Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Was Tyler Whitney outed or did he come out?

There's been a lot of discussion on many blogs about whether or not Tyler Whitney was actually "outed" or not, whatever that word has come to mean. Many callers to my show had various perspectives on this as well, and it is fascinating.

As someone who was at the center of the outing debates back in the early 90s I'd like to throw in my two cents. I hated the word outing -- which Time magazine came up with to describe my and others' journalism back then -- because I felt it was a biased, violent, active verb used by the media to condemn what was simply honest journalism. I just saw it as "reporting." We didn't have a separate word for reporting on heterosexual public figures' marriages and relationships when relevant (and often when not relevant, which is just gossip), so why should we have a separate word for this?

But the word stuck, and has actually now become widely used for a variety of other things, from "Deep Throat" revelations to CIA agents being exposed. So, we have the word, like it or not.

It was interesting the way different bloggers and publications reported on the Tyler Whitney story. I wrote that Between the Lines, the Michigan gay paper that brought it forth, had outed Whitney. In that story, however, reporter Todd Heywood described Whitney as "coming out" -- to various people in recent months, one of whom was named. And Heywood reported on a posting by a conservative Michigan blogger that implied that Whitney was gay; the conservative blogger wrote that Whitney was going to spend time this summer with gay conservatives in DC and was going to the pride events.

Some gay blogs thus reported that the conservative blog did the "outing" while others are saying Whitney wasn't outed at all, because he came out on his own in recent months to a few people.

I agree with both of those points of view to an extent (as contradictory as that may be), particularly if we were to drop this word entirely -- and like I said, I never liked it. But really, the word is in use and if the working definition of outing is that the person is reported on, without ambiguity and with solid sourcing, against his or her own wishes, then it was Between the Lines that outed Tyler Whitney.

The conservative blog didn't state it outright nor quote any sources. It was innuendo or gossip, take your pick --and there are straight people, after all, who go to pride events. And let's not forget that Whitney had gone to a protest to hold up a sign reading "Go Back in the Closet." Looking at his history, he had every reason to go and talk to gay people, though not with a positive message. The conservative blog didn't have the clarity to be an outing, even if you could make assumptions.

And though Whitney had come out to people in his life, he was more or less confiding in them -- they decided to speak to a reporter because they thought it was important, and he clearly didn't want them to do so. When contacted by Todd Heywood, the reporter, Whitney responded that it was a "privacy" issue and refused to confirm it.

So, in my opinion, he was outed by the gay paper, and I don't have a problem with that at all, because it was important and certainly proper journalism -- Whitney is a public figure and his sexual orientation was relevant to the work he was doing and the public positions he'd taken. Again, I'd love to get rid of this word outing entirely, and just call it reporting. But where the hell do we begin that one?