By Brian Brooks | Indiewire April 23, 2009 at 5:40AM
The current governor of a major U.S. southern state, the campaign manager of a U.S. president, a senior West Coast congressman, a former mayor of New York City, and others are among those outed in Kirby Dick's "Outrage," a provocative new documentary debuting tomorrow night at the Tribeca Film Festival. Unseen in its finished form until yesterday, the film is likely to cause waves in political and media circles as word gets out about its subject matter. (indieWIRE watched the final cut of the documentary on Thursday.)
To seasoned politicos, those named as closeted gay politicians in Kirby Dick's "Outrage" - many of them socially conservative Republicans - will not come as a complete surprise. Indeed many of those profiled in the film, have had rumors swirling around them in political circles and alternative media already - and some for years. Nevertheless, the mainstream media have been hesitant and even openly reluctant to pursue the truth about allegedly gay politicians from the past and present.
All of that is likely to change once the new documentary debuts tomorrow night and then is quickly released in U.S. movie theaters by Magnolia Pictures. It will open in select cities on May 8th -- in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Philadelphia and Washington, DC -- with an expansion quickly thereafter.
The vast majority of people who do not keep close tabs on the political rumor mill may find the same level surprise after the film screens as when former New Jersey governor Jim McGreevey came out of the closet as a "gay American" and promptly resigned from office (McGreevey and his former wife make appearances in the film) or when conservative U.S. Senator Larry Craig (R-Idaho) was arrested for allegedly soliciting a hook up in a men's restroom stall at the Minneapolis airport. Both are profiled in the movie.
Politicians including Ed Schrock (R-Virginia) who opposed every piece of gay rights legislation that came across his desk during two terms in Congress used an interactive phone dating service soliciting sex with men (the recording is played if a bit inaudibly in the film). And he promptly dropped out of the race for another term. Even back in the Reagan era, the film argues, while the conservatives pushed to remake the U.S. and stamp out the sexual revolution of the '60s and '70s, some of those same right wingers were, in fact, sexually gay on the down-low.
Terry Dolan, the president of the National Conservative Political Action Committee (NCPAC) during the '80s, who played a fundamental role in ushering in the conservative era, was also a patron on the dance floor at the Flamingo gay bar in New York.
"This is a man whose raising money to kill us - Terry Dolan," ACT-UP founder Larry Kramer said about Dolan, in the film. Kramer confronted the conservative activist after he showed up at a gay party. "I said [to him], 'how dare you come to a party of gay people! And then I threw a drink in his face..." Dolan and other Reagan-era closeted figures were a part of the gay cadre working for the government during the dawn of the AIDS crisis, which received no official Presidential attention until 1987.
Also profiled in "Outrage" are higher profile politicians such as California Congressman David Dreier (R), who is rumored to have a relationship that goes beyond employee/boss with his chief of staff, Brad Smith. Dreier has consistently voted no on gay-related legislation ranging from health to political rights. 2004 Bush/Cheney campaign manager Ken Mehlman (once outed on Larry King by Bill Maher) is alleged to be in the closet, although at the time, his boss, President Bush, pushed for an amendment to enshrine in the Constitution disallowing gays couples from ever receiving a marriage certificate - even in the few states that currently protect that right.
The Republicans do not have a complete monopoly on closeted gays targeting LGBT issues, according to the film. New York City mayor Ed Koch kept a lover, Richard Nathan, and refused to answer questions about his sexuality, claims Wayne Barrett of the Village Voice in "Outrage," one of many journalists, political insiders and politicians interviewed in the film. After their relationship ended, Nathan was alleged to feel unsafe in New York and left. Meanwhile, Koch did little to help the AIDS crisis as it gripped the city's gay community during his tenure, and his former lover died of the disease in 1996.
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While the sometimes sordid details of these and other politicians' penchant for the same sex makes for some salacious tales and even some laughs - the film is ineed funny at times - the main thrust of the film is to tie together the culture war, what the filmmakers view as equal rights for all Americans, and the hypocrisy of those with power and their complicity in attacking the same minority that they are a part of - even if only on the fringe.
"These closeted people make a decision early on, and they have decades of lies that have kept their lives under wraps," "Outrage" director Kirby Dick told indieWIRE during a recent interview about the film. "One of the reasons we made this film is that the closet distorts our whole political situation. The press doesn't report on this - [they are] very reluctant."
Indeed, the press only reported on Larry Craig's sexuality after his arrest, and McGreevey became a household name outside of New Jersey after his admission, which received live coverage on many news networks.
"There's a right to privacy, not a right to hypocrisy," openly gay U.S. Congressman Barney Frank (D-Mass) says in the film. "People who are not subject to laws will make harsh laws... It is very important that people who make law are subject to law - it is a safeguard against unfairness. That's a fundamental principle that our democracy is built on... And [closeted] gay people who support homophobia are violating that [principle]."
Illustrating this hypocrisy described by Kirby Dick and Congressman Barney Frank is the current Republican governor of Florida, Charlie Crist who receives a significant amount of screentime in "Outrage." Crist called marriage a "sacred relationship between a man and a woman during his 2006 campaign for governor, replacing President Bush's brother, Jeb Bush. He also openly supported the ban on gay adoption in Florida, one of the only states to do so in the country.
Yet, Crist carried on an affair with Jason Wetherington, a young staffer working for Katherine Harris, who was the Florida Secretary of State who ruled her state's electoral votes for George Bush in the contested 2000 election before being elected to Congress, according to an alternative newspaper journalist interviewed in "Outrage." When Crist sought higher office, Wetherington promptly left the state.
After winning, Crist was the first bachelor governor of Florida in 40 years. He had married in 1979, but divorced six months later and claimed celibacy in the ensuing decades. He began dating Kelly Heyniger during his early years in the political spotlight and she too dismissed rumors about the governor's sexuality during interviews with the press. Their relationship, however, ended in 2007. The "Outrage" filmmakers attempted to contact Heyniger for comment, but she refused, saying, "I think I should keep my mouth shut... contact me in ten years and I'll give you a story."
Crist, meanwhile, has continued supporting those actively working against the rights of gays, including the appointment of two hardline anti-gay justices to the State Supreme Court.
Last summer, as the apparent Republican nominee for President John McCain was looking at potential Vice Presidential running mates, Crist married Carole Rome (Crist was seen as a potential running mate and apparently coveted the job). In the election last November, voters passed Amendment 2 in Florida, defining marriage as between one man and one woman with Crist's full support.
"I think that if someone is in the closet and voting against gay rights then that's hypocrisy and that's cause for outing," Dick told indieWIRE during the recent interview, addressing the issue of responsibility and when it's appropriate to out people. "You can call it 'outing,' but honestly, it's just reporting... It's the same as someone who's had an abortion and then votes against abortion, it's hypocritical."
"Outrage" will debut at the Tribeca Film Festival tomorrow night with former Governor Jim McGreevey, Washington D.C. councilmember David Catania, writer and activist Michelangelo Signorile, magazine editor Kevin Naff, reporter Jose Antonio Vargas, and GLAAD's Neil Guiliano among those expected at the premiere.
Kirby Dick will participate in a pair of longer conversations about the movie a few days after its premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival: a free Filmmaker Talk at the Apple Store SoHo event with indieWIRE on Thursday, April 30th at 5:00 p.m. and a panel discussion with McGreevey, Signorile, and author & activist Rodger McFarlane at the Tribeca fest on Friday, May 1st.