Back in 2004, Maryland's first female senator, Barbara Mikulski, was outed as being a lesbian when she wouldn't say that she opposed the Federal Amendment Act, a law that would have banned gay marriage on a national and constitutional level.
According to a July 2004 article in The Washington Blade, Michael Rogers, a D.C. blogger, spoke of Mikulski's sexual orientation as being lesbian not for mere prurient interests but perhaps for purer ones. Rogers' Web site is BlogActive, and what BlogActive does is point out the hypocrisy of secretly, gay politicians who support or vote in favor of legislation in Congress that denies gay rights.
Call it self-hatred, internalized homophobia, or being a gay Uncle Tom, but there are actually gay politicians who vote to deny rights to other gay people. They essentially vote against their own, and, in order to defend their hypocrisy, they pretend to be hetereosexual, or in effect, lie. That's the case Rogers was building against Mikulski.
Sadly, Mikulski was not an isolated case. Rogers has a long list of politicians who hide their gay hypocrisy. Rogers has, in fact, made it his mission to expose those politicians and call them out on whom they truly are. In this movie, Rogers is aided by Michaelangelo Signorile. Signorile is a writer and national talk show host on Sirius radio who got the ball rolling back in 1993 when he published his book Queer in America. The book provided the first argument for why the homosexuality of public officials should be known, an argument that Rogers wholly supports.
This documentary by Oscar-nominated director Kirby Dick follows the efforts of Rogers to push that argument, efforts that kicked into high gear during the 2004 election. The film opens, however, in 2007 when Senator Larry Craig, a Republican from Idaho, was arrested. We hear the police audio recordings of Craig's interrogation and the interrogator who accuses Craig of soliciting gay sex in a men's bathroom at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport.
Craig denied any wrongdoing and in an interview with Matt Lauer denied being gay. However, Rogers insists that Craig is gay. Some might dismiss him as a crazy blogger or an online smear merchant, and if this one allegation were all Rogers had, I might be inclined to agree. But, in December 2007, Craig's hometown newspaper The Idaho Statesman reported the names of four gay men who claim to have had gay sex with the senator. CBS News subsequently picked up the story and found four additional men claiming the same. Rogers has this, as well as other gay sex scandals involving Craig, dating back to 1955.
Back in 1955, talking about homosexuality was way more taboo, and for men like Craig or women like Mikulski who came from that era, they most likely still carry that taboo. Being gay was certainly seen as taboo back then. It's more accepted today, but the documentary points out there are still hate crimes being perpetrated against gays, especially young gays, even now. One such hate crime was recently reported in Baltimore, but, several cases, which have resulted in death, have been logged in the past year all around the country.
That mixed with the lingering taboo makes the reasoning for hiding one's homosexuality somewhat understandable. It would almost make it OK if again the hypocrisy aspect didn't factor into the equation. It's fine to keep the fact that you're homosexual private, but undermining those who don't is what's objectionable here. No time did it get more objectionable than during the Reagan administration, which according to this film had a ton of closeted gay men who many people feel helped Reagan to undermine the gay community when it came to the AIDS crisis.
While there are clearly, closeted Democrats, the bulk of the politicians put on display here are Republicans. If there were a party that was less accepting of gays, it would be the GOP. Rich Tafel, a Log Cabin Republican, addresses this and how even fellow party members shun gay right-wingers. Through the outing of Jim McCrery, a Louisiana congressman, it becomes clear that if you want to go far in the GOP, or have any power at all, you'd better not be gay. Not being a regular churchgoer doesn't help either.
Yet, apparently, not just the GOP, but even within conservative-leaning news organizations, it doesn't help to be gay. Ask Shepherd Smith of FOX News. When it comes to news organizations, however, the filmmakers make the argument that there's a conspiracy among them to hide the truth.
Signorile's attempts to out Malcolm Forbes, the late publisher of Forbes magazine, and Bill Maher's attempt to out Ken Mehlman, the former chairman to the Republican National Committee, are cited as examples. Both attempts were stifled. Forbes obituary had to be corrected. Maher's comments on live TV had to be edited. I'm not sure I'm as convinced about this conspiracy. Lately, obituaries of celebrities like Dom DeLuise and Merv Griffin have made notes of their homosexuality.
The filmmakers even go to the Sunshine State and follow Bob Norman, a reporter for the Broward New Times, who worked on the Mark Foley story as well as the Charlie Crist story. Crist is the current governor of Florida who opposed gay adoption, despite Norman's sources who claim to have had gay sex with the governor. Foley was a Florida congressman who fell into scandal after he sent sexually explicit emails to male pages.
Even though he's not mentioned in this movie, Sam Adams, the mayor of Portland, Oregon, fell into a similar scandal. Only, Adams went as far as actually having an affair with his page, Bill Clinton-style. Foley later admitted he was gay, but the rest deny their homosexual tendencies with the thought if they don't, something terrible will happen.
But, what I like about this movie is that it provides opposite examples. This documentary shows us many gay activists who cleverly comment on the hypocrisies of closeted politicians and who drop insight on how politics are like a Broadway show or how D.C. is as gay as San Francisco only more closeted, but it also triumphantly provides us with the words of closeted politicians who are closeted no more, and how their worlds didn't end.
We hear from James McGreevey, who in November 2004, resigned as governor of New Jersey after revealing in a stunning national press conference that he was gay, marking him as the first and only, openly gay state governor. We hear from Rich Tafel, Barney Frank, and Jim Kolbe. These men are politicians who now proudly or at least comfortably talk about their homosexuality. They talk about the stigma and the shame that they felt, and how they overcame it. They also talk how relieved and how much happier they became as a result of being open and honest.
Some of those men are still serving as public officials, so obviously their candid confessions haven't hindered their careers. No better case of that locally is the election of Jim Ireton as mayor of Salisbury, Md. The 39-year-old won the election in April 2009, becoming Salisbury's first openly gay mayor. With Iowa's recent law granting same sex marriage, it's another sign that rural and small-town America is coming around... and coming out.
Five Stars out of Five
Unrated but recommended for mature audiences
Running Time: 1 hr. and 30 mins.