Question of the Week: February 10th, 2015

What’s your position on forced outing, specifically of people in positions of power? Before you react aggressively, as I did when I was first asked this question, let me qualify it: there have been a number of politicians and other public figures that have openly opposed reforms for the benefit of LGBTQIA populations and refused to entertain any possible future with those reforms. Several of these figures have, curiously, ended up as a part of these populations themselves– usually being gay or bisexual. Some activist organizations working in the core of the issue have outed these politicians, accusing them of hypocrisy and opening them to public criticism and indictment from both sides of the ideological divide. Is this practice justified? Can it ever be justified? I understand that violence in response to violence may seem more like self-defense, but should certain parts of a person, such as their gender or sexual identity, be respected no matter the circumstances?

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8 Responses to Question of the Week: February 10th, 2015

  1. elainexe says:

    The hurt caused by opposition to queer causes I think is greater than their personal hurt at outing would be. Outing them would have both good and bad in it; I wouldn’t promote it but I don’t know if I would condemn the people who do the outing either….

  2. Writer Ace says:

    I think the problem with it is that it undermines the important message that people should get to choose who to share what with. Doing this very easily opens up the argument that anyone has the right to out anyone else, which can be dangerous. Doing this makes the activists hypocrites too.

  3. maralaurey says:

    I don’t think anyone should ever out someone else, no matter what reasons they may have. The question that has to be asked in those sorts of situations is why are the politicians being hypocrites and basically opposing their own movement? I guess the assumption of the groups that outed them was that they wanted to get ahead in politics and lying about themselves was the best way to do that, but people (even politicians!) are more complicated than that — the politician they outed may have been desperately attempting to win the respect of their family members or have not been able to admit their own orientation to themselves, and being outed (especially in such a public and humiliating manner) could cause them a lot of psychological problems as well as putting their career in jeopardy.

    I understand that the politicians were doing harm as well, but the way I see it, there are hundreds of other ways to try and get them to change policies without resorting to outing them.

  4. Siggy says:

    I believe in using more fine-grained ethical rules, so the fact that outing a politician superficially resembles outing a private individual does not represent a problem for me.

    However, outing people against their will is harmful, and harm to bad people is still harm. While outing a bad politician may stop them from causing harm, I worry that it may be a form of “escalation”. If everyone does everything they can to harm politicians they don’t like, then that doesn’t help anything, and in fact it makes things worse (eg by ensuring that only wealthy people who can afford stringent reputation management can ever run for office).

    On the other hand, politician’s personal experiences are somewhat relevant to their politics, and I support at least some degree of scrutiny on their lives. So I think it’s acceptable to out politicians who take anti-gay stances. I don’t think it’s acceptable to out politicians who are abhorrent for any other reasons.

    • Carmilla DeWinter says:

      Hmm. I’d say my stance is similar. Vocal anti-gay person outed for being a hypocrite? Yeah. As far as I’m concerned, the same type of disclosure would go for someone who is advocating higher taxes but doesn’t pay any themself for Swiss number account reasons or similar.
      Outing someone just because I don’t agree with them: Not done.

    • Silvermoon says:

      I think that I feel about the same?

      But I also feel like it could be a bit of a slippery slope; when is it okay to out someone, and when is it not? And would that be pushed?
      I mean, in everyday life I am very opposed to outing someone against their will.

    • Elizabeth says:

      I have similar views. I especially like the point about considering escalation, and the consequences of limiting who can run for office.

      It’s also worth considering whether or not the assumptions that a person “outing” a politician for “being gay” is making about that person are actually true. As we know in the ace community, people will often leap to conclusions about a person’s sexuality based on the smallest amount of evidence that they incorrectly assume must lead to the conclusion that they’re “actually gay.” So depending on what standard of evidence the outer is using, there is some potential harm that could come to the ace community–if not also the wider LGB(T) community–by promoting narratives that suggest one cannot conceive of [x] action being performed unless the person doing it is gay.

      [TW: sexual violence, specifically against boys/men] One situation where I think it is particularly inappropriate to assume a person is gay is in cases of predatory behavior. There are a lot of myths about “predatory gays,” but there is some evidence to suggest (although right now, I can’t remember specifically where I read it) that straight men are often perpetrators of sexual violence against boys and other men (especially those who are gay or perceived as such). That’s not to say that gay men can’t also be perpetrators of sexual violence, of course… but the assumption that any man who does such a thing is “really gay” and therefore harming “his own cause” erases the violence of what he’s doing. So it’s possible that when a politician who spews anti-gay bigotry is caught having “gay sex” he may actually be doing it just to harm gay people further, in an even more disgusting, contemptible way. It seems rare that a person “outing” a politician checks to make sure whatever sexual acts they witnessed were consensual first.

      Of course, when there is evidence that the behavior was actually violent, then I think it’s more warranted to tell the world about it, because that sort of person shouldn’t be in office. But we have to be very careful about what sort of story we tell.

      It’s an extremely tricky situation with a lot of hidden harm that could potentially be done, so I think that our standards of evidence should be high, and we should be very careful about what sort of assumptions we make.

  5. accessdenied says:

    Does outing politicians for this reason even work? Presumably these politicians are aware that that they’ve done whatever incriminating behavior the activists reveal to the general public (been seen at Famous Gay Club, suspicious motel visits w/ someone of the same sex, gay porn on hard drive, etc) but they still support anti-LGBTQ laws for whatever reasons they have. Does publicly casting aspersions on their heterosexuality make them change that support? Even if it does, there are still plenty of 100% straight politicians who are anti-LGBTQ. I think it’s more effective to fight the content of anti-LGBTQ legislation, and the heterosexist/cissexist attitudes behind them, than any individual politician–the individual politician might lose the support of their party, but another, straighter politician will just step up to take their place.

    That said, I think that opening yourself up to greater public scrutiny is one of the costs you have to pay for getting to make & directly influence laws. If you don’t want everyone paying attention to what you do off the clock, you shouldn’t have a job that affects so many people’s lives.

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