Dick Opens the D.C. Closet in 'Outrage'

What do former New York City mayor Ed Koch, Florida governor Charlie Crist, retired Idaho Senator Larry Craig and Republican Congressman David Dreier have in common? All are "outed’ in Kirby Dick’s new film Outrage, which was just released by Magnolia Pictures on May 8.

Outrage shines a light on those politicians who have repeatedly voted against gay civil rights legislation, yet who are allegedly gay themselves. More than just a film about who’s hiding in the closet, the documentary is about hypocrisy and how it distorts the political process. In what seems to be an attempt to distance themselves from any sort of homosexual identification, the politicians profiled in the film repeatedly vote against funding for AIDS research, gay marriage rights and adoption by gay parents. By exploring this territory, what could have just been a lascivious curiosity of a film becomes a documentary with meaning and depth that goes beyond just a tale of who supposedly did what with whom.

Says the Academy Award-nominated Mr. Dick, “One of the things that attracted me to the film was the whole ethics of outing. What we do in our film is we don’t out closeted politicians. We report on the hypocrisy of closeted politicians who vote anti-gay. I feel that that’s not only something that one has a right to do, but I think it’s the responsibility of journalists – and in this case, of the documentary filmmaker. Because if you don’t report on hypocrisy, then it just continues.”

His feelings are in sync with those of Representative Barney Frank (D-Mass), who states, “"There is a right to privacy, there's no right to hypocrisy." Frank is one of the few gay Congressmen who came out of the closet of his own accord while still in office. His appearance in Outrage, along with those of former NJ governor James McGreevey and former Arizona Congressman Jim Kolbe, helps audiences to understand the personal costs of staying in the closet.

Barney Frank
Barney Frank in OUTRAGE, a Magnolia Pictures release.
Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.


Kolbe came out in 1996 after the magazine The Advocate threatened to out him for his vote in favor of the Defense of Marriage Act. In the film he says he found a sense of “peace and calm” after going public with his sexuality.

McGreevey, who came out in August 2004, talks about the idea that if you try to shove your identity in a box, it can have disastrous consequences. The former governor describes how when you’re in the closet, you begin to feel shame because you act in shameful ways, i.e. having sex in back alleys. Mr. Dick then cuts to footage of Larry Craig's denial of engaging in homosexual activity in the bathroom. It’s a powerful juxtaposition, and makes for one of the more moving segments in the film.

Craig’s story is one of the few about closeted politicians that have received attention from the mainstream media. Bloggers and members of the alternative press such as Michael Rogers (BlogActive.com) and radio host Michelangelo Signorile (Out Q, Sirius XM), both of whom appear in the film, have been covering these stories of hypocrisy for years, but getting the traditional media to run pieces on the subject has been difficult.

“It’s sometimes what’s described as the “ick” factor, “ says Mr. Dick. “The [mainstream media] don’t want to report on anything having to do with gay sexuality. They think they have a readership that’s straight, maybe fundamentalist, they just don’t want to irritate them. Also, these outlets are owned by major corporations who do a lot of business on Capitol Hill. They only see a downside in reporting the truth when it comes to these powerful Congressmen whom they could be writing about.”

Ironically, that unwillingness to report on the issue is now having effects on coverage of Outrage the film. Mr. Dick relayed a story about a very positive review of the film that was pulled not by an editor, but by higher-ups at the paper. Says Mr. Dick, “That’s basically censorship, there’s no other way to say it.” He did not mention which publication it was...perhaps I should have asked him to 'out' the paper?

In a bizarre twist, another snag that the film is encountering is that certain outlets are refusing to review the film because they have a ‘no outing’ policy. Their companies feel Outrage violates this policy. When Mr. Dick heard about this conundrum from a reporter, his response was, “So you’re saying that your company’s policy on outing trumps your company’s policy on reporting?” The journalist was at a loss for a response.

Mr. Dick considers himself – and most political documentarians – part of the alternative media. He hopes that by existing in the entertainment realm, however, the documentary will eventually fire up discussion about closeted, gay, hypocritical politicans in the mainstream press, even if there is some initial recalcitrance.

“What I hope is that it actually helps to lead to the demise of the closet in American politics," he says. "Young people at the beginning of their political careers make a decision whether they’re going to stay in the closet or not. Up until recently, they could look around and say, ‘It doesn’t get reported on, I can get away with this.’ And so they do. I’m hopeful that after the film is out, they’re going to realize they can’t [get away with it anymore]. It’s not only better for them politically, but it’s also better for them personally, to run as an out gay candidate, whether Democrat or Republican.”

Tamara Krinsky is associate editor of
Documentary Magazine and an on-camera entertainment reporter. For more info: www.tamarakrinsky.com.