National Commentary

Nicholas F. Benton: Outrage Over ‘Outrage’

bentonmugIn knee-jerk, archetypical fashion, a big, bullying newscaster threatened to punch out a homosexual in front of live TV cameras in Northern Virginia last week.

During an episode of News Channel 8’s “Let’s Talk Live,” newsman Doug McElway, who also has a show on WJLA, Channel 7, in the mornings, began chewing a metaphorical rug the minute gay activist Michael Rogers began talking about the new film, “Outrage,” now in theatres.

Revealing his own right-wing prejudice at the outset, McElway exclaimed that the idea of “outing” right-wing homosexual public officials who vote against equal rights protections for lesbians and gays “outrages me.” He pontificated, “I am a huge opponent of this process,” and continued to rant through the 10-minute interview.

Rogers’ blog,, documenting solid evidence of closeted homosexuals with strong anti-gay voting records for years, is featured in the Magnolia Pictures’ “Outrage.”

When Rogers, while trying to explain the purpose and value of the film on the TV show, asked the overly-exercised McElway to stop pointing at him aggressively, McElway replied, “I’ll do a lot more than point my finger!”

Rogers asked what that might be, and McElway then said he’d take Rogers “out back and punch you across the face!”

Wow! A live-action, unscripted real life threat by a big, angry man to beat up a homosexual! This might help explain what the movie, “Outrage” is all about, and why it is so important. One cannot imagine McElway making the same threat to another “real man” like him, if for no other reason than such a person might take him up on it, and beat the crap out of him.

The fact McElway remained clueless to the highly-bigoted nature of his action, coming back on TV to issue a statement defending himself, and insisting he’s not anti-gay, only underscores the reality of society’s permeating anti-gay prejudice that still requires a lot of profound cultural healing to fix.

The validity of the exposes contained in “Outrage” was summed up by openly-gay Rep. Bernie Frank in the film. He said, simply, that the whole American legislative system is built on the notion that lawmakers cannot operate outside of the laws they themselves legislate.

We all know there is a different standard to which public officials are answerable than those in private life. It is what requires great pains to insure an ethical standard is maintained above reproach, and it extends to as many requirements of formal transparency as possible. The reason is because the public does not want any lawmaker to secretly be acting out of personal gain, or any personal matter, in contradiction to the public interest.

The reality today, even when it comes to explosive debates and votes on matters of intimate importance to gays and lesbian persons, that every lawmaker is presumed to be straight, unless he or she has voluntarily offered information to the contrary.

Every secretly gay or lesbian lawmaker is shielded by this presumption from the kind of transparency that permeates all other aspects of his or her life.

Hypocrisy and conflict of interest matters, along with downright lying and deceit, are the worst poisons that foul the waters of publicly-elected bodies. If a lawmaker is not only homosexual, but actively practices homosexual behavior in sharp contradiction to his own public pronouncements, voting records and even the law, then when solid evidence of all that comes to light, the public has a right to know.

For the advancement of equal rights for lesbians and gays, this is also critical. “Outrage” is not just about “outing,” it’s about the correlation between the closet and voting records that perpetuate anti-gay discrimination and prejudice.

On the other hand, the film shows what happens when conservative lawmakers do “come out” of the closet and embrace their identity. One went from being an anti-gay political machine operative to being on the national board of an equal rights activist group in North Carolina. Another broke from his right-wing Republican colleagues in Congress to openly oppose the federal marriage amendment, which helped to kill it.

Both, and many others, also spoke in the film of the sense of personal liberation that they’ve enjoyed since “coming out.”