Tensions rise in D.C.'s gay community

Political differences turn personal amid an `outing' campaign

July 25, 2004|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON - There was a time when Washington's robust and politicized gay community functioned under the same unspoken social rules that apply to other politically involved people in town. Heated battles waged during the day were left at the bar door at night. Barbs might fly over hot topics, but nothing got too personal.

No more. The election-year fight over gay marriage has altered the gay scene here in ways that have left some in the community - most notably gay Republicans - stunned and even fearful. Under intense pressure to separate their gay consciousness from their broader political identity, gay and lesbian conservatives are facing stinging ridicule in the very neighborhoods, bars and restaurants that were once unquestioned safe zones.

Lynden C. Armstrong, administrative director for Sen. Pete V. Domenici, R-N.M., an opponent of gay marriage, has been called "a Jew working for Nazis" and "a gay Uncle Tom."

"I don't feel like I'm being attacked by anyone in my office," said Armstrong, 33, who is also co-chairman of the Gay, Lesbian and Allies Senate Staff Caucus. "The attacks have come from other gays and lesbians, and that's hard. It's very hard for me to understand how they can do that. Most people know how difficult this all is for all of us."

The tension experienced by Armstrong and others has been ratcheting up since February, when President Bush formally endorsed a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. But it has reached fever pitch in the past two weeks, since Mike Rogers, a gay activist in Washington, began posting on the Internet the names of gays who work for lawmakers supporting the amendment.

"It's about exposing hypocrisy wherever we find it," Rogers said.

Rogers said his targets are bipartisan. But so far only the names of Republican staff members have been posted. In coming days, he said, he plans to add the names of gays who hold senior positions within the administration and the Bush presidential campaign.

The outing campaign, as it has been dubbed, has taken on a life of its own. John Aravosis, a political consultant who has encouraged the campaign, said he recently received a call from someone offering to secretly photograph the gay son of a prominent Republican woman.

On Friday, The Washington Blade, a gay newspaper that had run articles about Rogers' Web site, ran an independently reported article on the gay life of a Republican political consultant in Florida who was not openly gay in his professional life.

The article defied an unofficial journalistic practice of not disclosing a person's sexuality against his or her wishes. Chris Crain, executive editor of The Washington Blade, said there were heated exchanges among editors and reporters.

"Some of the people involved in all of this are friends," Crain said. "But we wouldn't stop to think about whose feelings we were hurting in almost any other area of journalism. And in most cases, these aren't people who are struggling with being gay. These are people who are leading double lives. I don't think it's the obligation of any media to protect double lives."

The debate within the wider gay political community splits even more finely among gay Republicans. Chris Barron, political director for the Log Cabin Republicans, a national gay conservative group, condemns the outing campaign. But he is also adamantly opposed to the push against gay marriage by prominent figures within his party.

He has a responsibility to stick with the party, he said, to influence change from the inside.

A gay press secretary for a House Republican who refused to be named because his boss asked him not to speak publicly on the marriage debate said that the "barbaric tactics" of gays attacking other gays had reinforced his partisan commitment.

"It put it into focus," said the aide. "If there is a spectrum of things that make up who I am, the things that draw me to work for Republicans are more important that anything related to my sexual orientation."

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