I have already confessed to loving it when hypocrites get busted. John Ensign? Ted Haggard? Mark Sanford? David Vitter? I practically danced with schadenfreude when their good Christian family values dissolved into a sticky mess of gay sex, adultery, prostitution and other “perversions.” And when addict Rush Limbaugh copped to buying black market opiates after ranting that too many white people were using drugs and the police should “go out and find the ones who are getting away with it, convict them and send them up the river, too?” That was awesome.
But I actually agreed with Gawker’s Hamilton Nolan yesterday when he decried the outing of a Minneapolis anti-gay minister who was exposed after attending a 12-step meeting for gay men “struggling with chastity.” Like all 12-step meetings, participants were guaranteed anonymity. The title of Nolan’s post was Infiltrating 12-Step Meetings Is Evil.
Would I have approved of a reporter busting Rush Limbaugh by sitting in on a Narcotics Anonymous meeting? No. Anonymity is sacrosanct in any 12-step program; anything that breaches that trust threatens the sobriety and recovery of others. If you attend such a meeting, you know this. If you’re a reporter who attends such a meeting with the purpose of exposing the people there, you’re an asshole. In this case, Nolan wrote that “The ends don’t justify the means.”
Of course, this was Catholic Church-sponsored 12-step program to help gay people live chaste lives. Not exactly the same, to my mind, as the AA and NA meetings that have helped so many people cope with alcohol and drug addiction. But it’s still a place where this man thought he’d be safe and anonymous. He wasn’t caught with his pants down at a pride parade or a gay bar. He was outed when he sought help—or at least, the kind of help he thought he needed. My frisson of schadenfreude faded quickly.
People who want to be in the closet have the right to be in the closet, and people who want help remaining celibate should be allowed to do so without being exposed. If you’re George Rekers and you travel around with an escort you hired from rentboy.com, you’re in public; you lose the expectation of privacy. Same goes for Larry Craig trying to pick up men in a public restroom.
But the gay man being exposed in this case was not caught doing something sexual, rather, he was trying extremely hard not to do something sexual and he was desperately trying to keep it private. Essentially, he was trying to practice what he preaches. It’s a small distinction, I’ll grant you, but I think it makes him less of a hypocrite and and more of a sad closet case. I have a certain amount of compassion towards people who are so obviously tormented.
The Gawker commentariat was (typically) harsh, both towards the reporter for outing the minister and towards the minister himself for being an anti-gay gay man. Said one:
The bottom line is that if a reader of this article needs to attend a 12 Step for any reason whatsoever, and decides NOT TO because they are worried about their anonymity, then this [magazine] article is a big fucking fail.
That would be my concern. I’m a big fan of 12-step programs—the Sharper family is quite well-represented in AA and NA—and if they weren’t anonymous, they would be a lot less effective. Still, I don’t entirely disagree with the commenter who said:
Treating homosexuality as an addiction to be overcome is horrifying; destroying such groups by infiltration and exposure is a good act. Slime like [him] who spend their lives attempting to destroy the lives and rights of gay people to assuage their own self-hatred deserve to be exposed by any and all legal means.
Of course, Hamilton Nolan just posted this story with all the links and identifications intact, so while he may think the outing is reprehensible…he just doubled down on it, as one commenter pointed out:
So congratulations, while bitching about the damage outing someone in a despicable way has done from a magazine so small I’ve never even heard of as a gay man, you’ve taken that information and continued to pass it on to millions. Who do you think hurt his anonymity more?
It’s a fair point. I’ll throw this open to you, gentle readers. Did the journalist act unethically? Did Hamilton Nolan? Does this minister have the right to hide his homosexuality while publically attacking the homosexuality of others? Do even hypocrites deserve compassion?