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JULY 2, 2004
Don't cry for
gay Hill staffers
If ever there were a definition of a gay Uncle Tom,
it is these semi-closeted congressional aides who
work for anti-gay politicians and fear being outed.
By CHRIS CRAIN
□ CHILL WIND IS BLOWING
these days on Capitol Hill,
where closeted gay congressional staffers are facing the
growing threat of being
outed by a small but determined group of activists.
Speculation that the Washington Blade,
the Voice's sister paper in D.C, was planning to publish a list closeted gay staffers
only added to the tumult, as some scared
aides acted as if they were scrambling for
their very jobs.
It's a curious Washington irony that the
fear of being outed has mobilized the Hill's
gay aides in a way that threats to then-
civil rights seem never managed to before.
But lest we feel too much sympathy for
the plight of these congressional staffers,
or too much indignation for the activists
who are targeting them, we should keep
in mind just who we're talking about. Or,
better yet, who we're not talking about.
Not at risk are gay congressional staffers
open about their sexual orientation.
Not at risk are gay congressional
staffers working for members of Congress
who oppose or haven't yet taken a position
on the Federal Marriage Amendment, an
unprecedented measure that would forever usurp from the states the definition of
marriage and deprive gay couples of their
access to the courts to challenge heterosexual-only marriage laws.
Not at risk are gay congressional staffers
at the lower echelons of authority, who work
as legislative aides answering constituent
mail or answering the telephones. The
activists have said they are focusing only on
aides with real influence on public policy
Not at risk are gay congressional
staffers who are deep in the closet. As a
practical matter, the only way an aide's
name can make it onto one of these
activists' lists is if the staffer is out within
the gay community These are not people
struggling to figure out their sexual orien
tation; they are well-adjusted gay men and
lesbians who attend gay social functions
and patronize public gay establishments.
So who are we talking about? Semi-
closeted Hill staffers who happily play in
gay D.C. but who work in positions of
authority with real influence over members of Congress who support an amendment to the United States Constitution
that would prohibit states from legalizing
marriage, civil unions or even domestic
partner registries for gay couples.
IF EVER THERE WERE A DEFINITION
of a gay Uncle Tom, it would fit these people. These are not dishwashers or short-
order cooks at Cracker Barrel, facing
poverty if their redneck bosses learn
they're big homos.
These are smart, talented, well-educated professionals who could find success in
any number of highly paid positions on
or off the Hill but who instead have chosen to devote their professional lives to
advancing the careers of politicians who
would strip them and their friends of
basic civil rights protections and even
redress of their grievances in the courts.
The level of rationalization and denial
it must take for these people to show up
for work each day must be mind-boggling.
Add to that their newfound paranoia that
an activist — or even the gay press —
might reveal their sexual orientation, and
thereby their hypocrisy, and you have
some pretty unhappy people about whom
all of us should feel absolutely no sympathy whatsoever.
DOES THAT MEAN THAT THE RUMORS
are correct, and the Washington Blade or
the Houston Voice would out this narrow
group of semi-closeted, influential and yet
hypocritical Hill staffers? Yes and no.
No, neither the Blade nor the Voice has
worked on a story revealing the names of
Yes, we would investigate and report
about whether influential Hill aides are gay
if facts about their sexual orientation raise
highly newsworthy questions of hypocrisy in
the stands taken by the anti-gay members of
Congress for whom they work,
The Blade and the Voice are, after all, gay
papers and as such, our reporters regularly
ask almost every person they interview about
their sexual orientation because it is invariably relevant to the story and to our readers.
It is 2004, not 1954, and sexual orientation in and of itself is no longer a "private fact" beyond the pale of inquiry.
If the subject of an interview is a private citizen and not a public figure, then
their expectation of privacy is understandably higher, and we would respect their
desire not to have their sexual orientation
discussed in print. We would not, for example, publish photographs from gay-themed
events without first asking the individuals
But if the interview subject is a public
official or a public figure — in government, entertainment, sports, wherever —
then that person's privacy expectations
are a lot lower. Those who choose to live
their lives in the limelight ought to
expect, at this point, to be asked "the
question" and have ready an answer
about whether they are gay or straight.
Asking the question does not by itself
amount to outing. Neither does printing
the response, whether it is the truth or a
lie or a refusal to discuss the matter.
Outing someone involves going "behind
the answer" and investigating a response
(or non-response) and publishing the facts
that suggest which side of the bread that
someone in fact spreads their butter: gay,
straight, bisexual or otherwise.
Looking into someone's sexual orientation doesn't necessarily mean monitoring
their bedroom or invading their privacy. It
could mean simply reporting that they
have a same-sex love interest with whom
they flit about town, or that they regularly
show up at gay parties or bars
We reported in 2000 that John Paulk,
the prominent "ex-gay" who had appeared
on the cover of Newsweek magazine with
his wife, an "ex-lesbian," was seen cavorting with gay guys in Mr. P's.
The "activists" at the Human Rights
Campaign apparently consider it their
sworn duty to protect closeted Hill staffers
who work for anti-gay members of
Congress, but it is the antithesis of journalism to hide such hypocrisy when the
facts can be clearly ascertained.
It is not the job of the gay press — and
ought not be the job of HRC — to protect
the identity of semi-closeted congressional
aides who have important questions to
answer about why they have not
acted to protect their fellow
[Chris Crain is
iM executive editor of
and can be reached at