Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Outing: 20 Years Later

Though we’d planned it for months, the timing of our special show on Friday, live from San Francisco, couldn’t be more perfect. In the wake of national discussions about former Bush-Cheney '04 campaign manager and RNC chairman Ken Mehlman (who recently came out as gay), federal Judge Vaughn Walker (who overturned Prop 8) and Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan (who, in the end, had a friend come forward to confirm she is straight), “The Michelangelo Signorile Show” hosts a special live broadcast and panel discussion: “Outing, 20 Years Later: The Ethics of Reporting on the Sexual Orientation of Public Figures.”

The two-hour event takes place at the National Gay and Lesbian Journalists Association (NLGJA) 20th annual convention at the Hyatt Regency in San Francisco, as a plenary discussion on Friday, September 3rd, 11 PT, 2 ET and broacasts live on Sirius XM OutQ (Sirius 109, XM 98). It will air live for the first two hours of our regular show (it will rebroadcast during the last two ours of our regular show).

Our panel includes Mike Rogers of Blogactive, who was at the forefront of reporting on Senator Larry Craig, Congressman Mark Foley, Ken Mehlman and many others; LZ Granderson, columnist for ESPN Page 2, host of the web-based ESPN360 talk show “Game Night” and a frequent commentator for; and Michael Triplett, a contributor for the media analysis site Mediaite, assistant chief of correspondents for the Bureau of National Affairs, and a board member of NLGJA. They and other gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender NLGJA members in the audience, journalists from across the country, will be participating, asking questions and commenting, as will be listeners from coast to coast calling in.

It was 20 years ago when the issue of “outing” first exploded on the national scene, shortly after I wrote a cover story for OutWeek magazine, titled “The Secret Gay Live of Malcolm Forbes,” within weeks of the multimillionaire’s death. The issue dominated the 1st convention of NLGJA in 1992, as newly out journalists in the mainstream media grappled with how to report on gays and lesbians in public life.

The late Randy Shilts, the groundbreaking reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle and author of the acclaimed "And the Band Played On," spoke out against reporting on the sexual orientation of public figures and dubbed gay journalists who promoted such reporting as "lavender fascists," while the late Advocate editor Richard Roulard defended outing antigay hypocrites in government. Gay conservative Andrew Sullivan, then the editor of The New Republic, came out forcefully against outing, battling with me and others at the convention. The New York Times published a terrible and biased report on the convention and on the outing debate, which actually claimed to be able to delineate our positions by the way we dressed! (Honestly, don’t believe much in this bad article, though it is an interesting artifact to take a look at.)

Twenty years later, positions have changed dramatically: Andrew Sullivan, for one, formerly attacking “the gay left” for outing, focused a great deal of time and effort in early 2010 trying to get the corporate media to report on the sexual orientation of Supreme Court Justice nominee Elena Kagan – to the consternation of many, including those who normally support reporting on closeted hypocrites. Openly gay journalist Marc Ambinder of The Atlantic, to whom Ken Mehlman came out, now says he would have outed Mehlman years ago if he had the evidence. California State Senator Roy Ashburn was outed on Facebook by the mayor of West Sacramento, but no one in the media took notice. Not until he was arrested on a DUI after leaving a gay bar did the truth come out though editors and reporters had known for a long time. Meanwhile, Judge Vaughn Walker was reported on as gay based on nothing but an “open secret,” something which media from across the country would pick up on months later, spurred by antigay zealots after he handed down his decision overturning Proposition 8.

All of these and many other revelations over the past 20 years – from Congressman Mark Foley to Senator Larry Craig -- show that the ethics and standards for reporting are still very uneven even if such reporting has moved forward. And so, we’ll exchange ideas and raise many of the questions that need to be raised in this ongoing discussion and debate. I hope you’ll all join us, Friday, 2 East, 11 West.

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