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19 May 2009, 11:00 am 5 Comments

Mike Rogers: The New Gay Interview

This post was submitted by Mike B.

NewsChannel 8 journalist Doug McKelway threatens to give gay activist Mike Rogers a “punch across the face” (2:45).

Mike Rogers is a hard man to get in touch with these days. We played several rounds of e-mail tag before we could figure out a time to talk.

But that’s hardly surprising. He’s the central figure in Kirby Dick’s documentary Outrage, which examines the controversial activist tactic of outing closeted gay political figures who rise to power by consistently supporting anti-gay laws, yet enjoy the protection of lovers, tricks and others who remain silent about their double lives.

Rogers is not one for silence. With 15 years of progressive and LGBT activism behind him, he launched BlogACTIVE.com in 2004 to expose the closeted anti-gay politicians working to defeat marriage equality and adoption rights, table hate crimes legislation, cut HIV/AIDS funding, and hold back LGBT civil rights in general.

Though Rogers’ “outing” work continues to provoke controversy both inside and outside the LGBT community, he doesn’t view his activism as a revenge tactic or a personal attack, but as a way to stop anti-gay political figures from pursuing anti-gay policies. Not infrequently, those same figures end up working on the side of gay rights once they no longer have to put up a front to protect their “secret.”

I interviewed Mike Rogers a few days after a D.C. journalist, NewsChannel 8 anchor Doug McKelway, threatened on live TV to “take [Rogers] outside and give [him] a punch across the face.” Seems he wasn’t a fan of Rogers’ work. (See the video above at about 2:45.) Neither McKelway nor his parent company, Allbritton Communications, has apologized for his threat.

TNG: Were you surprised by McKelway’s reaction?

Mike Rogers: I was quite surprised. I was supposed to go on the show and have a discussion about outing. I didn’t expect to get into this debate process with the host. Instead, he just tore into me and kind of blindsided me.

Now let me tell you something: I didn’t think he was going to get up and punch me in the face or hunt me down outside. I never said I thought that’s what he’d do. What I have a problem with is that he felt as a journalist it was OK to invoke the imagery of violence against LGBT people under the guise of “disagreement.”

boxing-glove-and-channel-8-mic

Photo illustration by TNG; photos by KayVee.INC (license) and diebmx (license)

If he did that to [NAACP chairman] Julian Bond he’d be yanked off the air before the closing credits, but he thought it was perfectly OK to threaten a gay guest. I mean, say some ignorant guy in Loudon County  sees a professional journalist do this on TV and not have to apologize or suffer any consequences. That’s sends him the message that yeah, it’s OK to beat up on faggots. Who knows if he’ll do it or not? But it just reinforces that culture of violence against gays. Nothing happens in a vacuum.

TNG: Have you heard anything from [NewsChannel 8 owner] Allbritton Communications or McKelway himself?

MR: Nothing.

TNG: Have you been threatened with violence before?

MR: Never in person. This is the first time. I’ve gotten some emails that were threatening, but nothing like this.

TNG: Doug McKelway was noticeably riled up about this whole issue throughout the entire interview. So the natural question (which I promised TNG music maven Rocky I would ask you) is: So how gay is Doug McKelway?

MR: I don’t know if Doug McKelway is gay, bisexual or straight. I do know that Doug has incredibly personal feelings about this issue. And the way he expresses those feelings is more passionate than anyone I’ve ever met. I even tried to be nice afterwards but he gave me the equivalent of a “fuck you.”

[Ed. note: See Rogers' blog for a more detailed account of the interview and its aftermath.]

TNG: The film Outrage makes the point that alternative media and gay activists like you cover stories about closeted anti-gay politicians that the mainstream media steadfastly refuse to touch, even though they have the resources to confirm your sources and pursue independent reporting on their own. Why do you think that is?

MR: Because they’re homophobic. They have no problem running stories on John Edwards or Bill Clinton, even though those are just cases of stupidity, not hypocrisy. But anything with two dicks scares them.

When the mainstream media do cover one of these guys, they still say they’re “accused” of being gay, like it’s a terrible thing. Nobody “accuses” anybody of anything good. That’s the kind of attitude they still have.

rogers2

Mike Rogers (Photo: Joe Tresh/joetresh.com)

TNG: Can you point to one gay rights bill that was passed, or an anti-gay one that was defeated, because of your work?

MR: That’s kind of a false measure of success. Of course we’re moving forward as a movement even though we don’t have all the bills we want lined up yet. Is Frank Kameny a failure because he never got his job back?

But I’ll give you a specific example. The New York State Assembly had a marriage bill in committee that never got brought to the floor. [Democrat] Helene Weinstein was the chair of the Judiciary Committee and a closeted lesbian, and she held the bill up. So we outed her, it got picked up by [the New York Post's] Page Six, and three days later, even though she said she wasn’t going to bring the bill up, she brought it up and it passed.

TNG: On a purely personal level, do you ever think about the families of the people you out in the course of your work?

MR: [Long pause.] It’s sad. But I didn’t make the decision for them to put their family at risk like that. For people like Larry Craig, they’re as much a prop as they are a family.

TNG: Have any family members of outed politicians ever contacted you or reacted to you in any way?

MR: No.

TNG: Has anybody you outed ever said thank you? I’m thinking specifically of Dan Gurley here, whom the film shows going from homophobic Republican operative to all-out gay activist for Equality North Carolina.

MR: People in North Carolina have thanked me, but Dan has not. But just think: the formidable skills Dan Gurley used to campaign against gay people he is now using as a board member of an LGBT group as an out gay man. Go to him in three years and ask him if he’s happier now or before. If he says he was happier before, I guarantee you it’s over money – he got paid a lot more when he was working for the RNC.

TNG: Have you had any contact with anyone you’ve outed?

MR: Never.

TNG: Would you like to?

MR: I offered to do that with Gurley. I think he didn’t want it. But I would do it.

TNG: Closeted gay people are often harshest in their homophobia. What have you seen in closeted politicians that makes them so virulently anti-gay? Is it just fear of exposure or is it something more?

MR: The whole thing is that you want something. You don’t mean to be an anti-gay U.S. senator. You start out as an intern, and nobody’s going to out an intern. Then the guy who carries the senator’s bags is out sick one day, can you fill in? Next thing you know you’re the scheduler – totally low position, they just write things down in a calendar. Who’s going to out a scheduler? Then all of a sudden the kid who studied international relations at Georgetown has the chance to be the foreign policy advisor to some right-wing senator. Now you’re important enough that people might know you and see you and put you in the political context of your work. It goes on from there, and you’re living two lives. And eventually you get to a point where you get caught – come on, it’s Washington!

TNG: There are a lot of gay people out there who believe that outing is wrong under any circumstances. What do you tell them?

MR: Normally I explain the Ed Schrock story. [Former Republican Congressman] Ed Schrock is a 23-year naval veteran who was beating up on gay members of the military, saying things like “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is not stringent enough. At the same time–from the floor of the House of Representatives – he was signing onto phone sex lines seeking men for sexual encounters. He crossed the line.

For some people it’s just a question of where you draw the line. Doug McKewlay and I think the line is somewhere different. But I think that when you pass legislation that you don’t want to live under yourself, you are a hypocrite. We cannot have a nation of legislators who do that. That’s not democracy – it’s tyranny.

TNG: Anything big in the works?

MR: I’m always taking tips, looking into things. There’s dozens of case files, tips that have come in over the years, but not enough.

But the movie is already generating a whole new slew of tips. We’re going to have to keep on going and keep on pushing and see what comes through the hopper.


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5 Comments »

  • Whitney said:

    Thank you, Mike, for your persistence and taking the time to do such a thorough interview.

    A year or so ago, I emailed Doug McKelway regarding an insensitive on-air remark he made following a report on a trans woman. And I do not necessarily consider myself the email/letter-sending type. I think it truly speaks to what a bigoted (and possibly self-hating) jerk he is.

    On another note, I highly recommend ‘Outrage’. I came away with a feeling similar to that after seeing ‘Milk’ — outraged, indeed, but also inspired by a renewed sense of the importance of coming out and being out.

  • Mike B. (author) said:

    Wow, this makes him 3 for 3. Back in 94 he referred to someone in a report as a “pansy,” but that was for Channel 4, which apparently cared enough about its audience to make McKelway apologize for his slur.

    Why not send the info about the trans comment to Rogers? Who knows, maybe it’ll help tip the balance.

  • DC said:

    Nice interview, Mike. Both Mikes, actually. Rogers has a really great way of explaining why he does what he does and it’s compelling. Outrage was awesome and I’m telling everyone I know to go out and see it.

  • Robm said:

    MikeR, I thought you did very good holding your own, I was very impressed with your public speaking ability and handling this over-interactive button pusher “journalist” – Thanks Mike for sharing this story – liberal is no longer a bad word, and anyone presenting the truth on both sides of the aisle should be celebrated! No more lies and no more sorries – keep the up good job (all of us).

  • Selena said:

    I haven’t seen Outrage, but I intend to. I really enjoyed reading this interview, and wanted to share a few other interviews that I also found quite thought provoking. Fresh Air’s Terry Gross did two interviews about Outrage, first with director Kirby Dick, and then with outed RNC staffer turned LGBT activist Dan Gurley. I think both— but especially the Gurley one— are well worth a listen.

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