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social sciences

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Some believed that only those who actively worked against gay interests should be outed. Closeted queers such as Roy Cohn, who defamed and persecuted other glbtq people while secretly indulging in gay sex, were prime targets. Outing such hypocrites would destroy their influence and punish them for their disrespectfulness to the gay community.

Some proponents of outing, however, also targeted passive opponents of glbtq rights, such as military leaders and church officials. These closeted queers did not directly fight gay rights, but they worked in support of homophobic organizations.

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For example, Pete Williams, Assistant Secretary of the Department of Defense, who was a spokesperson for the Pentagon and the public defender of the ban on homosexuals in the military, was publicly outed in 1991. The outing brought to the fore the question of gays in the military.

Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and Representative Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.), who voted in favor of the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, were also outed by disgruntled activists. Having been tipped off that a story was to appear about him, Kolbe actually came out himself before the story ran.

British groups such as OutRage have outed several Anglican bishops and Members of Parliament.

Other proponets of outing, notably New York City columnist Michelangelo Signorile and writer Armistead Maupin, have argued that prominent individuals should be outed in order to illustrate that homosexuals are everywhere and include some of the most admired people in the world. Among the celebrities who have been outed in gay newspapers have been Hollywood moguls Barry Diller and David Geffen, actors Richard Chamberlain, Jody Foster, and Rosie O'Donnell , fashion designer Calvin Klein, publisher Jann Wenner, and media titan Malcolm Forbes.

Although many of those who were outed would not have come out voluntarily, their outing nevertheless yielded positive effects. The outing of Rock Hudson after he was diagnosed with AIDS helped AIDS fundraising and humanized the disease. Chastity Bono, who came out publicly because she was about to be outed by the tabloid National Enquirer, became a spokesperson for queer civil rights.

Those who defend the practice of outing contend that homosexuality is not shameful and that to reveal someone's homosexuality is simply to indicate a benign aspect of their life. Only if the individuals have been complicitous in oppressing glbtq people should their homosexuality be an embarrassment, and then they should be outed to expose their hypocrisy.

Others, however, condemn the practice as a fundamental invasion of privacy. It makes a decision for someone else that should properly be his or her decision alone.


The face of outing has changed. Once it involved heterosexuals dragging queers out of the closet with the aim of damaging the individuals and the glbtq community. Since the 1980s, however, outing has become a tactic of a militant segment of the queer community. By hauling the fearful and the disloyal from the safety of darkness, queers hope to offer encouragement and support to the openly gay.

Despite supporters, outing remains controversial within the queer community. In 1990, the International Lesbian and Gay Association formally condemned it.

Caryn E. Neumann

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social sciences >> Overview:  AIDS Activism

In the United States, glbtq people have played an integral and often leading role in AIDS activism, greatly influencing AIDS treatment and advocacy.

social sciences >> Overview:  The Closet

If the closet has served to institutionalize homosexuality as shameful and inferior vis-à-vis the legitimate heterosexual culture, it has also provided a space of possibility for subversive sexual and political acts.

social sciences >> Overview:  Elected Officials

In the United States, glbtq candidates have achieved some significant successes at the ballot box in the last three decades, running for and winning local, state, and national elections.

social sciences >> Overview:  Passing

Generally defined as seeking or allowing oneself to be identified with a race, class, or other social group to which one does not genuinely belong, passing is a complex and layered issue in queer culture.

social sciences >> Overview:  Portland, Oregon

Portland, Oregon is home to a thriving and increasingly visible queer community that has provided leadership for Oregon glbtq activism since the 1960s.

social sciences >> ACT UP

Using bold images and confrontational tactics, ACT UP worked to promote awareness of AIDS and challenge the complacency of politicians and government officials in the early years of the epidemic.

arts >> Allen, Chad

Unlike many child stars, Chad Allen has successfully made the transition to accomplished adult actor; he has also come out as a gay man and become an advocate for glbtq rights.

social sciences >> Bono, Chaz

The child of a famous show business couple, Chaz Bono has had to cope with family resistance and intense public scrutiny as he came out, first as a lesbian, then as a transgender man.

social sciences >> Brown, Howard

A distinguished physician and founder of the National Gay Task Force, Dr. Howard Brown helped change the image of gay men and lesbians in the United States.

social sciences >> Caesar, Julius

One of the most powerful men of the ancient world, Julius Caesar was frequently reminded, sometimes derisively, of his youthful sexual affair with the king of Bithynia.

arts >> Chamberlain, Richard

Deeply closeted for most of his life, American actor Richard Chamberlain finally acknowledged his homosexuality in a memoir published in 2003.

social sciences >> Cohn, Roy

A homosexual from a liberal background, Roy Cohn can be seen as a deeply twisted, complicit victim of the anti-liberal, homophobic ideology of his era that he thoroughly internalized.

social sciences >> Don't Ask, Don't Tell

The "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, in effect from 1993 until 2011, was a compromise intended to end discrimination against gay men and lesbians in the U. S. military, but it failed to halt discharges based solely on sexual orientation.

social sciences >> Eulenburg-Hertefeld, Philipp, Prince zu

A favorite of Kaiser Wilhelm II, to whom he gave political advice, Philipp zu Eulenburg was involved with a circle of homosexual men, and his life ended in scandal.

arts >> Foster, Jodie

One of the most accomplished film actresses of her generation, Jodie Foster has been a glbtq icon for decades, though only recently has she obliquely acknowledged her lesbianism.

social sciences >> Frank, Barney

Openly gay U. S. congressman Barney Frank has been a leader not only in the cause of gay and lesbian rights but also on issues including fair housing, consumer rights, banking, and immigration.

arts >> Geffen, David

Controversial entertainment mogul and philanthropist David Geffen transformed himself into one of the most successful people in the entertainment industry; his 1992 declaration of his homosexuality only increased his stature.

social sciences >> Haider, Jörg

Right-wing Austrian politican Jörg Haider reinforced the stereotype of hypocritical politicians who privately enjoy the freedoms won by the glbtq movement while opposing equal rights.

social sciences >> Hirschfeld, Magnus

German-born Magnus Hirschfeld deserves recognition as a significant theorist of sexuality and the most prominent advocate of homosexual emancipation of his time.

arts >> Hudson, Rock

A product of Hollywood's star system, Rock Hudson became an international symbol of heterosexuality, wearing a mask until it was savagely ripped off when he was diagnosed with AIDS.

social sciences >> International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA)

The International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA) is a worldwide federation of local and national groups dedicated to achieving equal rights for glbtq people.

arts >> King, Billie Jean

Having helped transform the world of professional tennis, Billie Jean King denied her lesbianism in the 1980s, but in 2000 became the first openly lesbian coach of an Olympic team.

arts >> Klein, Calvin

American designer Calvin Klein has created an extraordinarily successful fashion empire through his simple and elegant designs and his skilful employment of provocative advertising campaigns that are saturated with homoeroticism.

arts >> Liberace

Liberace was for many the epitome of flamboyant camp, yet he was also a gay man who steadfastly refused to acknowledge publicly his sexual identity.

literature >> Maupin, Armistead

A sharp social critic, novelist Armistead Maupin places his gay characters within a large framework of humanity, creating a social history of San Francisco during the tumultuous decades of the 1970s and 1980s.

arts >> Michael, George

Popular singer and songwriter George Michael, who confirmed his long-rumored homosexuality after an arrest for "lewd behavior" in 1998, has devoted much effort to AIDS charities since 1992.

arts >> O'Donnell, Rosie

Comedian, actress, television talk show host, and openly gay mom, Rosie O'Donnell has achieved remarkable success in her relatively short career.

arts >> Orser, Brian

Olympian Brian Orser, known for both his athleticism and artistry, led a resurgence of Canada as a force to be reckoned with in men's figure skating; after being outed in a palimony suit, he has become an advocate for glbtq rights.

arts >> Pallone, Dave

Major league umpire Dave Pallone was outed and forced out of professional baseball; since leaving the game he has become an advocate for glbtq rights.

social sciences >> Ride, Sally

Sally Ride made history as the first American woman in space when she flew as a mission specialist aboard Challenger in 1983; her lesbianism was not widely known until shortly after her death.

social sciences >> Signorile, Michelangelo

Michelangelo Signorile is a prolific, and often provocative, writer and activist whose books and articles, radio show, newspaper columns, and website champion the cause of glbtq rights.

social sciences >> Studds, Gerry

Representative Gerry Studs, a Democrat from Massachusetts, was the first member of the United States Congress to acknowledge that he was gay.

social sciences >> Sullivan, Andrew

Social and political commentator Andrew Sullivan has established himself as an influential participant in Anglo-American political discourse.

social sciences >> Tatchell, Peter

British activist Peter Tatchell, a vocal proponent of glbtq rights since the early 1970s, is controversial figure even within the glbtq community.

arts >> Wenner, Jann

Jann Wenner, founder and editor of the influential music and culture magazine Rolling Stone, was outed in 1995.


Gross, Larry. "The Contested Closet: The Ethics and Politics of Outing." Critical Studies in Mass Communication 8 (1991): 352-88.

_____. "Outing." Gay Histories and Cultures. George Haggerty, ed. New York: Garland, 2000. 654-56.

Johansson, Warren, and William A. Percy. Outing: Shattering the Conspiracy of Silence. New York: Haworth Press, 1994.

Mohr, Richard D. Gay Ideas: Outing and Other Controversies. Boston: Beacon Press, 1992.

Signorile, Michelangelo. "Outing Seizes America!" Outweek no. 45 (May 16, 1990): 40.


    Citation Information
    Author: Neumann, Caryn E.  
    Entry Title: Outing  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2004  
    Date Last Updated December 13, 2006  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2004, glbtq, inc.  


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