“Outrage” is Kirby Dick’s incisive documentary about closeted politicians who vote antigay. However, the purpose of this provocative and important film, which opens today at Ritz theaters, is not about “outing” individuals. Dick eschewed taking a “gotcha” approach to the hot-button subject and has instead made a thoughtful film that not only connects the dots, but also shows how many dots are out there.
The filmmaker specifically profiles closet cases who have exposed themselves or been exposed by others. Like he did in his previous documentary, “This Film Is Not Yet Rated,” in which a lesbian private detective tracked down members of the MPAA rating board, in “Outrage” Dick follows another queer investigator — Michael Rogers of the Web site blogActive.com — to identify the subjects he profiles. In the film, Rogers is described as “the most feared man in Capitol Hill” because of his blog.
Dick focuses squarely on the hypocrisy of politicians who have power and wield it irresponsibly. These Congressmen have voted against gay-marriage acts, denied funds for AIDS research, prevented gays and lesbians from adopting children and stopped the passage of hate-crimes bills intended to protect the rights of queer people. Several powerful scenes in the film depict the consequences of not having laws to protect members of the LGBT community.
“Outrage” opens with the arrest of Idaho Sen. Larry Craig for lewd behavior, and charts the bad behavior of several politicians who have provided evidence of being Janus-faced. The gay rumors about Florida Republican Gov. Charlie Crist, who supported Amendment 2, which bans same-sex marriage, are scrutinized. Likewise, Republican Louisiana Congressman Jim McCrery is exposed for using his college fraternity house “as a gay bar” on visits to his alma mater.
Dick also takes Democrats to task, such as Ed Koch, the former mayor of New York City, who hid the fact that he had a male lover. “Outrage” claims Koch did little or nothing to help the gay community and assist with the AIDS crisis during his time in office. In contrast, former governor of New Jersey Jim McGreevey talks candidly and poignantly about his own battles with the closet.
Dick is also adamant that the media is involved in a “conspiracy” that is responsible for underreporting or improperly reporting these cases.
PGN recently met with Dick to ask why this topic was of such interest to a straight man. He responded, “I was surprised — as I think most of my audience will be — to know that there were so many closeted politicians and to know that many of these are voting antigay.” Dick admitted he was fascinated by the psychology of these men — and in the film, they are all men. “Who would choose a powerful political career at the cost of living a double life? And some of these people I focus on, their experience is almost Shakespearean to make that ‘deal with the devil,’ if you will.”
“Outrage” makes some judicious observations about the moral compromises these politicians face. Even though they make the laws, these men don’t feel subject to them; in fact, they feel immune to exposure and deflect attention from the issue. Dick shows how the “moral hunter,” becomes the “moral hunted” as when details are revealed about Virginia Congressman Ed Schrock’s prurient phone calls for gay sex. The Republican quickly “folds like a cheap suit.”
In his interview, Dick explained — not excused — why he thinks high-powered politicians like Crist in Florida or McGreevey hide in the closet while in office.
“I think the closet exists because people perceive there is something wrong — a liability — to being gay,” he said. “Personally, I believe that they underestimate the power of coming out and being open and honest. Certainly, there is going to be a percentage of the population who is extremely homophobic who is going to turn on them, but I think particularly in these ‘purple’ areas/districts, that there is going to be a larger percentage of the population that will say, ‘That took a lot of guts,’ and respect from the constituency will increase.”
Fear is certainly a factor when it comes to coming out, or even speaking openly about the individuals profiled in the film. Dick recounted talking to sources about the politicians featured in “Outrage,” only to be cut off abruptly when the source was afraid to continue.
“Whether their fears were valid or not, I don’t know,” Dick said. “But there is a level of fear out there.”
Yet some individuals who could blow the whistle on closeted politicians may have other reasons for keeping quiet. The film suggests that folks such as Crist’s ex-girlfriend, whose quote regarding her thoughts on his sexuality appears onscreen, are respecting confidences. Or one could speculate that they have been bought off and forced to sign a nondisclosure statement.
Dick had a different idea. “I think there is a fear that they will become a bit notorious in the media as the person who spoke. [Some] people are afraid of genuine repercussions. I don’t know about physical ones, but perhaps it would hurt their business, and people would shun them.”
Nevertheless, the filmmaker was dogged in his efforts to find people to go on the record, and testimonies from various gay men who slept with politicians are powerful.
With the help of a team that included his persuasive producer Amy Ziering and his openly gay co-producer Tanner Barklow, Dick was also able to get poignant interviews from U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and former Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.). Both talk eloquently about their experiences being in the closet and how their self-worth changed after they came out.
One of the discussions Dick had with his staff while making “Outrage” was to include segments on closeted politicians who were allies of the gay community. Although the filmmaker acknowledged there are a number of them, and that while there is an issue of dishonesty here — that people, even homophobes, have the right to know if people voting on gay-rights issues are gay — he maintained that this is not the crux of his film.
“I am focusing on people who are in the closet and acting hypocritically,” he said. “I feel the discussion around outing has obscured the more important issues around this. It’s important to have this discussion, and people can continue to have their opinions, but I wanted to also move past this.”
Additionally, while “Outrage” examines the media “conspiracy” that prevents these cases from being fairly reported in the mainstream news, Dick made a conscious decision to include Fox News’ Shepard Smith but exclude CNN’s Anderson Cooper — both of whom have been the subject of gay rumors.
Dick justifies the conspicuous absence of Cooper: “I wanted to keep in place with this issue of hypocrisy. There’s no question Fox has been [complicit] in the development of this antigay hysteria. With CNN, that’s not the case. There is certainly a parallel between Cooper and Smith in terms of their prominence and importance in their respective organizations. But the organization that has really caused damage to gay rights is Fox, not CNN.”
That said, he not only thinks that Cooper should come out, but that it would be “very significant” if/when he did. Would Dick talk about this on the newscaster’s CNN show “Anderson Cooper 360?” He laughs and answers with a resounding “no!” — almost embarrassed at the suggestion.
The filmmaker said that in addition to showing the “cost” of being closeted, one of his goals in making “Outrage” is to “contribute to the demise, or the partial demise, of the closet.” Dick suggested one way that could happen is for those young people considering a political career to evaluate their identities.
“Before they are/become elected to office, they have a choice to make: Run as out or run a closeted life.”
The issue of closeted politicians has not been discussed much in the mainstream media. And, said Dick, the reluctance of the media to address this issue can propagate homophobia in society.
Meanwhile, Dick prides himself on the fact that his film is “built on the shoulders of the gay press,” whose position has been, “Let’s have full parity. Even to the point that if there’s a gay scandal, let’s report on that in the same way as a straight scandal.”
However, added Dick, politicians seem to think they can just “slide through” their careers without having to address the issue of their homosexuality, or that they will avoid the gay scandals that have snared so many of their brethren.
Dick said he believes that if U.S. Rep. David Dreier — a Republican from California who, it is revealed in the film, traveled with his chief of staff to exotic locations outside his district — came out, it would be significant.
“If we had a prominent gay Republican, that may be the achievement that could advance the cause of gay rights today,” he said. “I think it could really shake up the Republican Party on that issue. Personally, I think if the Republican Party lets this issue go, there would be a large minority — 40-45 percent of the gay population — supporting them.”
Like athletes who come out after their last season, politicians tend to come out after their careers are finished. “Outrage” may offer apologies from “gay American” McGreevey, who lied about his sexuality when he was in office, but Dick is less interested in these men being contrite than he is in having such individuals use their powers for good rather than ill. One example in the film is Dan Gurley, the former GOP national field director who is now working for LGBT equality.
Dick said his purpose in calling attention to the hypocrisy in Washington, D.C., is to “contribute to the advancement of the gay-rights struggle in this country. I think it is trending in the right direction. But I think it is by no means resolved. One only has to look at the passage of Proposition 8, which is probably going to be upheld by the Supreme Court of California, and Amendment 2, which has been underreported nationally, to see that.” Proposition 8 overturned same-sex marriage in California; Amendment 2 banned it in Florida.
“Outrage” is a clarion call for closeted politicians and the media alike to change their ways and acknowledge their homosexuality. Ironically, as a result of making “Outrage,” the straight filmmaker said he’s now more attuned to others’ sexual orientation.
“My gaydar has become much more refined. Now I look at people — men in particular — and go, ‘He’s gay.’ I realize that I would not have known that two years ago.”