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Fast Forward : Catching Up With 1990's Newsmakers : Media: Some say the practice of 'outing' may have benefited gay rights.

December 31, 1990|BETH ANN KRIER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Outing, the phenomenon of exposing allegedly gay, lesbian or bisexual personalities--usually through the media--continued to flourish throughout 1990, chiefly in the gay press and supermarket tabloids.

Increasing numbers of reportedly gay actors, politicians, entertainment moguls, professional athletes and rock musicians were named in these publications, and occasionally in mainstream media articles as well.

The debate over whether the practice is a form of psychological terrorism or a powerful, political tool also raged on. But by year's end, some outing proponents and opponents alike said the controversy may have benefited the gay rights movement.

"Outing brought a whole new level of cutting-edge honesty. Anyone who is helping (allegedly homosexual) celebrities hide is now seen as old-fashioned," says Michaelangelo Signorile, a gay gossip columnist for New York-based Outweek magazine. Earlier this year, Signorile's reporting on the alleged bisexual pursuits of the late Malcolm Forbes brought outing to the attention of many mainstream media organizations.

"Obviously, we've seen the tabloids take to (outing) in a big way," adds Signorile, whose publication continues to label or imply that various personalities are gay or lesbian. "The mainstream media, I think, came down against it for a lot of moral reasons, but in practice, I've seen them change. For instance, I've seen a lot of the (mainstream) gossip columnists not writing about (gay) people as if they're heterosexual any more. They're not sheltering them. And I've seen more stars asked if they're gay in interviews in mainstream publications."

Robert Bray, an outing opponent who serves as the public information director for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, still believes in his organization's position that gays and lesbians should not be forced from the closet. But he says the outing debate had some positive side effects.

"The debate this caused in the mainstream media was unprecedented," he says. "If there's a silver lining to the whole controversy, it's that the media reported about the closet to a mass audience, that many gays live in shame in the closet and how pervasive and contemptuous the stigma is.

"The real debate that outing caused was in newsrooms around the country as reporters weighed the need for unbiased, accurate reporting with the sensitive subject of a person's private life."

One gay-oriented publication, not particularly known for outing under its previous editor, expects to become far more aggressive in reporting on homosexuals in the closet. "We're in favor of outing," reports Richard Rouilard, who earlier this year became the editor in chief of the Advocate, a biweekly gay and lesbian magazine based in Los Angeles.

"We're working on outing stories on right-wing politicians and Vatican officials. But they're investigative pieces. We don't do lists (of alleged gays and lesbians). These stories are going to be properly sourced."

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