Should gay and lesbian Congress members and staffers be outed?
When they engage in anti-gay activism — yes.
That’s because the question is not “Do members of Congress and their staffers have a right to privacy about their sexual orientation?” There is no such thing as privacy about anyone’s sexual orientation. Not only is your sexual orientation almost impossible to hide, but also knowing it is so fundamental to creating rapport that practically everyone you meet automatically sizes you up and makes their own decision no matter what you say. On top of that, since straight people flaunt their sexual orientation 24/7, the more private you are about your personal life, the faster people assume you are gay. Try spending a week monitoring every single thing you say and do to ensure that you are able to conceal the most fundamental fact about you after your gender — your sexual orientation. You will get an idea how difficult it is — and how futile.
Not that long ago, as late as the 1980s, it was vastly more dangerous to be openly gay than it is today. I came out at the age of 18 in 1972 and lived through this. In order to have any kind of life, nearly every gay person had to live a lie. That is why, when practically all of us had to keep a secret in order to survive, the gay community was complicit with the anti-gay activism of gay members of Congress. One such member, conservative Republican Robert Bauman, was defeated in November 1980, a month after he was caught soliciting a 16-year-old boy for sex. (Bauman later boasted in his autobiography that he often visited gay bars in Washington, D.C., and recognized many gay members of Congress and their staffers there.)
Also at that time, Maryland had another closeted member of Congress, liberal Democrat Barbara Mikulski, who effectively was outed by a scandal in 1981 when she was serving in the House of Representatives. She briefly lived with Australian feminist Teresa Brennan and hired her as a member of her staff. The consensus in the state seemed to be that no one cared that Mikulski was a lesbian because people liked her and thought she was doing a good job. In 1986, when Mikulski and Republican Linda Chavez were competing for Maryland’s Senate seat, Chavez based her campaign on metaphorically calling Mikulski a lesbian and lost. Maryland knew, and Maryland didn’t care.
Nevertheless, Sen. Mikulski voted for the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act. Soon afterward, gay activists confronted her about her vote at a book signing. The certainty of being outed has improved her subsequent record on legislation concerning gay equality.
That is why I believe we must and should out closeted gay and lesbian members of Congress and staffers when they engage in anti-gay activism.