Outrage (2009): Michael Kirby’s Docu of Closeted Gay Politicians

Having made “This Film Is Not Rated” and the Oscar-nominated “Twist of Faith,” documentary filmmaker Kirby Dick continues his timely civil and ethical crusades with Outrage, an indictment of the hypocrisy of closeted politicians, their gay rights voting records, and their active campaign against the LGBT community.

Alongside Michael Moore, the more modest and considerably less flamboyant and less self-aggrandizing Kirby Dick is quickly becoming one of our more socially and political significant filmmaker.  HBO’s “Twist of Faith,” the powerful story of a man confronting the trauma of his past sexual abuse by a Catholic priest, received a 2004 Oscar nomination for Best Documentary Feature. “This Film Is Not Yet Rated,” an investigation of the bizarre, secretive MPAA film ratings system, was critically acclaimed and even led to real action, compelling the MPAA to make long overdue changes in its archaic ratings system.

“Outrage,” a highlight of the 2009 Tribeca Film Fest, will be released by Magnolia theatrically in early May.  Dick’s new movie probes several relevant issues: the psychology of double lifestyle, the ethics of outing closeted politicians, the double standards held by the media in its coverage of the sex lives of gay public figures, and others.

While disclosing the hidden lives of some of the U.S. most powerful policymakers, “Outrage” takes a look at the harm they’ve inflicted on millions of Americans, and also examines the media’s complicity in keeping their secrets.

The film contains interviews with prominent members of the gay community such as Congressman Barney Frank, former New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey, activist Larry Kramer, radio personality Michelangelo Signorile, and gay congresswoman Tammy Baldwin, a Representative of Wisconsin. (See complete list below)

The incendiary filmmaker is not on a crusade against politicians who put up a straight facade while secretly supporting gay causes and/or object to anti-gay measures. But he’s adamantly and vehemently against homosexual politicians, who against gay marriage and domestic-partnership benefits, filling their speeches with anti-gay rhetoric, in which case, he believes their private deeds ought to be made public, in other words, they should be outed.

The movie raises a number of interesting questions, such as the line between public and private life of elected politicians, and more specifically, what should we expect to know of our politicians’ intimate behavior behind closed doors.  In which cases, politicians should be dragged out of the closet?

Despite temptations inherent in the subject matter, Dick avoids sensationalism for sensationalism’s sake, or telling stories just because they steamy and thus entertaining. Indeed, in the hands of another director, such a docu could have easily become more gossipy and even sleazier.

Take, for example, Kirby’s prime target Idaho’s Senator Larry Craig, who was arrested in 2007 for soliciting sex in an airport bathroom, which he claims was a misunderstanding; he still insists he’s not gay or bisexual.  Craig and his wife appear on TV, dismissing what they see as “absurd” charges. But Dick provides irrefutable footage about a scandal over elected officials cavorting with young male congressional pages, with Craig as one of the implicated subjects. Men who have had sexual encounters with Craig also come forward and testify.  Is more evidence necessary?  I think it’s a smart choice to play the police department’s tapes of Craig claiming and reclaiming his innocence; it immediately puts the viewers in an alert, feisty mood

It’s known that in Florida, where many gay men live, gay men cannot legally adopt children.  Yet the current governor happens to be Charlie Crist, a gay man, who occasionally escorts women in public. Crist not only supports that law, but also actively campaigned for a constitutional ban on gay marriage. In his wish to become John McCain’s running mate, Crist even got himself engaged t a woman.  However, while his former girlfriend claims that the gay rumors didn’t bother her at the time, she also implies that the rumors were grounded and had validity.

In his seminal play, “Angels in America,” playwright Tony Kushner has dealt with Ray Cohn’s denials of his homosexuality, even while he was dying of AIDS. And Dick again uses Kushner’s testimony to an advantage—Cohn really belongs in this company.  Less interesting is the tale of former New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey, who resigned after a gay sex scandal, who in a sort of apologetica discusses of how important it is to be true to yourself.

And how do you “handle” the case of former, highly popular New York Mayor Ed Koch, who did little to fight  AIDS or promote gay rights during his multiple terms, during which he had at least one long-lasting gay affair, according to David Rothenberg,  the first openly gay candidate for New York’s City Council (long after Harvey Milk in San Francisco, by the way).

Then there’s Ken Mehlman, the manager of George W. Bush’s 2004 campaign, who despite being secretly gay, helped the president make opposition to gay marriage a major issue in his platform. This case gets even more interesting when TV celeb-host Bill Maher outs Mehlman on CNN, and later the news channel deletes that part from its rebroadcasting of the interview and removes it from online transcripts.

It comes as no surprise that the dominant, mainstream media are silent, complicit partners with socio-moral status quo, thus helping the hypocrites keep their secrets hidden from the public.   For obvious reasons, the media has always underplayed or disregarded such potentially juicy stories.

Censorship for sure, but is it also a conspiracy?  Silent conspiracy?  That’s one of the most controversial and unsubstantiated matters of the film, for conspiracy implies active coordination among agencies (government and others) and Dick simply doesn’t have full evidence to substantiate this potentially inflammatory issue.

The most urgent issue in the rich, dense docu is the proposed link between anti-gay rhetoric in political speeches and a rise in violence against gays. Dick’s evidence here is  also a tad too tentative and anecdotal rather than definitive and utterly factual.

Some of the footage in the film is familiar and has been used in other features or programs, but there’s never enough of repeating such arguments and Dick deserves credit for assembling large amounts of data and presenting a clear mode.  Impressively, there is no narration and not much editorializing; just title cards.  With the exception of some blatant montages and juxtapositions, Dick lets his material speak for itself.

Of his new research, the most valuable are his interviews with openly gay politicians and journalists, who offer thoughts and insights about various problems, including tracking down those who have valid information about the gay hypocrites and then disclosing it in public.

One thing is for sure: Dick’s “Outrage” makes a strong case that there are many more gay politicians out there with appalling records to match those of Craig and Crist.

For those interested:

Kirby Dick’s other films include “Derrida,” a portrait of the world-renowned French philosopher Jacques Derrida, which won the Golden Gate Award at the San Francisco Film Festival, and the internationally acclaimed and my personal favorite of Dick’s work, “Sick: The Life & Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist,” which won the Special Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival and the Grand Prize at the Los Angeles Film Festival.

Subjects (In Order of Appearance)

James McGreevey – 52nd Governor (Democrat) of New Jersey.  After nearly three years in office, he resigned from office, declared his homosexuality and admitted to an extramarital affair with an adviser.

Kevin Naff – Editor of the Washington Blade and Genre Magazine.

Dan Popkey — A reporter for the Idaho Statesman, Popkey was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for his investigation into Larry Craig in 2007.

Jim Hormel – Former ambassador to Luxembourg. Nominated by Bill Clinton, Hormel is the first openly gay man to represent the US as an ambassador.

David Phillips – Alleges that he slept with a prominent congressman in 1986.  He is currently an information technology consultant in the Washington DC area.

David Catania – Openly gay member of the DC City Council. Member of the “Austin 12,” 12 members of the Log Cabin Republicans who met with George W. Bush in 2000.

Elizabeth Birch – Former director of the Human Rights Campaign. In 2000, Birch became the first leader of an LGBT organization to give a prime-time speech at the Democratic National Convention.

Michael Rogers – Activist/outer and founder of BlogActive.com.  First reported on the hypocrisy of several prominent congressmen and senators, long prior to any coverage by the mainstream media.

Dan Gurley – Former RNC field director who oversaw anti-gay campaigns by the RNC and was therefore was “outed” by Michael Rogers. He now works for Equality North Carolina.

Andrew Sullivan – Prominent gay journalist and blogger.  His blog Daily Dish appears in The Atlantic Online.

Barney Frank — Democratic Congressman from Massachusetts since 1981. He is the first member of Congress to come out of the closet of his own volition, and one of only three openly gay members of Congress.

Bob Norman — Columnist for The Broward-Palm Beach New Times.  He was the first journalist to report on questions of hypocrisy with regard to voting records and the private lives of two prominent Florida politicians.

Michelangelo Signorile – Radio host on Out Q at Sirius XM. Gay activist with ACT UP and Queer Nation. Co-founding editor of OutWeek (1989). Joined The Advocate in 1991.

Larry Gross – A key figure in formation of Gay and Lesbian studies. Director and Professor of USC Annenberg School of Communications.

Rodger McFarlane – Activist, founder of Gay Men’s Health Crisis. He is the former executive director of the Denver-based Gill Foundation and the author of The Complete Bedside Companion: No-Nonsense Advice on Caring for the Seriously Ill.

Larry Kramer – LGBT rights activist, founder of AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) in 1987. A playwright and author he was nominated for an Academy Award for “Women in Love” and Pulitzer Prize for “The Destiny of Me.”

Wayne Barrett — Reporter and editor for Village Voice since 1979. Writer of The Big Apple: City for Sale: Ed Koch and the Betrayal of New York.

David Rothenberg – Social activist, playwright and theater producer and founder of the Fortune Society. In 1985, he was first openly gay candidate in history to run for NYC Council. Friend of Richard Nathan.

Frederick Hertz – Former attorney to and friend of Richard Nathan.

Gary Cathey – Founder of ACT UP. Shreveport.  Allegedly had a longstanding relationship with a prominent Republican congressman.

Chris Bull – Former reporter at The Advocate. While a reporter at the publication, he wrote “The Outing of a Family Values Congressman: US Representative Jim McCrery’s Double Life.”

Mark Cromer –His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, Los Angeles Daily Journal, Los Angeles Daily News, New York Daily News and many other publications around the country. First to report on the hypocrisy of a prominent California congressman.

Steve Clemons – DC insider, publisher of political blog, The Washington Note.

Alexander Robinson – CEO of National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC). Deputy Executive Director for the National Minority AIDS Council and member of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS during the Clinton Administration.

Hilary Rosen – Currently an on-air Contributor for CNN and Washington Editor-at-Large for The Huffington Post. She was formerly the chairman and chief executive of the Recording Industry Association of America and former interim director for the Human Rights Campaign.

Rich Tafel – Former executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans. President of RLT Strategies and author of “Party Crasher: A Gay Republican Challenges Politics as Usual.”

Jose Antonio Vargas – An out reporter at The Washington Post, Vargas won a Pulitzer Prize as part of a team that covered the 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech.

Tom Sheridan –Lobbyist and founder of The Sheridan Group, a government and public relations organization in Washington. Former director of public policy at the AIDS Action Council. Founder of AIDSPAC.

Kirk Fordham — Rep. Mark Foley’s, former chief of staff and campaign manager.   He raised the issue of Foley’s instant messages with pages with the staff of House Speaker Dennis Hastert more than three years before the news became public.

Patrick Guerriero — Former Executive Director of the Log Cabin Republicans.  He served three terms as a MA state representative and two as Mayor of Melrose, MA. Currently his is the executive director of the Gill Action Fund, which advocates gay and lesbian equality.

Jim Kolbe – Former Arizona Congressman came out in August 1996 after the magazine The Advocate threatened to out him for his vote in favor of the Defense of Marriage Act.

Tammy Baldwin – Representative, Wisconsin 2nd district. One of three openly gay members of Congress.

Neil Guiliano — Former Republican mayor of Tempe, AZ. He has been the President of Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) since September 2005.

Matt Weissman – Psychotherapist.

Tony Kushner – Pulitzer Prize winning playwright of Angels in America.

Dina Matos McGreevey – Ex-wife of former New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey.

John Byrne – Editor and publisher of Raw Story.