The closeted halls of power

New doc explores closeted, outed politicians, movers and shakers

Photo Credit: Magnolia Pictures

Photo Credit: Magnolia Pictures

Washington, D.C., house contractors must be used to building closets large and deep, judging from the controversial new documentary, “Outrage.” A scathing indictment of closeted gay politicians who vote against or demonize the LGBT community (Sen. Larry Craig, RNC field director Dan Gurley, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist), thoughtful investigation of the whys behind this closet culture and the mainstream media’s complicity in it, profile of the activists and outers (Michelangelo Signorile, Michael Rogers and Larry Kramer) and a look at the good that ultimately comes from being, or coming, out in politics (New Jersey’s Jim McGreevey, Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank and Wisconsin Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin), “Outrage” is directed by Academy Award nominated, gay-friendly filmmaker Kirby Dick (“This Film Is Not Yet Rated,” “Twist of Faith”).

A day before “Outrage” premiered to rave reviews at New York’s Tribeca Film Festival (contrary to online reports, McGreevey did not storm out of the screening — he even stayed through its Q&A, although whether he enjoyed the film remains unknown), I sat down with Dick at Magnolia Pictures’ Manhattan office for a one-on-one conversation.

Director Kirby Dick on the set of OUTRAGE, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

Director Kirby Dick on the set of OUTRAGE, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

What was the genesis of this project?
I was in Washington, D.C., during August 2006, promoting “This Film is Not Yet Rated,” and I thought, the only reason I knew about this story of the ratings board was because I’m in the film industry — there are probably a number of great stories for documentaries in D.C. that people only know inside the beltway. I started asking around and very quickly this story came forward that these politicians are gay yet voting antigay. The first thing was [a rumor] that Karl Rove was gay. There’s no substantiation for that, it’s just a rumor.

I sincerely hope he’s not gay. I’ll take a baker’s dozen of J. Edgar Hoovers over one Rove.
Right. Although his stepfather was gay. and actually he refers to his stepfather as his father. He’s the man who raised him. Bizarre. And, Rove’s still out there. He’s still out there on FOX news.

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Did many other closeted politicians come up during research that you didn’t include because there wasn’t enough evidence or testimony?
Yes, there were. Rumors about a lot of other people, some of them very powerful, but there wasn’t substantiation.

Can you share those names now?
I’d rather not. I’m sure you’ve probably heard them all.

Were you surprised to learn about Crist?
I learned about that very early on in the process. Well before I started shooting. As soon as you go online there are these rumors.

What were your thoughts on “outing” before this?
For years I had been following [the outing of politicians]. Not real closely, but I had been following it and I guess I had been in favor of outing in situations where there was very clear hypocrisy.

Did any of the people who out politicians, like Michael Rogers of blogactive.com, express a fear of meeting with an “accident,” a la Karen Silkwood or Tom Wilkinson’s character in “Michael Clayton?”
Mike Rogers did. [But] I think most of these politicians, to get where they have gotten, are very savvy and realize that anything like that is just going to backfire on them. It just isn’t worth it to get into that territory because it just platforms their cause, really.

Did anyone back out of testifying on film?
Yes, One or two people said yes and changed their mind. I’d rather not say whom. The challenge was getting the people we got. Some of these people took 6-9 months to get.

Did you approach Mary Cheney?
We did not. I don’t think we felt we had good access to her until very late in the game, when it turned out just by a personal connection there was a possible access. But that was too late. We stopped doing interviews a few months before.

I thought you let Jim McGreevey off a little too easy by not confronting him about, or really going into, the brewing scandal that motivated his coming out when he did.
It is tangentially addressed in some of the news clips, that he resigned because of a scandal having to do with appointing someone he had a relationship with to his staff. [Not going into that further] was really an issue of time. But, I agree with you. He’s a brilliant politician and it was a very brilliant political move on one hand. On the other hand, it was very important, someone coming forward and saying, “I was closeted and a gay politician.” The [McGreevey] interview was phenomenal. There was another hour I could have put in the film. All kinds of fascinating stories he told about how he protected the closet.

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I actually hope he re-enters politics again because as I recall he was, sexuality and scandal aside, quite progressive.
Well, I don’t think he’s going back into politics.

The arrest photos of former Sen. Larry Craig.

The arrest photos of former Sen. Larry Craig.

Who do you feel is the biggest devil in the film? Larry Craig is plain vile, but Charlie Crist comes across like Damien from “The Omen III.” I’m actually scared I’ll see crows on my way home for saying that.
(Laughs) Well, what’s interesting about Crist is here’s a person who really wants to make everybody happy. That’s the way I see him. I do not see him as a real visionary at all. I see him as a real compromiser. He just made this choice [to support Florida’s Amendment 2 and ban on gays adopting], it’s such a purely political choice, it’s not something he believes at all. I feel that very strongly. On one level that’s really unforgivable, to vilify a whole group of people just to get elected when you don’t believe it. But, he’s not a Larry Craig or Terry Dolan.

What else did Larry Kramer have to say? Did some vitriol about former NYC Mayor Koch — who is pretty much outed once and for all here — end up on the cutting room floor?
I’d followed Larry’s activity for many years, so it was a real honor just to meet him and talk to him. Obviously he’s still very angry about Koch and rightfully so, I think. One of the things I was looking at was the activists versus the more mainstream gay rights organizations and the roles that they play. I was very interested in the interplay between the two because there’s a tension. With Larry there’s no question that his vitriol, if you will, certainly contributed to progress on AIDS research and whatever cause he’s been involved with. Larry’s not afraid to express it but he plays an extremely important role. He along with Peter Tatchell, whom we interviewed but couldn’t put in the film. To be in the presence of these activists and how they think and work, they’re just attuned to injustice.

What else got cut?
We interviewed about twice as many people. One of the pleasures of making this film was how articulate everybody was. Regardless of where they were in the political spectrum, they had thought about these issues for decades. In many ways the themes were being laid out for me by what they said. They had really been through all the pain and struggle and thought it through.

Is it possible for an openly gay politician to run and win high office without selling their soul and playing straight?
Like run for President? Right now, that’s a good question. I think it’s possible. I think things are changing. In some ways, people said Obama wouldn’t win. A lot of people. Not only has he broken new ground for other minorities, I think with the right politician it is. They might have to run a few times but if they’re very skilled it’s possible. Yes.

What do you hope ultimately comes out of “Outrage?”
Three things. I think this is a seminal time in the struggle for gay rights, which I think is the most important human rights issue in this country today, and I hope this film helps to advance that. I hope it helps to shed light on hypocrisy and the closet. One of the reasons the closet has existed for so long is people haven’t written about it other than the gay press and blogosphere, and I think if people start talking about it [young politicos] will realize maybe it’s not the right choice when they’re in their early 20s going into politics to say I should be closeted to have a political career. The right choice is to be open about it. And hopefully in 20 years there will be no reason to have a sequel.

And, are you looking forward to reactions from the film’s closeted subjects?
No, I don’t think so. This isn’t really meant in any way to be vindictive at all. I actually feel a great deal of empathy for closeted politicians. Less so when they vote antigay, but it is obviously…they made a decision early on in their life. I think the wrong one. But, it is a painful life to lead. I’m not going to get any glee out of them seeing the film.

— “Outrage” is currently screening nationally, in select theaters. Visit www.magpictures.com for more information.

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