Outing homophobes is ethically justifiable.
OutRage! has never outed anyone. Four years ago, we urged 10 Anglican bishops to be truthful about their sexuality. Since they demand the rest of us tell the truth, surely we have a right to ask them to practice what they preach.
Not according to John Lyttle. In last week’s Independent, he accused OutRage! of conducting a “reign of terror”, outing people left-right-and-centre. This is sheer fiction.
Myself and OutRage! are, in fact, opposed to outing – except when public figures abuse their power to harm other gay people. In these limited circumstances, outing is ethically justifiable. Otherwise not. That’s why we condemned the outing of George Michael and Michael Barrymore. They were not harming the queer community.
The outing of homophobes, in contrast, has substantial support among lesbians and gays. The reason is simple: outing has a cause and the cause is homophobia. If there was no homophobia, there would be no outing.
For over 30 years, parliament has rejected every attempt to legislate gay equality. The only major legal change – Section 28 – increased discrimination. In 1994, MPs voted against an equal age of consent, and two years ago they voted to retain the ban on homosexuals in the military. There are still no legal rights for same-sex couples, and it remains lawful to discriminate against gay people in employment and housing.
Faced with this scandalous ‘sexual apartheid’, queers are entitled to be uppity. We have a right to defend ourselves against the homophobes – straight and gay– who are wrecking our lives.
Queer homophobes are hypocrites and their hypocrisy deserves to be exposed. Why should anyone feel sympathy for those who publicly preach homophobia while privately practising homosexuality?
When closeted queers in positions of influence pervert their authority to harm other gay people, their duplicity and bigotry is a matter of legitimate public interest.
Outing is not about persuasion. It is a measure of last resort when persuasion has failed. The aim is to discredit the perpetrators of discrimination by unmasking them as hypocrites. Because outing can help destroy the power and credibility of homophobes in high places, it is the right thing to do.
The alternative – not outing homophobes – involves collusion with the oppression of other lesbians and gays. By refusing to out influential homosexuals who support anti-gay laws, we allow them to continue to hurt fellow queers. Our silence and inaction make us accomplices to their discrimination.
Outing is queer self-defence against homophobia. Like every victimised minority, the gay community has a right to defend itself against those who cause it harm.
Most people agree that a person who is attacked in the street is entitled to fight back. Well, that’s what the outing of homophobes involves. We are defending our community against those who attack us. Do the critics of outing expect queers to let themselves be bashed with impunity for another 2,000 years?
Outing is provocative. But sometimes it is necessary to rock the boat to get social change. Lobbying parliament has not achieved any major gay law reform since 1967. Outing is on the agenda because orthodox political campaigning has failed to deliver equality.
No movement for social justice has won human rights without being confrontational. The suffragettes proved that, and they are OutRage!’s inspiration. Although now hailed as heroines, the suffragettes used to be reviled as “extremists”, as some people today revile OutRage!. But their militancy put women’s suffrage on the political agenda. If they had confined themselves to lobbying parliament, they would have been ignored. It would have taken women much longer to win the vote.
In contrast to the violence of the suffragettes, outing is totally peaceful. It is a measured response to the suffering caused by anti-gay discrimination. The real extremism is not outing, but the homophobia that makes outing necessary.
Homophobes have a choice. If they don’t want to be outed, all they have to do is stop supporting homophobia, then no one will out them. The choice is theirs. If they choose to carry on bashing the gay community, they have wilfully put themselves in the firing line and have only themselves to blame if they get outed.
Critics condemn the outing of homophobes as an invasion of privacy. That’s rich. These bigots invade the lives of gay people by supporting laws that rob queers of human rights. Then they and their apologists have the gall to demand that we respect their right to privacy. Do these hypocrites think we are fools? There can be no tolerance of intolerance. When homophobes invade the privacy of others, they forfeit the right to have their own private lives respected.
Naming names does work. Within four weeks of OutRage! asking the 10 bishops to “Tell The Truth”, Anglican leaders began their first serious dialogue with the gay community and the House of Bishops condemned homophobic discrimination. The dismissal of gay clergy fell sharply. Churches all over the country discussed homosexual issues. According to the Lesbian & Gay Christian Movement, naming the bishops achieved more in three months than polite lobbying achieved in 17 years.
Published as “I’m out with the in crowd”, Independent, 30 April 1998.
See also “Media Mendacity Over Outing- the Truth Behind the Headlines”, British Journalism Review, Volume 9, No. 2, June 1998