A Case for Outing on All Levels



When antigay California state senator Roy Ashburn came out in March—only after he was busted for drunk driving following a night out at a Sacramento gay bar—he became the latest chapter of a story too many of us are sick of reading.

Ashburn, a 56-year-old Republican from Bakersfield, supported Proposition 8 and voted against gay rights initiatives. He continues to stand by his homophobic record, as do his hypocritical political compatriots—people like Idaho’s former U.S. senator Larry “Wide Stance” Craig.

What was truly surprising in the scandal, however, was the fact that so many people in Sacramento knew Ashburn was gay but chose not to speak out about it. This wasn’t a guy who was soliciting sex in airport restroom stalls; he was out in public, boozing in the gay bars and nightclubs. He was known by many prominent individuals and average folks to be gay.

After Ashburn’s arrest and awkward coming-out, many gay Sacramento residents told media outlets they knew about the secret life of this divorced politician and father of four. An eviscerating post about Ashburn on the blog JoeMyGod, titled “Collusion: People Knew Roy Ashburn Was Gay and They Said Nothing,” raised an important question: When the mainstream media and gay leaders fail to expose hypocrisy, is it time for an army of LGBT bloggers on the local level in every corner of the country to speak truth to power by holding the Roy Ashburns of their communities accountable?

In the context of the evolving national discussion on outing the Ashburn cover-up was quite startling. While Ashburn was hanging out at Sacramento gay bars, like Faces and Badlands, Kirby Dick’s documentary film Outrage had just been released on DVD after opening in theaters and running on HBO throughout 2009. The film (in which I was among those interviewed about the many stories I’ve reported on as a journalist exposing closeted public figures) makes a compelling case for outing antigay politicians—and explains how outing can be both responsible and relevant journalism. As politically sophisticated as California is, one would think many people surely got that message long before Outrage, particularly in the state’s robust LGBT activist community. So why wasn’t Roy Ashburn outed long ago?