Wikipedia Outing entry

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Outing The Word

In the last two decades outing has come to mean making public someones concealed sexual identity to out them from the "the closet", which since the mid-1960s has specifically connoted secreted homosexuality. It is hard to pinpoint the first use of outing in the modern sense. In a 1982 issue of Harpers, Taylor Branch predicted that "outage" would become a political tactic in which the closeted would find themselves trapped in crossfire. "Forcing Gays Out of the Closet" by William A. Henry III in the January 29, 1990 issue of Time introduced the term to the general public. (Johansson & Percy, p.4)

The Act

The practice goes back much further. Outing was a common put-down of Greek and Roman orators. Before the Christian triumph, sodomy was not illegal in Greek or, most believe, in Roman law even between adult citizens, but homosexual acts between citizens were considered acceptable only under certain social circumstances. Both Romans and Greeks sneeringly deemed the "guilty" shameful.

Replacing pagan tolerance, Christians unequivocally condemned and persecuted sodomy. Congregations imposed harsh penances or even excommunicated guilty individuals, reflecting a Pauline prohibition enforced by imperial law from the fourth century. Almost all the Church fathers abominated it and not even one permitted it. Legal infamy via death or imprisonment for the sodomite persisted through the Middle Ages and the Reformation to the Enlightenment, and (except for areas governed by the Napoleonic Code) well into the twentieth century under liberal as well as authoritarian regimes. England only undid the death penalty in 1851.

The idea of coming out was introduced in 1869 by the German homosexual rights advocate Karl Heinrich Ulrichs as a means of emancipation. Realizing that invisibility was a major obstacle toward changing public opinion, he urged homosexuals themselves to come out. The dawn of the twentieth century ushered in a colossal wave of gay rights work in Germany. Catalyzed by the infamous Oscar Wilde trial of 1895, Magnus Hirschfeld, a secretly transvestite Jewish scholar who believed in a "third sex", had formed the Scientific Humanitarian Committee in 1897, which further spurred the movement; though, Hirschfeld opposed outing. Ivan Bloch, a German-Jewish physician, besought elderly homosexuals in The Sexual Life of Our Time in its Relation to Modern Civilization (1907) to come out to their heterosexual family members and acquaintances.

The Harden-Eulenburg affair of 1907-1909 was the first public outing scandal. Left-wing journalists opposed to Kaiser Wilhelm IIs policies outed a number of prominent members of his cabinet and inner circle and by implication the Kaiser beginning with Maximilian Harden's indictment of the aristocratic diplomat Prince Eulenburg. Hardens accusations incited other journalists to follow suit, including Adolf Brand, founder of Der Eigene, a journal which advocated Greek style pederasty.

Hirschfeld revisited the topic in his major work The Homosexuality of Men and Women (1914), discussing the social and legal potentials of several thousand men and women of rank coming out to the police in order to influence legislators and public opinion. (Johansson & Percy, p.24) In 1919 Kurt Hiller, an associate of Hirschfeld, argued that homosexuals constituted a minority group, like those nationalities seeking states for themselves.

Left wing journalists outed Hitlers closest ally Ernst Rhm in the early 1930s, causing Brand to write, "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." (Brand, Adolph. "Political Criminals: A Word About the Rhm Case" (1931) Reprinted in Homosexuality and Male Bonding in Pre-Nazi Germany, edited by Harry Oosterhuis, 235-240. New York, Haworth, 1991.)

Serving as an enlisted man in occupied Germany after World War II, Henry Gerber learned of Hirschfelds pioneering work. Upon returning to the U.S. and settling in Chicago, Gerber organized the first documented public homosexual organization in America and published two issues of the first gay journal, Friendship and Freedom.

The first important American to come out was the poet Robert Duncan living in San Francisco. In 1944, using his own name in the anarchist magazine Politics, he claimed that homosexuals were an oppressed minority. In 1951, Donald Webster Cory published his landmark The Homosexual in America, exclaiming, "Society has handed me a mask to wear...Everywhere I go, at all times and before all sections of society, I pretend." Cory was a pseudonym, but his frank and openly subjective descriptions served as a stimulus to the emerging homosexual self-consciousness and the nascent homophile movement. (Gross, p. 15) The decidedly clandestine Mattachine Society, founded by Harry Hay and other verterans mostly ex-communists of the Wallace for President campaign in Los Angeles in 1950, also moved into the public eye with many gays emerging from the closet after Hal Call, a right wing veteran battalion commander, seized control in San Francisco in 1953.

In the 1960s Frank Kameny came to the forefront of the struggle. Having been fired from his job as an astronomer for the Army Map service for homosexual behavior, Kameny refused to go quietly. He openly fought his dismissal, eventually appealing it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, and supported others fired by the government. As a vocal leader of the growing movement, Kameny argued for unapologetic public actions. The cornerstone of his conviction was that, "we must instill in the homosexual community a sense of worth to the individual homosexual," which could only be achieved through campaigns openly led by homosexuals themselves. (Gross, p. 18) His motto was "Gay is good."

After the Stonewall riots of 1969, swells of gay-libbers came out aggressively in the 1970s, crying out, "Out of the closets, Into the streets!" Reinventing the ideals of the pre-Hitler Germans, some began to demand that all homosexuals come out, and that if they werent willing to do so, then it was the communitys responsibility to do it for them. Such radical measures provoked opposition. Some argued that privacy should prevail, but others felt it was better for the movement to protect closeted gays, especially in the homophobic Church and the military. Despite activists best efforts, most gays and lesbians were still unwilling to come out.

In the 1980's, the AIDS epidemic outed several major entertainers, including most spectacularly Rock Hudson in 1985. With increasing militancy and street theater performances, Larry Kramer, like Kameny and so many other gay leaders, Jewish, founded ACT UP, from which Queer Nation would later stem. At the end of the decade, Massachusetts Congressmen Gerry Studds and Barney Frank came out. Though many reviled them, they held their seats. The first outing by an activist in America occurred on February 23, 1989. Michael Petrelis, along with a few others, decided to out Mark Hatfield, the Republican Senator from Oregon, because he supported homophobic legislation initiated by Jesse Helms. At a fundraiser in a small town outside of Portland, the group stood up and outed him in front of the crowd. Petrelis later tried to make news by standing on the Capitol steps and reading the names of "twelve men and women in politics and music who...are secretly gay." (Johansson and Percy, p.188) Though the press showed up, no major news organization published the story. Potential libel suits deterred publishers.

OutWeek, which had begun publishing in 1989, was home to the activist, outing pioneer Michelangelo Signorile, who stirred the waters when he outed the recently deceased Malcolm Forbes in March 1990. His column "Gossip Watch" became a hot spot for outing the rich and famous. Both praised and lambasted for his behavior, he garnered responses to his actions as wide ranging as "one of the greater contemporary gay heroes," to "revolting, infantile, cheap name-calling." (Johansson & Percy, p.183) Now 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.


Activists and journalists out. Gabriel Rotello, once editor of OutWeek, called outing "equalizing", explaining, "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." (Why I Oppose Outing. OutWeek, May 29, 1991)

Their aim is not only to reveal the hypocrisy of those in what Branch termed the "closets of power" but also to further awareness of the presence of gay people and political issues, thus showing that being gay and lesbian is not "so utterly grotesque that it should never be discussed." (Signorile, p.78) Richard Mohr noted, "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." (Morh, Ricahrd. Gay Ideas: Outing and Other Controversies. Boston: Beacon, 1992.)

Further, outing is not the airing of private details. As Signorile asked, "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 gayAverage 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?" (Signorile, pp.80-82)

Virtually all who take a position on outing have qualified the limits to which it is permissible for one to go. Between the extremes to out no one or to out everyone, four intermediate positions can be discerned (Johansson & Percy, p.228):

1) Hypocrites only, and only when they actively oppose gay rights and interests;
2) Outing passive accomplices who help run homophobic institutions;
3) Prominent individuals whose outing would shatter stereotypes and compel the public to reconsider its attitude on homosexuality;
4) Only the dead.

Assessing to which degree the outer goes allows insight into the goal striven towards. Most outers target those who support decisions and further policy, both religious and secular, which discriminate against gay people while they themselves live a clandestine gay existence. "A truism to people active in the gay movement [is] that the greatest impediments to homosexuals progress often [are] not heterosexuals, but closeted homosexuals," said San Francisco journalist Randy Shilts. (Johansson & Percy, p.226) One thinks of Senator Joe McCarthy, J. Edgar Hoover and Cardinal Francis Spelling.

Outing in the Clergy

The recent wave of pedophilia scandals rocking the Roman Catholic church have outed more members of clergy than most dedicated activists have been able to. Please see:

Roman Catholic sex abuse cases

Cardinal Law

The most recent outing scandal to hit the church flared up in New York, where New Jersey priest Bob Hoatson accused Cardinal Egan, the archbishop of the New York Archdiocese of not only covering up rampant sexual abuse amongst his clergy but of also being a practicing homosexual, of which Hoatson claimed he had personal proof. As of 3.06.06, the matter is unresolved and will soon go to trial.

Outing in the Military

More service people have been discharged per annum since "Don't Ask Don't Tell" has been in effect than before. Hopefully the Supreme Court will soon strike down this ignorant, costly, and unjust law. I believe that their recent upholding of the government right to withhold funds from colleges and universities that prohibit military recruiting on campus will lead to their dismissal of this policy.

Don't Ask, Don't Tell

Sexual Orientation and Military Service

Outing in Textbooks

Activists have systematically outed the homosexual and bisexual heroes of Greco-Roman antiquity, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and early modern Europe, whose sexual orientation the Church, the Law, Academia, and Society had tried to ignore. Many continue the attempts today, increasingly from all cultures and times. At a time when sundry religious groups have acquired a voice over what is written about them in American textbooks, many homosexuals want the same representation. Not a single American History text used in a U.S. secondary school or college today admits that even one president, vice-president, cabinet member, governor, supreme court justice or officer in any branch of the military is or was homosexual or bisexual. Similarly European history textbooks fail to mention a single saint, pope, cardinal, patriarch or any other ranking prelate ever had sex with another male. For that matter, they rarely mention any emperors, kings, statesmen or generals did either. The impetus for change today is the same stated by Ulrichs in 1864: if important people were outed, "the rich and the famous, the geniuses and heroes, the saints and the self-sacrificers and benefactors of mankindthe derogatory stereotypes can be discredited." (Johansson & Percy, p.24)

Recent Political Outings

Gay rights activist Michael Rogers, recently outed Edward Schrock, a Republican Congressman from Virginia. 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 outed Schrock to punish him for his hypocrisy in voting for the Marriage Protection Act and signing on as a co-sponsor of the Federal Marriage Amendment.

New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey 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 was alleged McGreevey had a sexual relationship.

Support of Outing

Many gay rights activists defend outing as a tactic. The British activist Peter Tatchell says "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."


Some gay activists, however, 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." (Signorile, p.80)


Cory, Donald Webster. The Homosexual in America: A Subjective Approach. New York: Greenfield, 1951.

Dynes, Wayne R. (ed.) Encyclopedia of Homosexuality. New York and London, Garland Publishing, 1990

Gross, Larry. Contested Closets: The Politics and Ethics of Outing. Minneapolis & London, University of Minneapolis Press, 1993.

Johansson, Warren & Percy, William A. Outing: Shattering the Conspiracy of Silence. Harrington Park Press, 1994.

Signorile, Michelango. Queer In America: Sex, Media, and the Closets of Power. University of Wisconsin Press, 1993.

Wikipedia Outing Entry link

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