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It's an open secret in Washington that gay men play an active role in Republican Party politics at every level. Since Mark Foley left Congress in a sex scandal earlier this month, gay Republicans on Capitol Hill have been the subject of unwanted scrutiny from activists on the left and on the right.
NPR's Ari Shapiro reports.
ARI SHAPIRO: Congressman Barney Frank, who's an openly gay Democrat from Massachusetts, says a witch hunt is the wrong metaphor to describe what's happening now on Capitol Hill.
Representative BARNEY FRANK (Democrat, Massachusetts): You know what the problem with a witch hunt is? There aren't any witches.
SHAPIRO: But there are plenty of gay Republicans on Capitol Hill, in the White House and throughout the Republican Party. Gay activist Mike Rogers thinks the Mark Foley scandal is an example of how closeted gay Republicans can harm the larger gay community. It's not just the sexual e-mails and IMs, he's also referring to the Congressman's votes against gay rights legislation. Since the Foley story broke, Rogers has been identifying Republican politicians and staffers on his Web site, blogactive.com.
Mr. MIKE ROGERS (Gay Activist): I'm not doing a witch hunt. I am merely asking people to stand up and be honest about who they are.
SHAPIRO: Asking seems a little like an understatement.
Mr. ROGERS: Telling - in some cases, telling people that the time is to be honest about who they are because they're hurting the very community they want to be harbored by. And for me that's the key thing here. You can't be a member of a community that you want us to secretly harbor you, and then during the day go out and fire rockets at us.
SHAPIRO: Outing campaigns by gay activists on the left are nothing new. What is new is the simultaneous threat from the right. Peter LaBarbera is president of the anti-gay group Americans for Truth.
Mr. PETER LaBARBERA (Americans for Truth): We don't think that the politics of outing and homosexuality should be only according to the terms of gay activists.
SHAPIRO: While activists on the left are identifying gay Republicans who they think undermine gay rights, LaBarbera wants to a shine a light on those who he says are secretly pushing gay rights.
Mr. LaBARBERA: If a staffer is doing pro-gay activists thing, if he's working for the Log Cabin Republicans and yet he works for a Congressman who is out there stumping on, you know, pro-family views that are antithetical to what the Log Cabin Republicans stand for, then I think there's a conflict, and I think in that case, that representative's constituents deserve to know that there is a gay activist on his staff.
SHAPIRO: In the middle of this are the gay GOP staffers and politicians themselves. The Log Cabin Republicans, a national gay GOP group, said it would not comment for this story. Similarly, some gay men who work in Republican Party politics declined to speak on tape for this piece. But on background, they said people on Capitol Hill are afraid of where this may be headed.
Even if people are not forced out of the closet, one gay Republican speculated that negative publicity and exposure could be enough to drive some staffers out of politics and into fields that are less public. Reverend Lou Sheldon, who runs the Truth and Values Coalition, echoes the sentiment of many activists on the right end of the spectrum.
Reverend LOU SHELDON (Truth and Values Coalition): The Republican Party is at a major crossroads, and after this election there's going to be a very heated debate. Can homosexuality be continued to be welcomed into the big tent?
SHAPIRO: On the left, author Louis Bayard, who recently wrote an opinion piece in favor of outing, believes the big tent was a myth from the beginning.
Mr. LOUIS BAYARD (Author): To me, the experience of gay Republicans is emblematic of that. It reminds me of that old Groucho Marx quip, I would never want to belong to a club that would have me as a member. And that, to my mind, is what gay Republicans have been doing all along.
SHAPIRO: All of the gay people in this debate known firsthand what it's like to come out of the closet, willingly or unwillingly. Congressman Barney Frank, who had his own sex scandal involving a male prostitute in the 1980s, has the rare perspective of someone who has come out while he was in Congress.
Reprepsentative FRANK: Of course I believe it's better off for people to be out, and I give you one great example - me. I behaved stupidly when I was in the closet, but it's one thing to say you would be better off if you were out. It's another to say I will make that decision for you.
SHAPIRO: Still, Frank has no sympathy for Republican politicians and their staffers who are not caught in the crossfire. He calls them hypocrites and believes they've asked for what they're getting.
Representative FRANK: Well, if you are a lion tamer, don't complain to me when a lion bites you. Who told you to get in the goddamn cage?
SHAPIRO: The timing of this discussion is significant and not only because there's an election a few weeks away. As some gay activists noted, Wednesday was National Coming Out Day.
Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Washington.
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