The Political Closet

The “outing” of public figures who are LGBT is an extremely emotive and difficult issue.
It is not straightforward. None of us want to go back to the days of lurid tabloid headlines which outed gay politicians, often leading to resignations and a retreat into the political wilderness, and often left many cowering in the closet.
Even the infamous outing of Peter Mandelson by Matthew Parris on Newsnight, although hardly shocking to the Westminster village, was at best undignified.
The answer should be of course that all politicians, and figures in public life, should feel comfortable and able to be open about their sexuality and not fear jeopardising their careers if they do so. The number of openly gay members of the Cabinet and Shadow Cabinet should prove that it is not necessarily a barrier, although we haven’t yet faced the realistic prospect of a gay prime minister (the first of which we saw in Iceland recently).
We all know, especially those that work in politics, that there are plenty of politicians that are ‘in the closet’ and not open about their sexual orientation to their constituents and the public at large.
The consensus seems to be that as long as they are not hypocritical, as long as they don’t actively support anti-gay legislation then while we may think it is sad, it is disappointing or in some blatant cases frankly pitiful, but we must respect their privacy and not actively announce their sexuality.
The issue is increasingly coming to the fore in the United States, perhaps a decade on when we reached some form of consensus here in Britain.
A new documentary movie, Outrage, actively outs mainly Republican politicians who it claims are in the closet and labels them as hypocrites. It makes reference to Florida governor Charlie Crist, a long-term bachelor who married last year and of course infamous Idaho Senator Larry “wide stance” Craig, as well as a number of other GOP legislators.
For gay Americans the situation is frustrating. There are only three openly gay members of Congress, no openly gay members of the Senate, no openly gay governors, and no openly gay members of the Cabinet. The temptation is to be more active in outing these lawmakers and thus showing the country that there are plenty of gay legislators out there.
Until now the emphasis, particularly that of the Victory Fund (which raises funds for openly gay candidates across the country) has been on getting more openly gay people elected.
This film marks a more aggressive effort to confront the issue. Where these legislators are actively promoting or supporting discriminatory legislation or using anti-gay rhetoric then the conclusion must be that they deserve everything coming to them. The difficulty arises when you attempt to define “hypocrisy”. Is opposing hate crimes laws or opposing same-sex marriage or failing to actively support gay rights intrinsically homophobic or hypocritical?  I would say yes, but there is complexity here.
My view is that hypocrisy should be viewed in a broad sense and those who are clearly hiding their quite obvious sexuality and who refuse to acknowledge this fact to their constituents and who refuse to do anything to support their LGBT peers deserve the full treatment of the media. At the same time, there are privacy issues, and we cannot give a blank cheque for the media to expose the private lives of every gay politician who it deems to be hypocritical.
My hope is that, particularly as America begins to embrace gay marriage and equal rights (if not in every part of the country) a new generation of politicians will not feel that they need sham marriages or denials to gain public office but can be themselves. Who do we want making laws (even if you have a problem with gay people)? Those who are gay and have stable lives, or those who are “married” and yet spend their time frequenting airport toilets looking for sex? The answer is clearly a no brainer.



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2 responses to “The Political Closet

  1. Tom

    Great blog Mark, I certainly hope that we do have a gay Prime Minister in the future; it would show that we have moved on and that being lgbt is accepted more by the public. And having gay politicians opens people’s eyes to show the wider world and who and what people are compared to what people may choose to believe. I do hope that we can follow Iceland although I doubt Gordon, Dave or Nick are gay so it may still be some time yet. But labour are the party of equality in regards to stopping discrimination of age, sexuality and race so it could be a gay Labour PM first, rather than a Tory or Lib Dem PM.

  2. Julia Diu

    Great post. It was so good to see the Streatham Labour selection fought between two gay candidates and but their sexuality was never part of the argument. But when will we get more gay women as candidates. Women did really badly in the Labour Streatham Selection. Are there any gay women standing in London?

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