On the (closet) case

Pub date May 6, 2009
SectionFilm FeaturesSectionFilm Review

While gay rights have been a hot political button for a solid three decades-plus now, there is at least one arena in American life where the issue remains hush-hush: the corridors of actual political power. Such is the thesis — or rather accusation — of Kirby Dick’s new documentary, which wants to light a shaming agitative fire like his last one (2006 MPAA expose This Film Is Not Yet Rated), and with any luck will do so. His subject is the bizarre, undiminished existence of top U.S. politicos rumored to be gay, living as "confirmed bachelors" or "devoted family men." Despite their carefully groomed public images, however, the D.C. bubble is rife with first-person accounts of their ex-boyfriends and tricks, not to mention sightings at gay bars or even cruisey parks and washrooms. Whether due to inculcated self-loathing, ruthless careerism, or both, they live as if it were still the pre-Stonewall 1950s, their "secret" known only to a reliably zipped few.

Trouble is, the political system and mainstream media collude in maintaining that secrecy, for the sake of both convenience and a wariness toward scandal they seldom exhibit in any other realm. Nearly all of the closet cases Dick selects to out here are far-right Republicans who profit from the worst kind of hypocrisy: enjoying same-sex relations on the sly while publicly feeding conservative hysteria about the homosexual threat to family values. They’ve voted again and again against even partly pro-gay legislation, from anti-discrimination laws and (of course) gay marriage to AIDS services and research funding.

Because Outrage aims to have an explosive breaking-news impact, I won’t name the specific politicians targeted here. Suffice it to say they include a governor, Congress member, house representatives, mayors, and high-powered lobbyists, plus a couple of network news reporters. Is it anyone’s business what they "do" in private? Hell yes, when the public words and actions of these "traitors to their own people" result in hate crimes, disinformation, legalized biases, and worse. There’s nothing particularly elegant about this doc’s presentation, but then the point it has to make is blunt, and its effect is as righteously infuriating as intended. That clanging sound you hear is the closet-door lock in the executive men’s room being boot-kicked off its hinges. (Dennis Harvey)

OUTRAGE opens Fri/8 in Bay Area theaters.