by Joe Siegel
The recent sexual harassment allegations lodged against actor Kevin Spacey have drawn criticism aimed at LGBT publications, which were hesitant to “out” closeted male celebrities such as Spacey.
Late last month, “Rent” actor Anthony Rapp revealed that Spacey had made a pass at him at a party in 1985. Rapp was only 14 at the time.
In response to the Rapp story, Spacey announced he was now going to live his life as an openly gay man. Spacey has also been accused of sexual harassment by multiple members of the “House of Cards” production team. Netflix, which produces the series, later fired Spacey, who has entered a rehabilitation facility where he is being treated for sex addiction.
Rapp’s story was published in The Advocate in 2001, but Spacey’s name was redacted.
Author and radio host Michelangelo Signorile, who wrote for Out and The Advocate, believes the magazines’ refusals to reveal Spacey’s sexual orientation “thus allowed Spacey to continue to sexually assault and harass men and boys.”
“The reasons offered by publications for having an ‘anti-outing' policy are often high-minded when, in fact, it is about old-fashioned capitalism driven by homophobia ― fear of losing business ― that has kept these policies in place,” Signorile said, adding “a blanket anti-outing policy is wrong-headed and dangerous.”
Bruce Steele, the former editor of the magazines, defended his decision in a recent column.
“The Advocate had developed a ‘no outing’ policy before I joined the staff, and we stuck to it,” Steele wrote. “We cajoled, befriended and pressured, but we did not report on anyone's sexuality without their cooperation. Just as each of us had reached the decision to come out in our own time, celebrities needed the same opportunity, even if it took them years and years.”
The editors of various LGBT publications have now weighed in on the issue of outing.
Cynthia Laird, news editor of the Bay Area Reporter in San Francisco, said the paper does not “out” people.
“We have published numerous stories over the years where people decline to identify themselves as members of the LGBT community,” Laird noted. “In those cases, we report that the person declined to state their sexual orientation [or gender identity].”
Laird said the paper’s treatment of Spacey, or any other celebrity, would be very different from The Advocate’s.
“If something happened similar to the Kevin Spacey incident with The Advocate, we would have used Spacey's name and made an effort to contact him,” Laird said. “I would add, however, that we generally require a police report or lawsuit to be filed in assault cases before we will cover it.”
Paul Schindler, editor and associate publisher of New York-based Gay City News, also questions the way The Advocate handled the Rapp allegations against Spacey.
“I can't possibly see how you could decide someone's accusations of sexual harassment — or assault if that be the case — were newsworthy, but that the alleged perpetrator should have the autonomy to come out at a time of their choosing,” Schindler said. “If Rapp's account at that time had sufficient credibility to move forward with a story, I would have given Spacey the opportunity to respond or reported that he declined to comment.”
Schindler said there are different circumstances surrounding who gets outed in print and who doesn’t. “I think it goes nearly without saying that in cases where closeted gay people hypocritically work politically against the community, it's hard to imagine any reason to offer them any courtesies counter to our typical reporting standards.”
Kevin Naff, editor of the D.C.-based Washington Blade, said the paper “has reported the sexual orientation of closeted anti-LGBT figures for many years.”
“I have no hesitation in reporting that information because there's nothing wrong or shameful about being LGBT,” Naff said. “Kevin Spacey is a damaged person who hid in the closet for 50 years, then came out only to deflect attention and excuse the horrific accusations made against him. How can we expect the school teacher in Peoria or the construction worker in Alabama to come out when the wealthiest and most privileged among us choose to hide in the closet?”