When BTL published the story on Tyler Whitney’s coming out last week, it was to inform readers. It was also picked up by Sirius radio host and gay journalist Michangelo Signorile. From there, the Internet caught fire with a renewed vigor on the debate about outing.
Ranging from concerns about Whitney’s age, to the ethics of outing, to calling the anonymous posters online for violent comments directed at Whitney, the debate as been full and vigorous one.
“I thought it would get the amount of attention it has,” said Signorile by phone last week. “I did. I really did. I know how passionate people are about homophobia. When they see homophobia and in this case it was just so outrageous and the YAF and the connection to it. I have seen things with the show and because it is a national show, people picked it up.”
The first major debate cycling through the blog-o-sphere is whether or not Whitney was outed, and if he was, whether it was BTL or the Conservative Dossier that did it.
Signorile said he thinks Whitney was outed.
Jeffrey Montgomery, executive director of Triangle Foundation, and Derek Smiertka, executive director of Michigan Equality, think Whitney was not outed, but rather BTL reported on his coming out.
Matt Comer a 21-year-old blogger from North Carolina, said he is not sure if it was an outing.
“That’s a tough one. Looking at the emails between you and Tyler I think the intention was great and it was a positive one. A voice we never hear and we want to write about his coming out process,” the activist said in a phone interview. “I don’t think BTL has any blame to play, they were doing their job. If I had been editor, I perhaps wouldn’t have done it.”
Comer’s website/blog Interstate Q has lead a counter insurgency against what Comer calls “abhorrent” behavior by blog commentaries from Seattle to New York.
“We always hear about how we should support youth emotionally, physically spiritually. We have not done that for this youth,” Comer observed. “Instead there have been calls for his being shot, raped and other horrible things. At this point we are being hypocritical.”
Montgomery, Smiertka and Signorile all concur that some of the responses calling for violence are over the top and unacceptable. However, Signorile has not removed such posts from his own blog, The Gist. Dan Savage from Seattle has also not removed the threat posts from his blog.
Comer said as leaders in the community, Savage and Signorile, as well as other bloggers, have an obligation to remove such posts. “Those leaders who themselves run websites where those comments are appearing should take responsibility and should take out some of the threatening materials. Those do nothing to add to a debate or discussion.”
Comer has come under fire as well for his comments. He said he has been called a traitor and an “Uncle Tom.” Comer was 14 when he came out and has been involved in youth activism and politics ever since.
One major debate filling blogs online is whether at 18, Whitney should have been outed.
“Reporting on someone’s sexual orientation and understanding that is always difficult. Reporting on someone who is 18 is another layer of discomfort,” said Signorile. “Just because it’s super uncomfortable, doesn’t mean journalists don’t have a job to do. We are not in the business of comforting people, otherwise we would be baking cookies or something.”
“The way I understand it he was coming out to his circle of friends and it was the conservative press that reported it first. And the rest of the media broke the story on the coming out. I don’t think this was an outing on the LBGT side,” said Smiertka.
Montgomery concurs with Signorile. “The question as to whether he has been outed by the paper is really a moot point. You were reporting on this kid’s journey of coming out of the closet. He was clearly and undeniably involved in some rotten antigay stuff.”
Comer thinks Whitney was not in a position to deserve outing. “I have supported outing of high level staffers and elected officials. But he just doesn’t have that kind of influence as a webmaster,” he said.
Montgomery counters Comer’s argument, “It’s disingenuous to say ‘I am 18’. You are old enough to say horrible things about gay people work for antigay politicians,” Montgomery said. “It scandalizes young people. This is an adult person who can vote, sign contracts, own weapons, go to war. This is not like a 14-year-old. This is not a kid. This is an 18 year old man who has made many, many decisions to get involved in some very negative things. His coming out is therefore interesting and valid.”
Comer said that while Whitney is 18, and that is the age of majority in most states, the fact remains that most 18-year-olds are still significantly reliant on friends and family for support. As such, an outing of this type puts them in jeopardy.
In the end, Comer hopes the dialogue will turn into a more constructive one and away from the conversation on outing or violence. “I think it is time for us to have that dialogue. We are going to have lessons learned from this situation. What values do we have? Either we are going to come out of this as a community that is vindictive, dog-eat-dog, or we are going to be the community that says we don’t necessarily agree with each other, but we agree to disagree with each other.”