Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Outing is the practice of deliberately making public another persons concealed sexual identity or orientation, without that person's consent.
The term derives from the expression "coming out," which has been used among gay men, lesbians and bisexuals for many years to mean "revealing one's gender orientation to others," but is also used in the context of other aspects of sexuality such as transvestitism, BDSM, and other paraphilias, and indeed any sexual choice frowned upon by applicable cultural viewpoints.
Motives for "outing" a person include personal malice, commercial gain, or political punishment. A separate motive is to further awareness of the sexual interest, thus showing that major figures have such an interest in order to advance a cause or prove it is not fringe or abnormal. A recent example was the outing of Edward Schrock, a Republican Congressman from Virginia, by gay rights activist Michael Rogers. Rogers posted a story on his website revealing that Schrock used an interactive phone sex service to meet other men for sex. Schrock did not deny the claim and announced that he would not seek re-election.
Rogers said that he was outing Schrock to punish him for his hypocrisy: Schrock voted for the Marriage Protection Act and also signed on as a co-sponsor of the Federal Marriage Amendment. "The time has come for these gay homophobes to step up or be outed," Rogers said. "Schrock is the first: more will follow."
Outing as a political tool
One of the pioneers of the idea of outing hypocritical closeted gay homophobes was Michelangelo Signorile, as he documents in his book Queer In America. In the early 1990s Signorile was excoriated, both within the gay community and in the straight press, but many of his tactics are now seen as legitimate political and journalistic techniques for uncovering and revealing hypocrisy among those in power who are undermining equality for GLB Americans.
Some in the gay rights movment continue to disapprove of outing as a political tactic, arguing that even anti-gay conservatives have a right to personal privacy which should be respected. Steven Fisher , a spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign, the largest advocacy group for gay and lesbian issues in the United States, commenting on the Schrock outing, said he opposed using "sexual orientation as a weapon." Christopher Barron , political director of the Log Cabin Republicans, a group representing gay and lesbian Republicans said: "We disagree strongly with the outing campaign, but we also strongly disagree with President Bush's sponsorship of the antifamily Federal Marriage Amendment."
Some gay rights activists, however, defend outing as a tactic. The British activist Peter Tatchell says that "The lesbian and gay community has a right to defend itself against public figures who abuse their power and influence to support policies which inflict suffering on homosexuals." In 1994 Tatchell's activist group OutRage! named fourteen bishops of the Church of England as homosexual or bisexual, accusing them of hypocrisy for upholding the Church's policy of regarding homosexual acts as sinful while not observing this prohibition in their personal lives.
"Outing is queer self-defence," Tatchell says. "Lesbians and gay men have a right, and a duty, to expose hypocrites and homophobes. By not outing gay Bishops who support policies which harm homosexuals, we would be protecting those Bishops and thereby allowing them to continue to inflict suffering on members of our community. Collusion with hypocrisy and homophobia is not ethically defensible for Christians, or for anyone else."
Impact and effectiveness
The effectiveness of outing as a political tactic depends on the willingness of the media to report that a person has been outed. The advent of the internet has made outing public figures much easier. Twenty years ago Michael Rogers would have had to persuade a newspaper or other media outlet to risk legal action by reporting his allegations about Schrock. Today he can publish them himself on his website and other media will then report that he has done so.
Outing has given rise to the expression "outing oneself": announcing that one has an alternate sexuality, possibly in order to pre-empt somebody else doing so in a less favourable way. The most recent example of self-outing was that of New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey, who announced that he was a "gay American" in August 2004. McGreevey had become aware that he was about to be named in a sexual harassment suit by Golan Cipel, his former security advisor, with whom it is alleged McGreevey had a sexual relationship.
Queer In America by Michelangelo Signorile (ISBN 0299193748)
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