Kirby Dick explains his Outrage

The director reveals what motivated him to spotlight closeted and hypocritical US politicians in his latest film.

by Amber Wilkinson

Kirby Dick

Kirby Dick's latest documentary Outrage, focusses on the hypocrisy of closeted gay and lesbian US politicians who consistently vote down homosexual rights issues. It's a stringent attack and one which Dick hopes will spark wider debate of the issue. Here's what he has to say about the issues within the film.

Q: What is preferable to you - that a gay politician is outed, or comes out on his own?

Kirby Dick: I would much prefer that a gay politician come out on their own. Even if there's some pressure for him or her to do that I think that its much better if they do it themselves, for everyone involved. In my film, the subjects that I focussed on, when it rises to the level of hypocrisy of what these politicians have done, I think that, one way or another, it should be recorded.

Q: How did you choose the subjects that you focussed on?

KDBasically, we were looking at subjects over about 20 or 25 years. And we chose these subjects because these were the ones we could really get corroboration on. There are other people who are probably gay, who rise to this level of hypocrisy, but there was not the amount of information about them out there, at least at this point, to report on that.

Q: What drew you to the project in the first place?

KD: I initially got the idea when I was in DC in August 2006, promoting my last film This Film Is Not Yet Rated, about the censorship of the MPAA rating system and I realised I only knew that story because I work in the film industry and that the rest of the country didn't know it. I thought there must be many stories in DC, inside the Beltway, that only people inside the Beltway know and I started asking around. And very quickly people started telling me about these closeted politicians that vote anti-gay and I realised it was a story that had not been told in documentary or in the mainstream press.

Q: Can you talk a little bit about how you focussed on the subjects in your film when there was a wide range of people you could have done?

We looked at a wider range, we certainly did. But the issue was, could we get the substantiation, that's what it came down to. We were also looking at people at a certain level of power. Mike Rogers [a prominent blogger who outs hypocritical closeted gay politicians] has, at times, outed staff members and we decided that was not something we were going to do. They had to be either in office or very high in whatever organisation they were in.

Q:Mary Cheney was one of the subjects criticised, and you picked two of the most powerful lesbians - Elizabeth Birch [former director of the Human Rights Campaign] and Hilary Rosen [Washington Editor-at-large for The Huffington Post] - who went after her. Can you talk about how you got them to be so angry.

KD: It wasn't me that got them angry. They discussed this and it was something that was important to them for many years. They were just astounded because here was someone who was so close to the presidency an the vice-presidency.The more someone who is gay or lesbian speaks up, the more personal pressure is put on these politicians. And she chose not to and they were really outraged by that. Because she had the skill, she's a really capable and persuasive woman and she ran a very pro-gay campaign for Coors beer, helping them open up a whole new market. Why didn't she use that skill to at least slow down the hysteria that was coming out of the administration? On the Record

Q: How hard was it to get people to go on the record?

KD: It was [hard]. Even someone like a congressman has a great deal of power within a district. These people may have grown up in the district, all their relationships - business, personal - are in the district and they feel that they can suffer some serious consequences if they speak out. On a number of occasions people would start an interraction with me and then say: "I can't even speak with you, not even off the record". There was a great deal of fear.

Q:What kind of public exposure do you want?

KD: We'd like it to go as wide as possible. I hope that this encourages the mainstream media to talk about this. The reason the closet exists, in large part, is because the mainstream media has not written about this. The gay press has for 20 years, in many ways we're standing on their shoulders here. I think once this issue gets discussed it's much more difficult for the closet to exist. What happens is, is that politicians, early in their career, before they're elected to office, that is when they make the decision - in their teens and early twenties - to go in the closet or not. Because it's not written about they think that's a strategy that's going to work. Once this film is out there and it's discussed, I hope these politicians say that it's the wrong decision personally, it's the wrong decision politically. I really hope that one of the impacts of this film is that in 20 years the closet will be a minor factor in American politics.

Q: Was there any backlash from any of the subjects and have you prepared yourself for what will surely be a firestorm when this is released?

KD: Well, you can never truly prepare yourself. I encourage multiple reactions to this film. This is my perspective, but what I hope is that it generates discussion because then these issues can be worked out in a public forum. Let's have this discussion in public, not only in the blogosphere - let's widen it out.

Q:Has there been a backlash from anyone?

KD: They're very savvy politicians and they got to where they got to by ignoring this issue so I would be very suprised if there was a reaction.

Q: Could you talk about the similarities between Twist Of Faith and this movie, specifically about the Catholic Church and how that institution handled its closeted sexual predators and these politicians who are predators in a different kind of way?

KD: There is an element of the arrogance of power - that's a similarity I saw. The Catholic Church felt like they could get away with it and I felt these politicians are at this level of power that they feel they can continue to live this lie and to get away with this hypocrisy because no one is going to challenge them. And they've been right because the mainstream media certainly profits by having close relationships with these politicians, in fact, it helps them do their reporting, but the trade-off is sometimes they don't report about this hypocrisy.

Q: Could you talk about the role of the religious right?

KD: What we saw in the Seventies and over the Eighties and Nineties that in the Republican party there were people - George Bush being one of them - who personally had no issue with gay and lesbians at all, in fact, had a great deal of friends who were, but they made a political calculation to go after gays and lesbians in order to maintain and gain power. It's such a cynical use, that's what's so incredible. These people have gays and lesbians very close to them, oftentimes the very people who are promoting anti-gay issues have chiefs of staff that they know are gay. I find that appalling.

Certainly the religious right has an agenda around gay rights, but in some ways I put more of the blame on the Republican party which didn't really have a personal agenda - as Barney Franks [a prominent gay Democrat] says in the Seventies, the Democrats and Republicans were about equal on gay rights. They made this political calculation to cynically use the religious right to gain power.

This battle over gay rights is being fought in many elements in society, the real wake up call is Proposition 8 and Amendment 2 in Florida, because we interviewed these people, Barney Frank and Tammy Baldwin [openly gay congresswoman for Wisconsin], in particular and she was confident it was going to go down to defeat. We are still in the midst of a real gay rights struggle, I think the most important human rights issue of our time is the gay rights struggle - in this country, at least.

I really hope that President Obama steps forward really quickly to repeal 'don't ask don't tell' [the long-standing administration stance towards gays in the military]. I think for too long politicians, both Democrat and Republican, have been too cautious on this issue. Once you're in power you have an obligation to do the right thing, particularly when it comes to the human rights of all Americans.

Q: Can you talk about the choice of title for the film?

KD: It was initially called The Glass Closet, but Outrage seemed particularly appropriate. We made that decision coming off the passage of Proposition 8. In California, in particular, there's a real shift on the ground among gays and straights. There's a real anger. We think Proposition 8 will be upheld by the California Supreme Court, which I think will bring another outburst of anger. So in some ways this is tapping in to what we were feeling.

We were very grateful that Milk came out. It's a very important film and in some ways laid the groundwork for this film.

Q: There's a lot of debate in the gay world about 'outing' - whether it is a good or a terrible thing - and I wondered if Outrage didn't put it forward as a positive as a plus and what your feelings are on that and whether you think any of these people would have come forward without that shove?

KD: We drew a bright line in our film. This is not a film about outing gay politicians, it's a film about reporting on the hypocrisy of closeted gay politicians who vote anti-gay. That's the bright line. Sometimes I think the debate about outing obscures the more important issues - the hypocrisy, the toll of the closet, even the psychological toll of the closet. I made a number of films that dealt with the psychology of individuals and that was one of the things that drew me to the film.

Q: Did you request an interview with Governor Crist for the film?

KD: No we did not. We put his repeated denials in the film. He's much more powerful than I am and he has a much greater platform than I do to respond if he chooses.

Q: Do you not think it presents a moral issue, if they out a married man, since they are basically handing the spouse that as well and destroying their world.

KD: Well on the one hand, but on the other hand, I think it is maybe a painful thing to learn or have happen but in the long run it's much better. I would certainly think that a spouse would want to know the truth one way or another because the longer you live that lie, the more profoundly tragic that becomes and then it is an issue of greater harm. There are millions of Americans being harmed by this, when someone has that level of power, it's the responsibility of the press to report on that.

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