At the heart of the gay rights movement is the idea that, so long as you’re sticking to consenting adults, your orientation is your own damned business. That makes the issue of staying closeted a tricky one. Being out makes a huge difference – bigots are much more likely to soften and change their minds on LGBT issues when they realize that someone they know is a part of the community – but there are few rights more fundamental than staying private about who you fall in love with.
In Outrage, filmmaker Kirby Dick makes a compelling case that gay and bisexual politicians who vote against LGBT rights should not be allowed the luxury of staying in their well-appointed closets.
Outrage starts with the astonishing audio of former Senator Larry Craig’s police interview following his arrest for lewd conduct in an airport men’s room. Even after he’s been caught, Craig insists “I am not gay … I don’t do those kinds of things.” The film then explores the damage – political, personal, and societal – that politicians with such drastically divided lives can cause.
Larry Craig’s mugshot in “Outrage,” a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.
The political damage is, of course, the worst. Dick shows the often viciously anti-LGBT voting records of numerous closeted (and allegedly closeted) politicians and political staffers. These lawmakers have often worked the hardest to stop HIV/AIDS support, domestic partner benefits, hate crime legislation, gay marriage and adoption, and open service in the military. It’s very much a continuation of the schoolyard practice of beating up a gay kid to prove the bully isn’t one himself, only with nationwide consequences.
The wonderful, out Congressman Barney Frank sums up the infuriating voting records tidily: “You have a right to privacy; not to hypocrisy.”
Barney Frank in OUTRAGE, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.
The film is evenhanded in its criticisms. It takes both Democrats and Republicans to task, but on a broader scale, Dick moves beyond politics and notes how the media’s squeamishness about reporting on LGBT issues (or even mentioning the orientation of queer public figures) can create a dangerous invisibility. One only needs to look as far as what didn’t happen when it came to fighting the burgeoning AIDS crisis during the Reagan era to see his point.
The film has fascinating segments on the mental gymnastics these politicians have to go through to justify what they’re doing both in office and between the sheets – brain-imploding logic on how one can regularly sleep with members of the same sex and still self-define as straight, or the inexplicable theory that a politician or staffer who is closeted is actually somehow stronger and better than someone who is out and honest, since, after all, he isn’t working for his own self-interest.
And speaking of mental gymnastics, Outrage also offers tantalizing glimpses at what happens to the heterosexual spouses of the closeted and powerful. My only gripe with the movie is that I wanted to see more of them and what their can possibly have been going through their heads, even though they aren’t really the central point. Someone could make a separate documentary just on how people in that situation manage years of denial and then put the pieces back together when the lies finally fall apart. (And fair warning to the same-sex lovers of the closeted and powerful: Based on the sampling in Outrage, odds are you’re going to end up very suddenly moving out of state.)
Perhaps the most frustrating and chilling segment of the film involves a look at the taking on of anti-LGBT legislation as pure election strategy, without even so much as misguided religious principles behind it. It’s enraging to see how much was engineered by gay political staffers who were happy to attack the rights of their own community by day and then hit the clubs at night. Dick demonstrates that much of the recent demonization of the LGBT community started as pure, calculated political strategizing — even though the bashings that seem to result are very real.
A hopeful note is woven through the late scenes of Outrage, as politicians who have come out – voluntarily or not – explain how much of a relief it feels to finally be honest about who they are with everyone in their lives. It does not escape Kirby Dick’s notice that their voting records seem to improve with their moods.
Outrage isn’t a perfect film if you’re looking for your piles of evidence woven into a story – it’s chunked up by subject and topic – but it’s unlikely that you’ll stop watching once you start. The movie brings up the knotty question of just how much we should tolerate from the intolerant and makes important points about our political system and the media monster that swirls around it. And it makes those points in ways that may inspire you to get out there and vote — or even run yourself.
Outrage airs Saturday, November 12 at 8 p.m. on Logo.