says Mr. Tafel, the former Log Cabin leader. “Republicans must welcome their diversity as the party of Lincoln or purge the party of all gays. The middle ground — we’re a diverse party but we can bash gays too — will no longer work.” He adds that “the ironic point is that the G.O.P. isn’t as homophobic as it pretends to be.” Indeed two likely leading presidential competitors in 2008, John McCain and Rudy Giuliani, are consistent supporters of gay civil rights.

Another ironic point, of course, is that the effort to eradicate AIDS, led by a number of openly gay appointees like Dr. Dybul, may prove to be the single most beneficent achievement of this beleaguered White House. To paraphrase a show tune you’re unlikely to hear around the Family Research Council, isn’t that queer?

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Gay Republicans

On Oct. 8 the NY Times ran an article on how the Foley case is causing panic among gay Republicans in Washington. It seems that a large number of powerful Republican congressional aids are gay. On Oct. 5 in the Guardian, Sydney Blumenthal called the group of Republican congressional aids the largest walk in closet in Washington.

I don't know whether to be more horrified by an impending anti gay witch hunt or by being made aware that there are so many, so powerful gay Republicans.

The gay Republicans justify their position by claiming that they are fiscal and even social conservatives, but want to change the Republican party's anti gay stance. I can't buy that position, especially since gay Republicans have been instrumental in drafting and promoting anti gay policies and legislation. Their role can be explained only by their own self loathing and selfish pursuit of power and career gains.

But perhaps we shouldn't be all that surprised. Gays are no different from any other persecuted minority. Historically, there have frequently been members of the persecuted group who have gone over to the side of the oppressors. As I have mentioned in comments on other posts, Torquemada, the most feared of the Spanish inquisitors, was a converted Jew. I work in a field dealing with political, social, and racial persecution, and my work gives me, unfortunately, an opportunity to see examples of this "turncoating" regularly.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

The Foley Affair--- Are Americans still so uncomfortable with sex?

The Foley affair now raging in the US makes me rather uneasy. Make no mistake; Foley is a self loathing hypocrite; I am also, of course, delighted that the Republicans are taking a hit, but the issue threatens to be exploited by the right in their anti gay campaign, as noted by the NY Times editorial of 5 Oct. Pat Buchanan, for example, used the Foley affair as an occasion to remark absurdly that there is a proclivity toward child abuse among homosexuals. Furthermore, the manner in which the whole discourse around the Foley affair is couched makes me suspect that not as much has been accomplished by the so called sexual revolution that supposedly started about 40 years ago.

The real issue here is not Foley’s sexual orientation, but rather that a man who made political hay out of an anti- pedophilia campaign has, in fact, documented pedophile tendencies himself. (Calling 16 year olds children, especially since 16 year olds are allowed to marry in many states --- and many have already engaged in sex with their contemporaries--- is absurd, but that is how Foley himself defined the issue in his anti pedophilia campaign.) Foley's "crime," as it were, is essentially hypocritical political exploitation of a sensationalistic topic.

He is morally reprehensible, but it is, in fact, unclear that Foley committed any crime for which he could be charged: The e mail messages were suggestive, but neither obscene nor graphic. Moreover, although Foley is being portrayed as a child molester, there, as yet, been no indication that he ever so much as touched any of the pages. There was no physical, much less sexual contact.

The argument of unfair exercise of power is also doubtful, since none of the pages concerned worked directly for Foley, and he, as far as I know, in no way attempted to coerce them. Moreover, the work environment hardly entailed a boss/ employee relationship in which sexual harassment could take place.

The congressional pages are not dependent for their livelihood upon their income from that work, nor is service as a congressional page an essential part of a career trajectory. Therefore, it is not at all clear that a page would have suffered damaging consequences if he had simply asked Foley to stop messaging him or even if he had taken more serious action against him. It seems, moreover, that pages have, in fact, complained about the messages, and while no action was taken against Foley, no action seems to have been taken against the complaining pages, either. To be presecutible, harassment and abuse of power have to have consequences. There don't seem to have been any here.

I hardly want to be in the position of defending Mr. Foley. As I said, he is a self- loathing hypocrite. But he is more pathetic than detestable; he was obviously self destructive enough to put his future in the hands of adolescents, without any reason to trust that they would keep his confidence. He may even have been sufficiently arrogant to believe that these teenagers would have been so taken with his charm and position that they would not take any action against him. Mr. Foley, however, in the world of politics, has no monopoly on the sin of arrogance.

His actions, then, while hypocritical, inappropriate, morally reprehensible, and outright stupid, hardly seem to be criminal. Nevertheless, he is being portrayed by both parties and even in the more responsible press as a full- fledged child molester whose homosexuality is stressed at every turn. As the Times editorial mentioned above brought out, there are many more important scandals involved with this congress and administration that have received considerably less notice. Nevertheless, Americans seem to be transfixed by the Foley affair, as they were by the Monica Lewinsky affair during the Clinton administration. And here, there wasn't even any documentable sexual activity involved!

That the Democrats are making as much political hay out of this affair as possible is understandable, but that the Republicans are eager to enflame the situation even more, constantly stressing Foley’s sexual orientation, seems to be a very ominous sign. Moreover, even the gay community seems eager to rush in to condemn Foley as a vicious sexual predator, not just as a legislative and political hypocrite. Should we really be buying into this?