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Location: Kansas City, Missouri, United States

Doing my part to irritate Republicans, fundamentalists, bigots and other lower life forms.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

McGreevey's gay probation

In writing about preparations for the rollout of former New Jersey Governor James McGreevey's soon-to-be-published book, The Confession, the Associated Press made reference to McGreevey as "openly gay."

That's a phrase that's kicked around a lot in the media. Presumably it's the opposite of "closetedly gay," but then by definition anytime the media writes about a closeted gay or lesbian they become openly gay or lesbian. It would seem to be a lot more straight forward for the media to just refer to a person as gay or lesbian, but then no one ever accused the media of having consistent standards when it comes to tip-toeing around the topic of sexual orientation when it comes to celebrities and public officials. (But that's a whole other story.)

For those who may not remember, James McGreevey made a blip on the nation's radar screen in August of 2004 when he resigned as governor of New Jersey and, with his soon-to-be-ex-wife at his side, announced that he was a "gay American." (Note to any future McGreevey's: If you're going to get caught doing something you shouldn't, try not to get caught in August when Congress is in recess and the national media is scrambling to find something ... anything! ... to make into a story.)

Did I say McGreevey "resigned"? Perhaps a more accurate description was that he was forced to resign when it became public that not only was he a gay American, but he had tried to appoint his male lover to a cushy state job as a homeland security advisor. That plan fell apart when it was discovered that his boyfriend could not get the necessary security clear because he was an Israeli-born citizen.


Faced with the prospect of being outed for putting his boyfriend on the state payroll, McGreevey called a hastily-convened press conference to announce that he was resigning as governor and, oh yes, that he was a gay American. By calling the press conference McGreevey managed to out himself on his own terms rather than watch himself get outted by the media.

Out of the national spotlight for the past three years, McGreevey used the time to write his book (no doubt with a hefty advance from the publisher to soothe his bruised ego). He's also had time to find a new boyfriend, this time an Australian financial adviser named Mark O'Donnell.

On Sept. 19 McGreevey will unveil his book (and supposedly his boyfriend) on Oprah. That will be followed by more appearances and more news coverage and more accolades as an openly gay man.

Now wait just a second! Sorry Mr. Ex-Governor, but you haven't earned the title of openly gay man yet. You're still in the closeted-gay-man-who-got-caught-cheating-on-his-wife-and-trying-to-put-your-boyfriend-on-the-state-payroll category. Don't think that a tearful press conference and a self-serving memoir will earn you anything more than probationary status in the pantheon of openly gay men.

In some ways the James McGreevey of today reminds me of the Barney Frank of 30 years ago.

Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank is one of the most respected members of the U.S. gay community today. But it wasn't always so.

Frank began his political career as a deeply closeted gay man. That all changed in 1987 when he met Steven Gobie through an ad for a male escort in The Washington Blade. Gobie knew a good thing when he saw it and attached himself to Frank like an ugly barnacle on the hull of a gleaming cruise ship and began operating an escort service out of Frank's Washington apartment.

It wasn't long before Frank's closeted life began to unravel in a rapidly building media storm. Faced with the knowledge he was about to be outed in a big way, Frank beat the ouers to the punch and came out. Just like McGreevey would do nearly three decades earlier. While Frank weathered stormy seas for a while - he became only the seventh congressman to be reprimanded in 1990 in part because he had used his influence to fix traffic tickets for Gobie - Frank persevered.

Frank continues to persevere today. He fought back against gay-baiting Republicans by threatening to out closeted members of Congress. He spoke out on issues involving the LGBT community. He earned the title of openly gay man not because he was forced out of the closet, but by virtue of the fact that, once he was out, he worked for the LGBT community. While I haven't agreed with every stand Barney Frank has taken, I certainly respect the man for being out there for the rest of us.

McGreevey, on the other hand, is only now beginning his journey. A tearful press conference and a tell-all book do not an openly gay man make.

Right now McGreevey might more accurately described as a "formerly closeted gay man." That means he's on probation with the gay community. If he continues to stand with us and to use his position to speak out on our issues, then he'll earn his wings as an openly gay man.