Capitol Hill Insiders Irked By Campaign To 'Out' Them
By Rebecca Dana and Jose Antonio Vargas
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, July 15, 2004; Page C01
The phone kept ringing in one Capitol Hill office -- hourly, daily, all leading up to yesterday's Senate vote on the constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. Mike Rogers was on the line again. He knew something very personal about the press secretary of a Republican House member who supports the amendment, and he wanted to tell someone, preferably someone high-ranking, that the man is gay. Rogers cannot understand this. How can someone help articulate the opposition to homosexual unions when he himself is homosexual?
Rogers, a 40-year-old Washington fundraising consultant, has waged a controversial "outing" campaign in the month leading up to yesterday's vote. He sent out more 10,000 e-mails encouraging and perpetrating outings. He handed out fliers at the gay pride parade in June, asking people to send in names of gay Hill staffers working for senators and representatives who supported the Federal Marriage Amendment. He created a Web log last week listing some of those names.
He made phone calls, day and night, to the offices and homes of these staffers. His message: How dare you?
Rogers's campaign has caused a stir throughout the capital, rallying some gay-rights advocates and horrifying others, for demanding that people who are gay and Republican to defend themselves. Rogers says he plans to continue his campaign despite yesterday's vote -- the amendment was defeated 50-48 but probably will be taken up by the House this fall -- and he will tack on a "fidelity pledge" to expose members of Congress who promote "family values" but have extramarital affairs.
Openly gay since 1986, Rogers views the marriage amendment as a "very personal" hit. Everything he says on the topic ends with an exclamation point. There is "the conspiracy," he fires, "on Capitol Hill!" And "the hypocrisy," he can't believe, "among gay staffers!" He is riled up, energized and organized, using "sources" around the District to identify and expose the homosexuals on the Hill who, he believes, are abetting discrimination aimed at themselves.
"This is the big cheese!" he says. "We are under attack! Gays and lesbians are under attack! It's amazing to me that people don't get that! So what are we going to do? Protect these gay staffers who have influence on policy matters while their bosses spew hate and bigotry?"
No, says John Aravosis, national co-chairman of the activist Web site DearMary.com -- which last week ran an ad in the Washington Blade, the gay weekly newspaper, that read: "For Years Our Silence Has Protected You. Today That Protection Ends." And the Blade itself has published back-to-back front-page stories on the outing campaign, naming senior staffers and two elected officials -- one congressman, one senator -- whose names have been circulating on the Web and in other gay publications.
In an editorial on July 2, the Blade's executive editor, Chris Crain, wrote: "It is 2004, not 1954, and sexual orientation in and of itself is no longer a 'private fact' beyond the pale of inquiry." The Blade, he wrote, "would investigate and report about whether influential Hill aides are gay if facts about their sexual orientation raise highly newsworthy questions of hypocrisy in the stands taken by anti-gay members of Congress for whom they work."
Crain, in a phone interview, explains his controversial position: "The more these staffers are personally responsible for policies that challenge the basic civil rights of gay people, the more it's our responsibility, as a gay newspaper, to ask them how they justify those positions considering that they're gay."
Rogers, Aravosis and Crain inherited strategic outing as a tactic from the 1980s and 1990s, when several congressmen announced their homosexuality under pressure from others. Republican Steve Gunderson, a former Wisconsin lawmaker, came out in 1994 after threats from both gay-rights activists and House conservatives. In response to a political ad in the Blade and the rumor of a story in the gay magazine the Advocate, Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.) came out in 1996 after voting in favor of the Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as between a man and a woman.
"The whole outing campaign makes me a little uncomfortable, but I still think it's the right thing to do," says Aravosis, a 40-year-old political consultant. "A line has been crossed. When you talk about amending the Constitution to make me a second-class citizen based on my personal relationship, then you've crossed a line of decency."
Gay organizations on the Hill -- the newly formed Gay, Lesbian & Allies U.S. Senate Staff Caucus and the 10-year-old Lesbian and Gay Congressional Staff Association -- oppose Rogers's tactics, as do the Log Cabin Republicans, an organization of gay conservatives that has offered counsel to the targets of Rogers's outings, and the Human Rights Campaign, the country's largest gay-rights advocacy group.
Lynden Armstrong started working for Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) in 1995, and came out in the office two years later. As administrative director, he manages the senator's five offices -- four in New Mexico, one in Washington. He is a Republican. Being gay, he says, has not been an issue at work. He considers Rogers's campaign a "personal attack" on gay staffers "who haven't gotten to the point, emotionally and psychologically, that they feel that they can come out at work."
"That is a personal decision," says Armstrong, 32, sitting in the office with Fox News playing in the background. A native of Fort Sumner, N.M., now living in the District and co-chairing the nonpartisan Senate Staff Caucus, he declines to comment on whether he supports the marriage amendment. His boss voted for it. "I have to keep in mind that the senator has nothing personal against me or the gay community. He is having to do what he is elected to do -- represent his constituents. And New Mexicans, if you look at the polls, are overwhelmingly supportive of the amendment."
His beef with the Rogers campaign: "What a lot of people don't realize in this whole outing campaign, and one of the bigger problems I have with it, is they're outing people who aren't in the place in their life where they're ready for that to happen. Besides, is outing a staff member going to really affect a senator's or a representative's vote? Is it going to change anyone's position?"
Victor Castillo, a Democrat, has worked on the Hill for 11 years, first for a congressman from San Diego and now as a senior legislative assistant for Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.). Castillo is on the executive committee of the Lesbian and Gay Congressional Staff Association. He opposes both the marriage amendment and Rogers's campaign. "What purpose does it serve? It's misdirected. If anything, his campaign pushes people further into the closet."
The press secretary Rogers has threatened to out, one of more than a dozen staffers he has approached, has been open about his homosexuality for years -- to his family, his friends and his co-workers. For even longer, he has been out as a Republican to the same people, which might be an even more daunting position, especially now. He supports, or more accurately doesn't oppose, the marriage amendment, because if calling homosexual unions " 'marriage' is going to upset the fabric of civil society, to me, it ain't that important."
Friends don't understand this, he says. They don't see how the 38-year-old press secretary, who declined to be named at the request of his boss, feels no inner conflict between his job and his sexuality. This gay man is not torn about the marriage amendment. Like others whom Rogers has targeted, he is the opposite of torn.
"The irony of all of this is that the people who should be among the most tolerant when the tables are turned are those who are the first to condemn and judge," he says. "Often the gay platform is one of accepting every X, Y and Z. Guess what? That hasn't been my life experience. I have more in common with [my Republican colleagues] than I do with any person off the street that happens to be of similar sexual orientation."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
Former congressman Steve Gunderson is a gay Republican who came out in the '90s.