September 02, 2007

Debate on the Merits of Outing

There is a debate that is posted on the Newsweek website that I think readers here will be interested in.

The participants are Michelangelgo Signorile, author and host of a talk program on Sirius OutQ radio and Chris Crain, author and former editor of a block of gay newspapers like the Washington Blade. The topic is the ethics of "outing" public officials, especially anti-gay ones. Here are some excerpts, but I suggest you check out the whole debate:

Signorile: I think reporters, editors and news producers are gradually seeing the importance and the relevance of looking into this issue with regard to public figures. If people are going to make other people’s lives into campaign issues by promoting "family values," then it is right to look into issues relevant to their own lives.

Crain: (Idaho Statesman reporter Dan) Popkey spent months interviewing anyone familiar with gay life in Washington, D.C., including me, asking questions about where closeted men cruise for sex. This is a witch hunt, not legitimate journalism.

Crain: They will go after anyone whose private sex life is, according to them, inconsistent with their public views. In some cases, "outing" activists including you, Mike, have gone after nonpoliticians and even openly gay and pro-gay public figures if their private sex lives are deemed inconsistent with their public views. Anonymous ads on online sex sites have been exposed, and the claims of alleged past sex partners have been sought and published. These activists have no boundaries when it comes to the private sex lives of public figures, and they would drag the media into the bedrooms, toilets and phone-sex chat lines with them. It's not legitimate journalism, it invades the privacy of public figures, and (whether they realize it or not) it smears gay people generally by reinforcing the idea that we're all out there furtively looking for anonymous sex.

Signorile: Some people adhere only to the hypocrisy test; others, like me, are about normalizing sexual orientation in journalism and not keeping homosexuality as the dirty little secret while heterosexuality is glamorized. For me, a public figure's homosexuality should be reported on when relevant to a larger story, just as when heterosexuality is reported on or asked about whenever relevant.

Personally, I agree with Signorile. Public figures put themselves out there and often trade on publicity they seek. I believe the flip side to that is puting relevant parts of their lives under scrutiny, particularly but not exclusively when their public positions are inconsistent with how they live their lives.

If you want to hide something about your life, you should stay out of the spotlight. If you chose to put yourself out there for public consumption, in today's society you need to be prepared to deal with the consequences.

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