Sunday, July 24, 2011

Is He, Isn't He ... And Is It Our Right to Say?

Now that I've finished my sermon for next week, as well as a few other things, I can catch up on some writing...

Michele Bachmann and her husband Marcus have been getting considerable coverage lately regarding their shared views about homosexuality, and his clinic's use of questionable practices to "cure" people of same-sex attraction. At first, Marcus denied that he and his staff were engaging in "ex-gay therapy"; then when someone who went undercover revealed that they were indeed trying to "pray away the gay," Marcus attempted some flimsy damage control by saying they would only engage in such practices "at the client's discretion."

It's also been revealed that Bachmann's clinic, which presents itself as "distinctly Christian" and includes prayer as part of "therapy," was accepting Medicaid and other government funds to pay for the treatment of several clients. This from the husband of a Tea Party favorite who frequently denounces waste of taxpayer money -- and let's not forget how this violates the separation of church and state.

And then there's the question of how Marcus Bachmann got into this business in the first place. He claims to have a doctorate in clinical psychology from Union Graduate School -- except that the only Ph.D. that school offered was in interdisciplinary studies, before it was investigated by the Ohio Board of Regents and subsequently reorganized as The Union Institute and University, which did not offer a doctorate in psychology until 2001. Of course, that doesn't matter too much in Minnesota, one of three states where you don't need a license to practice in mental health services. Sure enough, none of Minnesota's three state boards dealing with mental health have Marcus registered with them.

It's perfectly justifiable to question the anti-gay views of Michele and Marcus, to uncover their lies and hypocrisy over how their clinic is run, and even to question Marcus Bachmann's credentials as a counselor. But what bothers me is how many LGBTQ and liberal/progressive activists pose the question of whether Marcus might be a self-loathing closeted gay man. Listen to his voice! Look at the way he moves! He must be! Right?

Hold on a second, folks. For years, advocates for the LGBTQ community have been pointing out that we shouldn't judge a person's sexual identity by stereotypes -- and now people are basing speculation about this man's orientation on those very same stereotypes. When right-wingers have tried to discredit certain progressive politicians as being gay, we've decried such smear tactics -- and now progressives are trying to do the same thing.

Now I'm all for revealing a person's hypocrisy, but you have to do so with clear evidence. Show me that Marcus has led a double life around his sexuality, and you've got something. But until you do, let the matter rest.

Even if someone had such evidence, I'd be hesitant to just throw it out there. I'm grateful to Virginia Ramey Mollenkott's insights into this topic, and I believe that more advocates for the LGBTQ community should take heed of her proposals. She believes that any person discovered to be hiding their sexual orientation, while acting publicly in a way which did harm to lesbigay people, should first be approached in private and given the chance to come clean. Only after a sincere and compassionate attempt to offer a path of reconciliation should that person's hypocrisy be revealed.

When I started this blog, I took Mollenkott's guidance to heart, as well as the loving spirit behind it. Early on, a rather mean-spirited fellow posted a comment alleging that a particular UU minister was kinky. His "evidence" was ludicrous, and his sole intent was to smear that minister as part of a personal vendetta, so I had no problem with deleting it. Even if he had clear evidence, and more lofty motivations, I still would not have outed a minister who had never done any harm to kinksters like myself.

So I'm not going to join in that part of the chorus. Lambaste him for misleading people, for taking taxpayer money in contradiction to his wife's ideology, and for referring to gay kids as "barbarians" -- but even if you have proof that he is actually gay, go to him first and give him fair warning. Whenever we condemn hypocrisy, let's not become hypocrites ourselves.


  1. Desmond - the ethical questions surrounding the outing of anti-gay conservative politicians who have sex with other men was covered in Kirby Dick's documentary film "Outrage." You can read more about the film here:

    Outrage (2009 film)

    The main point behind his film isn't that we should out people for being gay but rather for being hypocrites. The Washington Post, NPR, and CNN refused to repeat the names of the closted politicians in his film.

    Kirby Dick responded "The press often reports on things that are very painful to the subjects they are writing about. [Closeted gay politicians] are public officials; this is reporting on hypocrisy, and there is an obligation on the press to write about it."

    Keep in mind that these same media outlets did not show this restraint with former Rep. Anthony Weiner or with former US Senate candidate Jack Ryan (he was married to Jeri Ryan - the Borg Seven of Nine actress on Star Trek Voyager).

    Jack Ryan lost his Senate race against Barack Obama after sealed child custody court records were released and the media reported that he had asked his wife to have sex with him in sex club while others watched. The Chicago Tribune and one of the local Chicago TV stations sued to have these sealed records released.

    Given this eagerness to report on sexual lives of politicians, it seems interesting that the same media voices are reticent to report on Jim McCreary, Charlie Crist, etc. This might be due to institutionalized homophobia in the media.

  2. Steve: There ain't much we can do about the media. My own thoughts were directed at advocates for LGBTQ equality.

    Yes, the issue is one of hypocrisy. That being said, I agree with the protocol which Professor Mollenkott has put forward, which basically consists of asking a series of questions:
    1) Is there evidence to support that a public figure is a closeted lesbigay person?
    2) If yes to the above, is this person using their influence as a public figure to harm LGBTQ people?
    3) If yes to both above, has the person been approached in private, informed that evidence of their hypocrisy is available, and given a chance to rectify the situation?
    4) If yes to all of the above, is the person willing to either come out on their own and/or rectify the situation?
    5) If yes to all of the above, then outing the person is ethically justified in the public interest, as it exposes the person's hypocrisy.

    Applying this to Marcus Bachmann, we have no real evidence that he's a closeted gay man. We only have folks muttering about his speech and body language -- in other words, appealing to stereotype, which so many LGBTQ advocates have condemned whenever homophobes do the same.

    Now I'd love for the media to adopt something like Mollenkott's protocol, whether it's about gay Republicans or anyone else. But the biggest problem with the media these days is that, in the drive to make money and get noticed, they're willing to publish anything just to get attention (and more revenue).

    At the very least, activists and advocates for minority rights should hold themselves to a higher standard -- not just so we look better in the public eye, but so we can live by our own principles and thereby embody the very change we want to see in the world.

  3. I just don't feel like it is any of my business.

  4. CC: Do you mean a person's sexuality, or being hypocritical?

  5. IMHO, a person's sexuality isn't particularly my business unless they are sleeping with me, cheating on my friend or otherwise make it my business in some way. (If they are cheating on my friend, it is very likely I will have to deal with it one way or another, so it is constructively my business.) If they open the discussion with me personally I don't have an objection to having said discussion, but I see no reason to have it about someone whom I don't even know personally.

    I don't see the point of fussing about hypocrisy either. Pretty much everyone is hypocritical at some point, some with better reason than others, but ultimately, we all do it. So I've never seen the point of fussing about it just because the latest person to do it is someone we didn't like.

  6. When talking about average people, you're right that it's not an issue. But when talking about politicians and other public figures who try to regulate everyone else's sexuality -- and make many of us miserable in the process -- it becomes a valid question.

    Let's say you have a politician who advocates laws limiting what people can eat, even arguing that eating certain things is deeply immoral. Then you find out that this same politician is found eating deep-fried Twinkies and fois gras, albeit in secret. No one else's business?

  7. That already happened, though.

    Michelle Obama is trying to get kids to eat healthier and exercise more. And she ATE A HAMBURGER AND FRIES WITH HER FRIENDS.

    So the right wing flips the fuck out:

    Because the sexiest first Lady since Jackie O knows the meaning of "moderation," but those subtleties are lost because calling her a hypocrite is more fun.

    IMHO, what Mrs. Obama eats isn't any of my business even if I don't necessarily agree with her on every subtlety of what she advocates.


  8. Did Michelle Obama try to outlaw hamburgers and fries, declaring it evil to even think of consuming them? And when she did eat them, did she do so in secret, then try to deny or rationalize it?

    No on both counts.

    Compare her gastronomic moderation to the sexual shenanigans of Ted Haggard, Larry Craig, John Paulk, George Alan Rekers,...