By Jose Antonio Vargas
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 4, 2007
Soon, a new name will pop up on Mike Rogers's hit list.
Larry Craig wasn't "the first on my list," the gay blogger says. And the Idaho senator, who announced his resignation Saturday, "won't be the last."
Rogers, sitting on a club chair in his Northwest Washington apartment, is basking in the attention. For three years now, he's been a feared one-man machine, "outing," he says, nearly three dozen senior political and congressional staffers, White House aides and, most damagingly, Congress members on his blog. On Capitol Hill, a typical phone call from Rogers -- "Are you gay?" he'd ask -- is "a call from Satan himself," says a former high-ranking congressional staffer whose name is on the list.
Rogers reasons that there's justice behind his tactics -- "odious," "outrageous" and "over-the-line" as they might seem to his detractors.
In Rogers's mind, if you're against gay rights in your public life and you live a secret homosexual life, all bets are off.
In 2004, one of the first public officials he targeted was then-Virginia congressman Ed Schrock because of his voting record on such issues as gays in the military, same-sex marriage and gay adoption. In 2000, for instance, Schrock told the Virginian-Pilot: "You're in the showers with them, you're in the bunk room with them, you're in staterooms with them." Schrock decided not to run for reelection because of the rumors.
In 2005, Rogers blogged about Mark Foley, months before his inappropriate instant-messages to male congressional pages became public and he was forced to resign. The former Florida congressman had a varied record, sometimes voting in favor of gay rights, but at one point voting against adoption by same-sex couples.
And last October, he says, he targeted Craig -- months before an undercover sex sting in a Minneapolis airport men's room, and before the Idaho Statesman started its months-long investigation. Two years earlier, Rogers notes, the three-term senator had voted for the failed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.
"Hypocrisy," Rogers sneers, "plain, hate-filled hypocrisy."
In the coming months, he plans to post the names of "a few more" closeted Congress members on his blog, he says, all of them Republicans. There are 33 names on his published list, most of them men, 30 from the GOP. That fact reveals more about the Republicans, he says, than about him. Although a registered Democrat, he says he is bipartisan.
"I write about closeted people whose records are anti-gay," he says. "If you're a closeted Democrat or Republican and you don't bash gays or vote against gay rights to gain political points, I won't out you."
* * *
The Craig scandal has gripped the capital. For many gays, the episode harks back to times when closeted homosexuals were arrested in the city's cruising spots for "disorderly behavior." For many people, gay and straight, parsing out the details -- toe-tapping, fingers under the partition -- has been incredibly intriguing, and sometimes awkward.
Out of that discomfort, so many jokes to make, some exacerbated by Craig himself. A new catchphrase was born: "I have a wide stance."
Rogers, still sitting on his club chair, laughs about that one. He turns serious, takes a sip of soda and goes on a tirade: "We, as a society, are afraid of talking about two men having sex. Lesbian sex? 'That's hot!' But gay male sex? Well, nothing makes straight men more uncomfortable. Look at the reaction from the right, the double standard. . . . Take [David] Vitter, the senator who's on the D.C. madam's list. . . . Where were the calls for his resignation? . . . Yes, Craig pleaded guilty to a crime but that's not really the reason why they're throwing him under the bus."
Here comes the other "h" word. Not just "hypocrisy." But "homophobic."
At 43, Rogers came out in his early 20s and has spent the bulk of his life working for gay organizations. A native of the New York metropolitan area, he's lived in the District for more than a decade. Although his blog isn't his main source of income -- he was a fundraising consultant and currently runs Page One News Media, a gay-oriented online company -- the Web site has become more than a full-time job. He's a student of the gay rights movement and considers Larry Kramer, the writer and AIDS activist, and Franklin E. Kameny, the lifelong Washington firebrand, as models.
"Mike's always been active, very involved, in the gay community," says Andy Humm, a reporter for Gay City News in New York and Rogers's friend of nearly 20 years. Like Kramer and Kameny, Rogers, some activists say, is fearless, aggressive, in-your-face. But unlike them, he's got a blog, which since its inception has become a must-read among certain sets in Washington, especially its sizable gay population.
The way Rogers tells it, his online activism began when the Republican-controlled Senate scheduled a vote against same-sex marriage in June 2004.
The birth of the Internet has been a boon for gay socializing and organizing, and one of the first things Rogers did was post a profile on Gay.com, a popular site among gays. The profile read: "If you're against the Federal Marriage Amendment and know someone who's closeted, send that information to me." And while Hill groups such as the Gay, Lesbian & Allies U.S. Senate Staff Caucus and the Lesbian and Gay Congressional Staff Association opposed his actions, word got around. E-mails poured in, many anonymous. He investigates his tips by working the phones; on rare occasions, he flies around the country to meet with sources. Among his sources was a 40-year-old man who claimed to have had oral sex with Craig in a bathroom in Union Station.
Rumors about some members of Congress have swirled for years, but for the most part, they've stayed just that: rumors. There have been "outing scares" before, when a gay activist would write about this or that elected official. But until Rogers and his blog came along, few people off the Hill knew of the rumors. .
Says Kelly McBride, who teaches about ethics at the Poynter Institute, a journalism think tank: "In the past, when the mainstream media were the gatekeepers of information, you could scream all of you want -- 'A conservative senator from Idaho is gay!' -- and nobody would hear you. But now people can hear anyone, and that's changed how mainstream media makes decisions about what to publish."
To some, Rogers is a hero, which is what BlogPac, a political action committee that funds progressive blogs, called him in July when presenting him with an award. His supporters say he's been more effective than the established gay press and gay organizations in exposing the GOP's "image problem."
"He's a sort of a muckraker, and he's sharing good information that other people don't," says Matt Stoller, the liberal blogger who heads BlogPac.
Critics, though, say he's a "pariah" who's hurting the gay community more than he's helping it.
"To many of us, coming-out is a process, a very personal journey dictated by the individual. My objection to outing is not about the people who are being outed. It's about us," says Mark Agrast, a former top aide to former representative Gerry Studds, the Massachusetts Democrat who was the first openly gay member of Congress. Agrast was one of the founding members of the Lesbian and Gay Congressional Staff Association.
"We don't have to admire the choices that Craig has made in his life," says Agrast, "to feel some compassion for a 62-year-old man who seeks anonymous encounters because he can't come to terms with who he is."
To some of the people on Rogers's list, such as former GOP official Dan Gurley, Rogers is "despicable."
Rogers blogged about Gurley, the former national field director at the Republican National Committee, in September 2004. Gurley, as Rogers tells it, had signed off on an RNC flier sent to conservative voting districts that shows one man proposing to another man. "The GOP wanted to scare voters. 'Look what will happen if the Democrats win!' " Rogers says. Gurley, however, says that he raised objections to the flier and that it wasn't his decision.
"What was I supposed to do?" Gurley says in an interview. He adds: "Who does Rogers think he is? God? What gives him the right to bully people around and tell us what to think or how to conduct our lives?"
When Rogers posted Gurley's Gay.com profile on his blog, the GOP fired Gurley, who's left Washington and lives in North Carolina.
* * *
Rogers is sitting on his apartment's balcony, feet stretched out, still sipping soda. It's been a very busy week. He's been on CNN, the "Today" show, National Public Radio. Repeatedly he gets asked whether he feels vindicated. The answer's always yes.
So does he have any secrets?
"Don't we all?"
Has he ever had sex in a public bathroom?
"How is that relevant? Look, I'm not a politician making laws and rules and regulations for 275 million people. You know what happens when you're in the U.S. military and you're brought up on charges of being gay or lesbian? Your life is ruined. You're at risk for death, for physical violence. And there's Craig . . . who was chairman and was the ranking member of the Veterans Affairs Committee, not allowing gays to serve in the military?"
A little volume titled "The Book of Questions: Business, Politics and Ethics" is tucked under his coffee table. There, on Page 193, is the question: "How much right do we have to know about the private lives of elected officials?"
Rogers says, "When those private lives are in direct conflict with the public policy that these officials espouse, I think it's fair game that their private lives be brought into this. And I have to blog to do that with. Here's the question: What community is expected to protect its own enemies? Don't beat up the gay community, and then expect us to protect your secrets and your double life. It's just not right."