Closet of lies
"Washington is a pinker town than San Francisco," according to the documentary film "Outrage." Dick Kirby, the director of the film about American politicians in the closet, explains: "Maybe this isn't really true in terms of the percentage of the population but it is a city with a lot of gays and lesbians and during the conservative period of George Bush this was no less true than when Democratic presidents were in office. In fact, there's an identical number of gays in each of the parties."
This is strange, he says, because for two decades now the Republican position has become much more extreme and aligned with fundamentalist Christians, whose declared aim is crushing gay rights. Thus, the revelation that a Republican politician is gay can wipe him out politically.
Dick is an American documentary filmmaker (director, producer, screenwriter and editor). In 2004, he was nominated for an Oscar for "Twist of Faith" about a man who as a choir boy was sexually abused by priests. In 2006, he directed "This Film is Not Yet Rated," a fascinating and amusing documentary about the Motion Picture Association of America's system of rating and censoring movies, which, like his previous film, revealed the hypocrisy of excessively powerful organizations. The film's main claim is that the organization turns a blind eye to violence but takes care to censor gender/sexual content, especially concerning homosexuality and women's empowerment.
His interest in these topics led him to his new film, "Outrage," from 2009, which will be broadcast on Yes Doco on Saturday at 9:30.
Like his previous films, "Outrage" is wide-ranging, well-based and an eye-opener. It is about conservative American politicians who, says the film, are closeted gays and vote against legislation granting rights to gays and lesbians. For example, current Florida Governor Charlie Crist, who was one of the possible vice presidential picks for John McCain's ticket; David Dreier, once a leading candidate to be House Republican majority leader; Ken Mehlman, Bush's 2004 campaign manager and former chairman of the Republican National Committee; former New York mayor Ed Koch (the only Democrat in the film, who has been criticized for not doing more for gays and lesbians as mayor); former Idaho senator Larry Craig, who left public life after being caught soliciting sex from a policemen in a public men's room - and others.
Yes to privacy, no to hypocrisy
Along with proof of their fondness for members of their own sex, Dick shows the politicians voting on constitutional issues and how they have voted against same-sex marriage, adoption rights for gays and lesbians and their inclusion in legislation against hate crimes. The film's motto is spoken by Representative Barney Frank of Massachusetts, a Democrat and out of the closet gay: "There is a right to privacy, but there is no right to hypocrisy."
Dick integrates scenes from the series "Angels in America" by playwright-screenwriter Tony Kushner, which deals with the AIDS crisis in the United States in the 1980s. There, Al Pacino plays the power-hungry and hypocritical Roy Cohen, Sen. Joseph McCarthys' famous right-hand man in his witch-hunt for Communists and the prosecution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. Even when Cohn is dying of AIDS, he denies he is gay. The point: Republican politicians who are closeted gays are not a new phenomenon.
Many politicians, says Dick, are born into families with a political identification and identify first with the politics, with the party, even before their sexual understanding. When they acknowledge their sexual preference, they don't think about switching parties. They think they will overcome "their problem."
Michelangelo Signorile, a writer and radio broadcaster who is interviewed in the film, provides a psychological explanation. When he was a child, he relates, his friends would tease him about being gay so to prove this wasn't true, he would join them in beating up other gays. This is what closet Republicans are doing today, he says, when they are anti-gay.
According to the film, the media in the capital (atypically) maintain a conspiracy of silence. Dick says there are journalists who think that the fact someone is gay is a negative thing and they try to "protect" him. Or they fear the access they have to certain politician will be blocked if they reveal his tendencies, so they remain silent. This is very cynical. Often the journalists do want to write about this but the organizations they belong to, all sorts of corporations, have various interests in the capital and prevent the publication of the information. According to Dick, the film has had an influence on the American media. "Newspapers like The New York Times and others have reported about this and have named the politicians. The Washington Post still isn't doing this."
The film outs politicians and in one controversial case a television personality from the Fox Network, which is identified with the American right. Is it correct, in Dick's opinion, also to out movie stars or famous musicians because they are role models?
"We focused on decision makers. Of course, it's good if someone who is a famous actor comes out of the closet because he serves as a model but in this film the aim was only to expose hypocrisy among decision makers."
One of the most interesting moments in the film belongs to Dina Matos McGreevey, the ex-wife of the former governor of New Jersey. There is an Israeli angle to the affair of his exit from the closet: He came out after his male Israeli adviser accused him of sexual harassment. The former governor is interviewed in the film, and in a separate segment his ex-wife explains the customary place of "the always good and faithful wife." She replies frankly when asked why she went along with his deception. First of all, she didn't know about it, she says; she, too, was a victim of his concealment. "It was his choice to conceal his identity. Not mine. I didn't know this. I had not been married before and a didn't know what the usual frequency of sexual relations is. That's what I knew." She speaks convincingly.
Dick agrees and says she embodies the price of the closet. Not only the politician suffers but also his mate. As usual in Washington, there is an unexpected development. Recently Dina Matos McGreevey announced she does not support gay marriage. Dick says that as he worked on the film, there was a feeling that the idea of recognizing same-sex marriage was making progress. But things only got worse. He says: "I think President Barack Obama has to do a lot more on this issue. It's clear he has a lot of things to deal with before that, but this doesn't mean he shouldn't do the right thing on this issue now. It will not harm his future."