The tale's as old as time: Republicans gather (whether at this week's Republican National Convention, CPAC, or otherwise), and gay men, as they do, proceed to look for sex. Bloggers post their ads for a quick laugh; rinse and repeat. (More intrepid mudslingers might mine a few anonymous male escorts for lurid stories.) It's an easy joke, one that's been made year in, year out since the dawn of cruising itself. By the language of the ads, which often mention terms like "discrete" or "married," it's safe to assume the politicos who post and respond are often closeted.
Being an out, gay Republican is crushing work. What's easier is to be a closeted, gay Republican—and you can count them among those who have worked the hardest to demonize LGBTQ Americans. From Roy Cohn to Larry Craig, it's long been gay politicians themselves who harbor some of the most vitriolic anti-gay beliefs.
A full year before Craig's infamous Minneapolis airport arrest, he was outed by activist and blogger Michael Rogers, who became notable throughout the aughts for outing politicians (from both the left and right) with anti-LGBTQ voting records through his website, BlogActive.com. His work is chronicled in the 2009 documentary Outrage, which examines the cultural, political, and psychological forces that drive gay politicians into the closet, and what compels them to remain closeted for political gain. Today, Rogers is decidedly out of the blogging game—he now runs the nonprofit Netroots Connect and owns the news website Raw Story.
If anyone understands what drives Republicans into the closet—and to post ads like "married guy seeks anothr [sic] married guy at the rnc"—it's Rogers.
VICE: Let's talk about cruising.
Michael Rogers: OK. I'm 53, I know a little bit about that.
What drives Republicans into the closet?
Some of it is the way they look at their identity. For example, I was raised Jewish. Am I a gay Jew, or am I a Jewish guy who's gay? We build our own identity based on who we are.
People who say "being gay isn't who I am, it's just who I sleep with" are in denial. Our sexuality is a key component of our humanity. They're willing to—whether for greed, to appease family, whatever—say "I'm OK being kicked to the curb by people who say they want to help me but really don't give a shit about me." Is it the "seeking a parent's love" thing? That's what made Reagan succeed; he was this grandfatherly type, and the nation was astray. Maybe these guys need direction.
Let's talk about the influence of religion on the party and these men who won't come out.
Right, it was the Catholics who pushed the hardest against gay people. Let's get this straight: A religion whose basic premise is that those in charge have to be straight men without any interest in fucking women. Can we understand how everything that emanates from that is preposterous?
What straight man would listen to anything about sexuality from straight men who have pledged not to have sex? And the other thing is these people can say or do whatever they want because they have that magic friend in the sky. These are people who, when [women come to them whose] husbands have beat the living shit out of them, say you have to go home and can't divorce them. What kind of person has that much self-hatred?
There's a moment in Outrage, where someone said that being closeted can actually help you as a politician, because so much of being a politician is being able to spin and pirouette on an issue. Why do you think gay men crave that power?
I don't know if it's any different in gay men than it is in men. Gay men are no more pigs than straights—the difference is they're just looking for other pigs.
Many are willing to let their thirst for power overtake their self-respect. This is how it starts: You're an intern, and you're asked to fetch lunch for a senator because the guy who does it is out. So you help. Then they need someone to ride with the senator to a meeting, and he was impressed by your get-go. Now you're hooked—you're a kid in a limo with a US senator, that feels cool. Then he needs a scheduler, he asks you, and it keeps going. Now you're in the Republican Party. It's about seeking more and more power in that context, in this world you've created for yourself. Whether you're [Larry] Craig and you did it because you're from Boise, Idaho, or David Dreier—someone told me he wouldn't come out because he didn't want his mother to know he's gay. Grow the fuck up.
People learn power. Nobody's born with it. Even monarchs learn to wield power, or people revolt. I think outing is a revolt: You can't come out? That's your problem. Don't take it out on my community, and young people in my community.
Someone like [former RNC chair] Ken Mehlman can come out and say he's sorry for what he's done only because he doesn't want the power that comes with being closeted anymore. Now he wants to be a Wall Street powerhouse, but being gay [in the financial world] is a diversity point now. I always say we can forgive people for what they've done if they'll say what they did. In Mehlman's case, he came out, said sorry, great. Raised money for charity, great. But I think the only other thing he should have to do is spend a day with the family of a gay kid who took his own life. Because his messaging killed that kid.
You've said that "outing is so last decade." What do you mean?
I think outing and citizen journalism have made it more acceptable now to report the truth. People tell me I should write a book about outing—nobody's going to buy that, who cares. But if I were to write a book, one chapter would be called, "The Pact of Protection: How Washington's Political and Media Elite Protect the People from the Truth." And it is one big scandal. I mean, this sex stuff has gone on forever—Lyndon Johnson found out he had staff who had gay affairs. Nixon knew there were gays on his staff. Today, if there were proof that an anti-gay politician were gay, people would see the hypocrisy and report on it, whereas they used to bury those stories and conspire to hide them, even, which is worse.
The other reason is it's no longer a wedge issue, frankly. Today, Republicans go after stuff like bathrooms, and they're losing. The bathroom issue is the one thing we've always been afraid of. And whether it's [Mike] Pence or [Pat] McCrory, these guys go after the bathroom issue, and they look like idiots. It might even cost McCrory an election—who would have thought that? If you'd told me ten years ago elections would be won and lost based on the bathroom issue and we would be winning them, I would have said you're nuts. In May 2006, 67 percent of Americans said they would never be able to accept marriage equality. 67 percent.
Follow Tyler Trykowski on Twitter.