It reads like an ominous threat: "For Years Our Silence Has Protected You. Today That Protection Ends."
The Washington Blade, the area's gay weekly newspaper, today is running a full-page ad, titled "Final Call to Conscience," that helps fuel anxiety on Capitol Hill involving what local gay rights activists call an "outing craze" over the past two weeks.
The $1,400 color ad -- paid for by the Web site DearMary.com (Mary as in Mary Cheney, Vice President Cheney's openly gay daughter) -- is similar to "Call to Conscience," an ad that ran in the Blade in 1996 when Congress was deliberating the Defense of Marriage Act. John Aravosis, national co-chairman of DearMary.com, said yesterday that as with the previous ad, this one seeks to highlight the "hyprocrisy within gays and lesbians on the Hill who work for anti-gay members of Congress."
This time, the legislation in question is the Federal Marriage Amendment, which President Bush endorsed in February, calling on Congress to pass a constitutional amendment "defining and protecting marriage as a union of a man and woman as husband and wife."
Mary Cheney, who is working on her father's reelection campaign, has not taken a public stance on the amendment. Similarly, gay rights activists say, there are gay men and lesbians on the Hill who lead "closeted" lives at the office, supporting the "homophobic" stance of their bosses, then go to gay bars and attend functions with their gay lovers after work.
Asked to explain what sounds like an ultimatum in the ad, Aravosis said only: "There is no quid pro quo here. What we're saying is, we won't tolerate this anymore."
Aravosis, 40, a political consultant who lives in Adams Morgan, said DearMary.com has raised $23,000 since February and has used the money to run DearMary.com ads online for the past three weeks. "The gay community needs to have a debate: Is it okay for members of our community to help our enemies attack us? This is a big gay town. Lots of gays who work for both Republicans and Democrats."
Adams Morgan fundraiser and consultant Michael Rogers, 40, is leading his own outing campaign. Two days ago he started a Web log that lists the names of congressional staffers who he and his network of a dozen volunteers say are gay, based on tips from "Hill staffers" and "organizational staffers," he said yesterday.
"We're working on a lot of leads, two of them elected members of Congress," said Rogers, who says he has received death threats since launching the blog. "Fact is, a group of congressmen have declared war on gay people, and we're fighting back. We need to expose the hyprocrisy of Congress."
National gay rights groups, such as the Human Rights Campaign and the Log Cabin Republicans, which is based in Washington, oppose "outing tactics."
"Our enemies are the enemies on Capitol Hill and in the White House who are trying to write discrimination in the Constitution," said Steven Fisher, spokesman for the HRC, the largest gay group in the country.
"The outing of staffers is counterproductive," said Patrick Guerriero, executive director of the LCR, a conservative gay group. "It takes the focus away from changing the hearts and minds of legislators on Capitol Hill. . . . The reality is, there are a lot of courageous Hill staffers having heart-to-heart discussions with their bosses to get them to be on the right side of the FMA issue. Coming out is a personal journey, not one dictated by others."
Both activist groups are campaigning against the marriage amendment. The Senate plans to begin debate on the measure today.