Dan Gurley, From RNC Staffer to LGBT Activist Once, Dan Gurley oversaw anti-gay campaigns for the Republican National Committee. Now he works for Equality North Carolina, a statewide group dedicated to securing equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.
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Dan Gurley, From RNC Staffer to LGBT Activist

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Dan Gurley, From RNC Staffer to LGBT Activist

Dan Gurley, From RNC Staffer to LGBT Activist

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After talking to Kirby Dick about why he thinks it's important to out politicians with anti-gay records, we wanted to talk with someone who had been outed.

My guest, Dan Gurley, was the field director of the Republican National Committee when he was outed in 2004 by Mike Rogers on his blog, BlogActive, which Rogers describes as dedicated to telling the truth about hypocrisy in government. Rogers said Gurley had ultimate authority over an anti-gay flyer sent out by the RNC.

Gurley now lives in North Carolina. He works with a nonprofit policy organization and serves on the board of the North Carolina gay rights group, NC Equality. He's one of the people featured in Kirby Dick's documentary "Outrage." Here's an excerpt of the documentary in which blogger Mike Rogers describes what he perceives as the positive impact of having outed Gurley.

(Soundbite of film, "Outrage")

Mr. MIKE ROGERS (Blogger): Recently I get an email. Dan Gurley's on the board of North Carolina Equality, and I'm like: What? And I went to the Web site, I looked it about, and I'm like: This is hot. This is why I started BlogActive.

He's an out gay man and he's proud and he's on the board of a statewide national gay group. This man is using his skill to secure gay rights. What could be better and what better effect could I have as an individual?

GROSS: That's Mike Rogers. And Dan Gurley, he's talking about you. So let me ask you: Do you think that your life now justifies Mike Rogers' work outing people?

Mr. DAN GURLEY (Equality North Carolina): Well, I think that, first of all, when you discuss outing that the thing you have to keep in mind is that like many other areas of public life and private life, this is not clearly a black or white issue. There's lot of grey area. I'm doing what I'm doing now in my role with Equality North Carolina because I believed it was the right thing to do and not specifically because of the experience that I went through with Rogers or with blogging.

You know, I have been open about my sexuality for many years to many people - my parents, my family, many of the people that I worked with, you know, my professional colleagues, both when I worked on Capitol Hill, some of the people I worked with at the Republican National Committee. So you know, in one sense I suppose I was outed on a blog, but it wasn't really big news to most of the people who knew me.

GROSS: So can you tell us the story of when and how you were outed on the blog?

Mr. GURLEY: Sure, sure. What really launched this whole process was in February of 2004 President Bush announced in a press conference his support of the Federal Marriage Amendment, and so as a way to get back at or to seek retribution towards those that were involved in that, Rogers and others like him started blogging and, quote-unquote, "outing" staff members.

And so over the course of the months leading into the summer, a number of people that I knew who worked on Capitol Hill became targets of Rogers and others as he posted, you know, information about them on the blog.

So how it ultimately came about was in - I believe it was in September of that year I got a phone call, I believe on a Thursday night, from a friend who told me that he had had some contact with Rogers and that I was to be the next person that he wrote about on his blog.

And three or four days later, I believe on a Sunday night, I actually got a phone call at my home from Rogers, telling me that he was going to be writing about me the next day and asked me several very pointed questions.

First of all, you know, was I gay? I answered that yes, in fact I was. And then he questioned me with regards to the Republican National Committee and my work at the committee and wanted to know if I did not have some guilty conscience or other problems with the work that I was doing at the committee in helping to elect, you know, a president and other elected officials who did not support equality.

And you know, I made it clear to him at that time that there were positions that the Republican Party held that I disagreed with and that I was not at a point where I could discuss those but that he had to understand, and others had to understand, that I and many other people did not walk in lockstep with our political party in every single issue.

GROSS: Okay, but you were the national field director for the Republican National Committee, and at this point - at that point in time, we're talking 2004, the Republican, you know, National Committee was really organizing around gay marriage, around an amendment to outlaw gay marriage. So the fact that their field director was gay, I can't imagine they'd be happy with that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GURLEY: Well, actually, I think a couple of points I should make there. First of all, when the blogging happened with Rogers, the staff of the Republican National Committee could not have been any more supportive of me. The chairman, the deputy chairman, the political director, all of those that I worked with directly who I gave a heads-up to and told them that this was coming were very sympathetic. They understood what was happening. They made it abundantly clear that I was a welcome part of that organization, and they wanted, you know, wanted me to stay there.

Now, with regards to, you know, what was taking place with the marriage amendment, I think it's important to point out here that while the president had endorsed the marriage amendment early that year, up to that point he had said virtually nothing about it, and during the, you know, pretty much overall in the campaign there was very little mentioned on the part of the president about marriage issues.

Yes, there were - there was certainly activity in Congress in terms of votes on the Federal Marriage Amendment. You know, there were individual efforts at the state level about, you know, supporting state-level constitutional amendments, and I think you also have to be fair here and point out that it wasn't just the Republicans who were supporting those amendments at the state level. You know, Senator Kerry and Senator Edwards endorsed the marriage amendment that was on the ballot in Missouri at that time.

GROSS: Dan Gurley will be back in the second half of the show. Gurley is the former field director of the Republican National Committee. He's one of the people interviewed in the new documentary "Outrage," about the outing of allegedly gay politicians who have opposed gay rights. The film opens Friday. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

We're talking about the outing of allegedly gay politicians and political operatives who have opposed gay rights. That's the subject of Kirby Dick's documentary "Outrage." One of the people interviewed in the film is Dan Gurley, who was the Republican National Committee's field director when he was outed by blogger Mike Rogers in 2004. Let's get back to our interview with Gurley.

Republican Party for years had used homosexuality and the spread of homosexuality as a way to frighten people into voting for Republicans and…

Mr. GURLEY: Well…

GROSS: And you know, the idea was that, you know, homosexuals are out there, they want more rights and they are scary people.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: And that was a kind of like text or subtext of a lot of campaign literature, and not only of the Republican Party but of the religious right, which was such an important backer for the Republican Party for years, but particularly like in the Bush/Cheney campaign; they were a huge source of votes and money. And there - like that the top of their agenda was, like, homosexuals are scary, they sin, now they want to get married, it's going to ruin marriage for everybody else. So, like, how did you feel being, you know, if not explicitly, implicitly a part of that by being the field director for the Republican National Committee?

Mr. GURLEY: Well, I - a couple of points I would make here for you, Terry.

GROSS: Yeah, please, go ahead.

Mr. GURLEY: One is that, first of all, I absolutely disagreed with the position that the Republican Party had on the marriage issue, with regards to equal rights for the gay and lesbian community. You know, the unfortunate circumstance, I guess you could say, for folks like myself, is that we live in a country where there are two viable political parties. And if there were a third one I would be a member of that, you know, a political party that was fiscally conservative and socially libertarian.

I wish there was, but there isn't. And so ultimately, you know, I and many others had to make decisions on who we were going to, you know, the candidates we were going to support; the campaigns that we would be involved in based on a whole host of factors. You know, I think a good example of that is just this very past election. You look at the fact that, you know, there was a recent CNN poll where four percent of the electorate identified as gay or lesbian, and 27 percent voted for John McCain.

It's not that uncommon to have people in both political parties that, again, are not walking in lockstep or agreeing with every tenet of their party. Now I personally have qualms about the role of the religious right in Republican Party politics. I think that in many ways, the religious ride has certainly captured elements of the Republican Party. They've driven away a lot of the moderates and the, you know, the libertarian-thinking Republicans that are out there, and I think that's a huge problem that the Republican Party is going to have to deal with in the future.

GROSS: Now, the movie "Outrage," which is about the outing of gay people in politics, says that you - when you're with the Republican National Committee as a national field director, the movie says you oversaw mailings that opposed gay marriage or gay rights. Can you tell us what the mailings were…

Mr. GURLEY: Sure.

GROSS: …that the movie is referring to? Yeah.

Mr. GURLEY: The particular piece of mail that seemed to - that really caused a lot of people in the gay community to get angry - was a piece of mail targeting voter registration, trying to get people to register a Republican. And it only went out in two states. It went out in Arkansas and West Virginia. I first became aware of this one particular piece of mail when it actually showed up on my desk as a proof for me to check to make sure that it had the proper legal disclaimer on it and that there were no typos in it.

I had absolutely nothing to do with targeting of that mail, with the design, the production, the content, anything to do with it until that point. And when I first saw the piece of mail I knew that it crossed a line.

GROSS: How did it cross the line? What did it say that crossed the line?

Mr. GURLEY: Okay. What it did was, there were a couple of scenes in the piece where one showed a picture of a man on his knees proposing to another man. And there was gold letters stamped across it that said -allowed. And then when you turn the page over on the other side, there was a picture of a Bible and in gold letters stamped across that it said - banned. And so it's clearly an appeal to religious conservatives to vote Republican because Republicans would be better at blocking same sex marriage than Democrats would be.

GROSS: So you thought that this literature crossed the line?

Mr. GURLEY: Yeah I did. I thought it was - I thought it was…

GROSS: So what could you do about it?

Mr. GURLEY: Well that was just it. There was little I could do about it. I raised objections to it internally. I went to my superiors, I told them that - that I thought it crossed the line, I thought it was - it would come back to bite us, and that it was - it was over the top. And I did that both with the Republican National Committee and with the Bush/Cheney campaign.

GROSS: And did it go out anyway?

Mr. GURLEY: And it went out anyway. Now, you know, at that point, you know, I'm not sure what I could have done. I mean I was in no position to stop the piece of mail, you know…

GROSS: I understand that. But is there a part of you that felt like, I don't want to play for this team, if this is what they're sending out.

Mr. GURLEY: Yeah, yeah, yeah there was. There absolutely was. But at that point, you know, what do you do, you know? I raised the objections that I thought were appropriate at that time, and, you know, they weren't heeded. The piece of mail was distributed; there was a backlash to it as I had predicted. And because of that backlash, there were additional internal controls placed on the mail programs across the board and - from the Republican National Committee - and nothing like that happened again.

GROSS: One of the premises of outing, is that, if all the people who were in the closet were out, then we would look around us and we would see all of these gay people, our prejudices would be undone because we would see all these people who we were close to and we assume were straight are actually gay. People would realize they can't get their jobs done without the support of the gay people who work with them.

Mr. GURLEY: Umm, hmm.

GROSS: And it would just not be possible anymore to have some of the same stereotypes that so many people have. Do you think that, that's true?

Mr. GURLEY: Yeah, I - I certainly don't disagree with that. I think that, you know, the more people who are out and open about who they are, the better off we ultimately all are going to be. And I think that applies not just in - in the realm of politics and public policy, but I think it appeals to or, you know, its - its same regardless of whether you're talking about, you know, Hollywood in the entertainment industry or whether you're talking about, you know, the factory or the office that you work in.

I think the more people there are that are out the better off ultimately we - we'll be. But at the same time I think that you also have to take into account, particularly, with middle age and older individuals, you know, there - there is very much a generational divide here. And that, you know, many of the younger people in this country in their teens, 20s, and 30s are much more accepting of gay and lesbian individuals than are people in, you know, in their older years. And I think that that's something you have to think about when you're talking about outing.

You know, someone, you know, a man or a woman who is in their 60s that may have known their whole life that they were gay, simply did not have the options available to them. They - they're not in a climate where they could do this sort of thing back in the 50s or the 60s or something. It is very much a generational thing and, you know, they responded as they thought they had to respond at that time. They got married, they had children, they have grandkids today. And, you know, it's inevitable that now you hear stories of, you know, almost daily of people - men and women in their 50s and 60s and even 70s who are just now coming out.

And I think that's a good thing, I think it's because of the, you know, public attitudes are changing. But at the same time, I think you have to have at least some understanding of where these people are coming from and what their lives were like when they made the decisions that they made many years ago. And that was one of the points that I - that I brought up and that was so important to me to make in this movie and it was one of the reasons I agreed to be interviewed for this movie. And I'm thankful the footage of my comments was included at the beginning of the movie, as you know, ultimately I do think outing is - is a process or a thing that - that can be very harmful to people.

I also believe that you - no one can know or understand the personal journey that an individual takes to accepting their sexuality. And no one, be it either, you know, Mike Rogers or Kirby Dick or anybody else can be ultimately the - the decider on that they can be the arbiter of when it is right and when it is not to - to come out. And I think that that's important to recognize. Again I - I think that, you know, there is - this is just not something that can be clearly defined in black and white terms.

GROSS: So what impact did outing have on you as - as you said you're already out to some of your colleagues at work. You're out to your family, you're out to your friends. So it's not like, you know, like some people are so deep in that cause that they haven't admitted to themselves they are gay, you were not in that position.

Mr. GURLEY: Not at all.

GROSS: But there were plenty of people who you worked with and plenty of people in the party that you represented who had no clue that you are gay. So what was the impact of being outed on Mike Rogers Web site?

Mr. GURLEY: Okay, all right. Well the - the impact was this: First of all, the position that I was in at the Republican National Committee was one - that was scheduled to be phased out after the end of the election cycle, and I knew that when I accepted it. The typical pattern would be that, as the political parties, the committee is downsized after an election those people would move from campaign positions into positions within the administration.

And that would have been the route that I would have gone as well, is leaving - leaving the Republican National Committee and being - taking a position somewhere in the Bush administration, a policy position, probably at a cabinet agency or something of that nature. I began on that path, working with the office of presidential personnel and going through interviews and such. But ultimately about, oh I guess maybe two months, after I left the committee - month and a half - I got a call telling me that I was no longer going to be considered for a presidential appointment and that I needed to start looking in the private sector. So, even though that the people that I worked with at the RNC were fully supportive of me at the time and were even vouching for me and serving as references for me to go into the administration, the office of presidential personnel made the decision that they did not want me as a part of the administration. So that certainly was one consequence.

GROSS: Dan Gurley thank you so much for talking with us.

Mr. GURLEY: I'm glad to talk with you too, Terry.

GROSS: Dan Gurley is the former field director of the Republican National Committee. He is one of the people interviewed in the new documentary "Outrage" about the outing of allegedly gay politicians who've opposed gay rights. The film opens Friday. Coming up, why Iowa was chosen as the state to focus efforts to legalize gay marriage. We talk with the architect of the successful lawsuit, Camilla Taylor. This is FRESH AIR.

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