HOUSTON VOICE www.houstonvoice.com
JULY 2, 2004 7
Outing rumor sparks panic on Capitol Hill
scrambling in wake
of activist campaign
By ADRIAN BRUNE
WASHINGTON Their center of operations occupies not one, but two top-floor
apartments located directly across from
each other in a nondescript Adams Morgan
high-rise, where the two friends and
activists have both lived for years.
Their information comes to them via a
network of insiders, mostly planted at various gay and lesbian bars across
Washington. And their modus operandi for
fighting a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage consists of well-
placed phone calls to closeted congressional aides who work for members supportive
of the amendment, declaring their intent
to publicly reveal the aides' sexual orientation.
From that high-rise, with a view of the
nation's epicenter of public policy, the
ongoing outing campaign loosely headed
by gay activists Michael Rogers and John
Aravosis evoked panic and precaution
behind the Capitol's closed doors last week,
signifying the resurrected, yet still controversial, tactic's scope and impact.
The reactions on the Hill came in various formats: e-mails from staffers of
prominent gay advocacy groups to anonymous lists of Hill employees warning them
of impending outings; admonitions
against the practice in public forums and
on television; and meetings between
Senate chiefs of staff and aides that reaffirmed office nondiscrimination or zero-
The responses Rogers said he received
ranged from "donations to death threats."
but both he and Aravosis said they are
undeterred in their pursuit to expose what
they call the duplicity of policymakers
pushing for the Federal Marriage
"In the words of Harvey Milk, 'Let the
bullet that pierces my brain blow open
every closet door,'" Rogers said. "We are
engaging in an activist campaign that educates people; it makes them aware of the
hypocrisy of America's right wing.
"This is not about kids who are folding
the mail or answering the phones because
their parents suggested they come work for
O MORE INFO
Senate GLASS Caucus
Human Rights Campaign
1640 Rhode Island Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20036-3278
the government. This is about highly visible people — press secretaries, legislative
directors, chiefs of staff — people who
influence leaders and put a face to their
News about the activists' outing efforts,
which they said has grown from six to 13
offices in less than 10 days, began to spread
through downtown Washington by word of
mouth early in the week of June 21,
sources from several gay advocacy groups
said, landing in Capitol office buildings
An e-mail memorandum sent by
Human Rights Campaign lobbyist
Matthew McTighe to a group of gay government professionals warned that the
Washington Blade, a publication affiliated
with the Houston Voice, planned on publishing a story listing the names of closeted congressional staffers.
"We're hearing that the Blade may run
a story tomorrow listing the names of gay
staff members from the White House or
who work for members who support the
FMA," McTighe wrote. "We're doing
everything we can to stop it from happening, but frankly there's only so much an
organization like HRC can do to stop the
Blade or any other activists from doing
A spokesperson for HRC said McTighe
obtained his information from Hill aides
who reportedly received phone calls from
an activist impersonating a Washington
Blade reporter, asking questions about
the personal lives of aides and alleging
that he or she was outing people in an
Rogers insisted that he had never impersonated a reporter in his outing campaign.
"I am a strong believer in an independent media and would never misrepresent
myself as a member of [the Blade] or any
other publication," Rogers wrote in an e-
mail. "As you know, our campaign focuses
on informing people of the truth, not covering up who we are and lying."
The political newspaper the Hill also
contributed to the discussions among the
inner circle of gay congressional aides by
publishing an article on June 24 headlined.
"If you're gay, you're out!"
Local TV news programs also pounced
on the outing rumors, with CBS affiliate
WUSA and Fox station WTTG airing stories on the subject last week.
Newsweek's Washington bureau contacted the Washington Blade about the
rumor but did not publish an article on the
"We received a significant number of
phone calls reporting that the Blade was
publishing this article," said HRC
spokesperson Steven Fisher. "Our staffer
[McTighe] sent off an e-mail to some of the
people on his contact list that this may be
happening, and that we were looking into it
and trying to block it."
HRC President Cheryl Jacques also con-
HRC President Cheryl Jacques told gay Senate
staffer that she had heard a rumor that the Blade
was preparing to out gay congressional staffers.
firmed at a luncheon sponsored by two gay
congressional associations that she, too,
had heard a rumor about a pending article
in the Blade outing gay Hill staffers.
In fact, HRC never contacted the newspaper to verify the existence of an outing
"I can confirm that at no time has the
Blade staff discussed, assigned or worked
on an article that would 'out' gay congressional staffers," said Chris Crain, executive editor of the Blade and the Houston
Voice, who also outlined the circumstances
under which both papers might consider
such a story
"Public officials and public figures are
routinely asked on the record by the Blade
to identify their sexual orientation, and
their response is published, even if the
response is to refuse to answer the question." he said. "The Blade would investigate the veracity of such a response only
under unique circumstances in which the
story subject's sexual orientation would
present issues of hypocrisy that are highly
Responding to the rumor, some aides
fearful of losing their jobs contacted other
Hill staffers, such as Lynden Armstrong, a
founder of the Gay, Lesbian & Allies Senate
Staff Caucus, to ask for resources to prepare for their outing.
Many chiefs of staff among the handful
of senators and representatives who have
signed sexual orientation nondiscrimination policies held office-wide meetings to
notify employees of that policy.
Dole reassures staff
Several senators whose offices do not
have nondiscrimination policies also met
with staffers to express their general tolerance of gay employees, HRC said.
Among those was Sen. Elizabeth Dole
(R-N.C). according to a source who spoke
on the condition of anonymity Dole opposes the Federal Marriage Amendment; her
office did not respond to interview
But the offices of members of Congress
with strong records opposing gay rights
subtly re-enforced their objections to having openly gay employees, leaving them
"very nervous about [the outing]." according to Armstrong.
"I emphasized to friends and colleagues
who called me that I didn't think they
should panic and pre-empt the outing by
outing themselves," Armstrong said. "All
of this was still a ways from landing in the
lap of a member who has no connections in
the gay community or thinks that he or she
doesn't have any connections in the gay
The Washington Blade hit newsstands
June 25 without an article outing congressional staffers. But in Adams Morgan, the
actual outing campaign continues.
Rogers said the activists, now up to a
loose contingent of 15, have decided to take
a different course in their outing endeavor.
Rogers said he first ascertains whether
members of Congress who back the FMA
also have an active anti-gay agenda. If so,
Rogers will not reveal a gay aide's sexual
orientation to the office. If not. Rogers said
he will go through with the outing — a tactic opposed by the HRC and most other gay
"I think that outing an individual is
only appropriate when that individual is in
a position to make law or policy and makes
anti-gay policy. It's totally inappropriate in
any other situation," said Matt Foreman,
the executive director of the National Gay
& Lesbian Task Force.
"But the Federal Marriage Amendment
is not going anywhere. So to resort to this
kind of behavior for a piece of legislation
that's not going anywhere is troublesome."
Rogers said he continues to contact several offices each week. According to Rogers.
a senior legislative aide in the office of U.S.
Rep. Max Burns (R-Ga.), an FMA proponent, is the latest person to come out
prompted by Rogers' overt persuasion.
Across the hall, John Aravosis continues to call for the names of more gay and
lesbian staffers through his Web site. For
now, the activists said they aren't planning on abandoning what they have
called the most effective way of furthering gay rights.
"We have accepted for far too long fellow
gays who work for horribly anti gay politicians and thus help those politicians bash
our community," Aravosis said.
"It's time we stopped tolerating this
situation as normal. These people need,
at the very least, to be confronted over
their hypocrisy, and when we see them in
public we ought to tell them we don't