A Case for Outing on All Levels



Two California newspapers apparently had prior knowledge about Ashburn’s sexual orientation. Following Ashburn’s arrest, The Bakersfield Californian reported that it had asked Ashburn in 2009 if he was gay, spurred by rumors that an unnamed Sacramento paper was also hot on the story. Ashburn responded to Californian columnist Lois Henry with nondenial spin, saying details of his personal life were irrelevant. Henry and the paper apparently agreed and decided not to run a story, later arguing that the relevance of Ashburn’s sexuality was “debatable.”

Christopher Cabaldon, the gay mayor of West Sacramento, referred publicly to Ashburn’s sexual orientation in a Facebook status update last fall, writing that “It wouldn’t bother me so bad to see Roy Ashburn at Badlands with a boy if he didn’t have such a bad voting record on gay rights.” He later told me that journalists called him after he posted the comment and that he elaborated on his statement with those reporters, but none of them chose to publish anything. To Cabaldon’s dismay, the story seemed to have died on his Facebook page.

Trusting the mainstream media to actually cover the story, however, is the biggest mistake activists make, says blogger Mike Rogers, “the most feared man” in D.C., ­according to The Washington Post (he was also prominently featured in Outrage for his high-profile outings, including that of Larry Craig, who has denied being gay despite his arrest on charges of seeking sex in a men’s restroom back in 2007).

“Forget about the media,” Rogers says. “They’re not going to be first; they’re just too afraid. And who needs them? In this day and age there is no reason why any politician who is working against gays should be able to get away with it. What’s great about the Web and the power of activism is that people in every location—in the states, in small towns, everywhere—can take matters into their own hands. In the past the media was a barrier, but now you can influence them.”

But one Facebook status update isn’t enough. “It takes work,” Rogers says. “While the Web is an incredibly powerful tool, it takes an extraordinary message, and you have to keep it going.” Only then does the message have the possibility of reaching a crescendo to the point where the media have no choice but to follow.