Outing is the practice of deliberately making public another person's concealed or barely-concealed sexual identity or orientation, without that person's consent. The people outed are most often public figures such as politicians or celebrities.

The term, derived from the expression "coming out" (revealing one's sexual or gender orientation to others), was coined by Time. Taylor Branch used the term "outage" in 1982, Michelangelo Signorile prefers the term "reporting", and Gabriel Rotello suggests "equalizing", explaining that "what we have called 'outing' is a primarily journalistic movement to treat homosexuality as equal to heterosexuality in the media...In 1990, many of us in the gay media announced that henceforth we would simply treat homosexuality and heterosexuality as equals. We were not going to wait for the perfect, utopian future to arrive before equalizing the two: We were going to do it now. That's what outing really is: equalizing homosexuality and heterosexuality in the media." (Signorile 1993, p.77-78)



While one may reveal secrets or private details about others lives for many reasons including personal malice or commercial gain, outing is motivated by political advocacy and journalistic reportage. Outing should not only reveal the hypocrisy of those in what Branch terms the "closets of power" but also further awareness of the presense of gay people and political issues, thus showing that being gay and lesbian is not "so utterly grotesque that it should never be discussed." (ibid, p.78)

Richard Mohr notes that, "some people have compared outing to McCarthyism...And vindictive outing is like McCarthyism: such outing feeds gays to the wolves, who thereby are made stronger....But the sort of outing I have advocated does not invoke, mobilize, or ritualistically confirm anti-gay values; rather it cuts against them, works to undo them. The point of outing, as I have defended it, is not to wreak vengeance, not to punish, and not to deflect attention from one's own debased state. Its point is to avoid degrading oneself." Thus outing is "both permissible and an expected consequence of living morally." (ibid p.77)

Further, outing is not the airing of private details. As Signorile asks, "How can being gay be private when being straight isn't? Sex is private. But by outing we do not discuss anyone's sex life. We only say they're gay." (p.80) "Average people have been outed for decades. People have always outed the mailman and the milkman and the spinster who lives down the block. If anything, the goal behind outing is to show just how many gay people there are among the most visible people in our society so that when someone outs the milkman or the spinster, everyone will say, "So what?" (p.82)

Outing as a political tool

One of the pioneers of the idea of outing hypocritical closeted gay homophobes was Michelangelo Signorile, as he documents in his book Queer In America. In the early 1990s Signorile was excoriated, by many both within the gay community and in the straight press, but many of his tactics are now seen as legitimate political and journalistic techniques for uncovering and revealing hypocrisy among those in power who are undermining equality for GLB Americans.

Some gay rights activists, however, defend outing as a tactic. The British activist Peter Tatchell says that "The lesbian and gay community has a right to defend itself against public figures who abuse their power and influence to support policies which inflict suffering on homosexuals." In 1994 Tatchell's activist group OutRage! named fourteen bishops of the Church of England as homosexual or bisexual, accusing them of hypocrisy for upholding the Church's policy of regarding homosexual acts as sinful while not observing this prohibition in their personal lives.

"Outing is queer self-defence," Tatchell says. "Lesbians and gay men have a right, and a duty, to expose hypocrites and homophobes. By not outing gay Bishops who support policies which harm homosexuals, we would be protecting those Bishops and thereby allowing them to continue to inflict suffering on members of our community. Collusion with hypocrisy and homophobia is not ethically defensible for Christians, or for anyone else."

Support of Outing

People who have been outed include Pete Williams, Chastity Bono, and Richard Chamberlain. People who have supported outing as of 1993 include "Victoria Brownworth, columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News; The Detroit News's Michael McWilliams; Charles Kaiser, formerly of The New York Times, Newsweek, and The Wall Street Journal, and now a professor at Princeton University; columnist Ann Northrup, formerly a CBS Morning News producer; Village Voice executive editor Richard Goldstein; Voice columnist Michael Musto; Frank Bruni of the Detroit Free Press; Los Angeles Times New York correspondent Victor Zonana; conservative gay Republican activist and author Marvin Leibman; Voice staffer Donna Minkowitz; Larry Gross, professor of communications at the Annenberg School of Communications at the University of Pennsylvania; Jeffrey Schmalz an editor at The New York Times; former QW editor Maer Roshan; former Advocate editor Richard Rouilard; current Advocate editor Jeff Yarbrough; Congressperson Barney Frank; Congressperson Gerry Studds; historian Martin Duberman; philosopher Richard Mohr; novelist Armistead Maupin; performer Terry Sweeeney; public television's In the Life producer John Scagliotti; Hank Plante at KPIX-TV in San Francisco; Lindsy Van Gelder, editor at Allure; Gabriel Rotello, now a columnist for New York Newsday; freelance journalists Marshal Alan Phillips, Michael Bronski, Susie Bright, and Rex Wockner." (ibid, p.163-164).

RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman has been the target of outing campaigns but has so far denied he is gay [1] (http://www.conspiracyplanet.com/channel.cfm?channelid=65&contentid=2016&page=2).


Some in the gay rights movment continue to disapprove of outing as a political tactic, arguing that even anti-gay conservatives have a right to personal privacy which should be respected. Steven Fisher, a spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign, the largest advocacy group for gay and lesbian issues in the United States, commenting on the Schrock outing, said he opposed using "sexual orientation as a weapon." Christopher Barron, political director of the Log Cabin Republicans, a group representing gay and lesbian Republicans said: "We disagree strongly with the outing campaign, but we also strongly disagree with President Bush's sponsorship of the antifamily Federal Marriage Amendment."

Roger Rosenblatt argued in his January 1993 New York Times Magazine essay "Who Killed Privacy?" that, "The practice of 'outing' homosexuals [sic] implies contradictorily that homosexuals have a right to private choice but not to private lives." (ibid, p.80)



Magnus Hirschfeld's Scientific Humanitarian Committee debated outing in 1902 and decided against it. However, when Adolf Brand, founder of Der Eigene, contributed to the Harden-Eulenburg Affair by outing "hypocrites" such as Chaplan Dasbach, leader of the antireform Center party, and Prince von Bülow, Hirschfeld testified in favor of the outers. This damaged the support, funding, and membership of his Committee. Brand was convicted of libel against von Bulow and sentenced to eighteen months imprisonment and concluded that, "decent society cannot stand the truth." In the early 1930s Ernst Röhm was outed by the leftist press, causing Brand to write reconclude that, "in the moment, however, when someone--as teacher, priest, representative, or statesman--would like to set in the most damaging way the intimate love contacts of others under degrading control--in that moment his own love-life also ceases to be a private matter and forfeits every claim to remain protected hence-forward from public scrutiny and suspicious oversight." (ibid 85)


A recent example of political punishment was the 2004 outing of Edward Schrock, a Republican Congressman from Virginia, by gay rights activist Michael Rogers. Rogers posted a story on his website revealing that Schrock used an interactive phone sex service to meet other men for sex. Schrock did not deny the claim and announced on August 30, 2004 that he would not seek re-election.

Rogers said that he was outing Schrock to punish him for his hypocrisy: Schrock voted for the Marriage Protection Act and also signed on as a co-sponsor of the Federal Marriage Amendment. "The time has come for these gay homophobes to step up or be outed," Rogers said. "Schrock is the first: more will follow."

Impact and effectiveness

The effectiveness of outing as a political tactic depends on the willingness of the media to report that a person has been outed. The advent of the internet has made outing public figures much easier. Twenty years ago Michael Rogers would have had to persuade a newspaper or other media outlet to risk legal action by reporting his allegations about Schrock. Today he can publish them himself on his website and other media will then report that he has done so.

Signorile argues that the outing of Pete Williams "and its aftermath did indeed make a big dent in the military's policy against gays. The publicity generated put the policy on the front burner in 1992, thrusting the issue into the the presidential campaign," with every democratic candidate and independent Ross Perot publicly promising to end the ban. (ibid, p.161)

Self outing

Outing has given rise to the expression "outing oneself": announcing that one has an alternate sexuality, possibly in order to pre-empt somebody else doing so in a less favourable way. The most recent example of self-outing was that of New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey, who announced that he was a "gay American" in August 2004. McGreevey had become aware that he was about to be named in a sexual harassment suit by Golan Cipel, his former security advisor, with whom it is alleged McGreevey had a sexual relationship.



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