A history of political gay-baiting.

Who's winning, who's losing, and why.
Sept. 16 2010 10:02 AM

Fussy, Hysterical, Wine-Sipping Pols

A history of political gay-baiting.

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Far from recognizing the whole ordeal as offensive to homosexuals and African-Americans, Allain defended himself against the "vicious, malicious" insinuations that he slept with black men and associated with transvestites with the declaration, "No one looking at me … could possibly believe or even remotely consider the idea that I might be a homosexual, much less a perverted deviant who would pay for sex with these people." Divorced Allain instead read the shenanigans as a bachelor bait, telling supporters, "our people do not care ... whether you are single or divorced, but they do object to the kind of campaign like we have had to endure,"

To further clear his name, Allain submitted to and passed a polygraph test, and went on to win by a wide margin, capturing the majority of the black vote.

Radical Outing
Since the 1980s, a small group of gay journalists and activists, especially Michael Signorile, Mike Rogers, John Aravosis, and John Byrne, have sought to out closeted gay politicians who oppose gay rights. Kirby Dick's 2009 documentary Outrage was about their mission and the debate around it. Openly gay Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank defends it, as does Andrew Sullivan. Others, like the Log Cabin Republicans, maintain that every individual has the right to come out of the closet in his or her own time.

Outing is distinct from baiting because it usually isn't couched in euphemisms. Since explicitly stating that someone is gay when he's not is still grounds for a libel suit; the outer is more likely than the average baiter to be telling the truth and have some evidence to prove it. Outing activists rarely renege on their claims, and in many cases they have successfully elicited a confirmation from the target. Signorile successfully outed Malcolm Forbes, Steve Forbes' father, and Mark Buse, John McCain's chief of staff. In 2004 Rogers outed Dan Gurley, the RNC's deputy field director under Mehlman.

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Outing belongs in the taxonomy of gay baits because, barring evidence like Mark Foley's e-mails to congressional pages or tapes that emerged in 2004 of then-Congressman Ed Schrock soliciting sex from gay prostitutes, an out stands little more chance of confirmation by the target than the average bait. Closeted folks who don't break the law often come out in their own time, as Ken Mehlman did, denying or refusing to comment on charges from the likes of Rogers and Signorile's until the opportune moment strikes. California congressman David Dreier, whom L.A. Weekly allegedly outed in 2004, has never responded to the charges and continues to vote against gay rights at almost every opportunity.

One current target, Florida governor Charlie Crist, who is running for the Senate this year as an independent, maintains that he is straight, and probably no one will be able to prove differently. Crist has suddenly endorsed same-sex adoption, civil unions, and the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, a near 180-degree shift from his earlier positions. Clever ploy, or is he telling us something? Someone please just ask him.

Click here to read an essay on the history of political gay-baiting.

Margaret Wheeler Johnson is a writer living in New York.

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