Thursday, June 14, 2007

The Outing of Tyler Whitney

"Politics ain't beanbag," as the saying goes. The rough-and-tumble aspects of politics are not unknown -- just ask future former Virginia state Senators Marty Williams and Benjamin Lambert. Or remember that, a year ago, nobody knew what "macaca" means.

The din and discord of political life may, in fact, be a major attraction for those of us who become involved in it. So we know what to expect.

Denizens of the blogosphere know, however, that sometimes people cross the line from assertive to meanspirited. Even in Virginia, there are some bloggers who use words like "pervert" when they refer to their gay neighbors. And the list of examples, on line and off, of those who call conservatives "fascists" is too long to repeat.

That said, in most cases the targets of abuse are seasoned veterans who can endure it. They have been through college and law school, have settled into a job, put a few campaigns under their belts, learned a bit about equanimity and how to handle passionate moments -- in other words, matured.

All this comes by way of prefacing my anger about an episode in Michigan that came to light on Wednesday, and in turn lit up the blogosphere -- particularly the left blogohemisphere.

A few weeks ago a conservative blogger named Joe Sylvester mentioned in passing, in a short item about the summer whereabouts of young Michigan conservatives, that

Tyler Whitney is also working in DC on a Presidential campaign. The brash young paleo-libertarian will be spending his weekend with gay conservatives and libertarians in Dupont Circle for the City's Gay Pride Festivities. Tyler is said to have relocated to DC permanently.
It is not clear from the context -- and I do not know enough about Sylvester to ascribe motives to him -- whether this was an innocent remark about something he thought was common knowledge or whether it was a deliberate attempt to force Tyler Whitney out of the closet.

Whatever the case, that little item was picked up by a Michigan gay newspaper, Between the Lines, and published on its web site.

An article by Todd A. Heywood begins:
An 18-year-old leader of Young Americans for Freedom and a conservative campaign operative is coming out of the closet.

Tyler Whitney, the immediate past chair of Western Michigan University YAF, the chair of the Michigan Teenage Republicans, or TARs, and the current webmaster for the Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colorado) for President website, has been telling other conservative activists for about a month of his coming out journey.

"Yes I am aware of that," said Joanna Varnavas when asked if she knew Whitney was coming out of the closet. "He told me about a month ago."

She said he confirmed it again last week in a text message exchange.

Varnavas was the spokesperson for Michigan State University Young Americans for Freedom until November, 2006 when she resigned because of the hate-speech of the group. The Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Project later listed the group as a hate group.

Other conservatives have confirmed Whitney has told them he is gay, but would not go on the record.
One thing you have to give credit to Heywood for -- at least he, unlike Sylvester, multiple-sourced his report.

So far there is not much to be concerned about. The problem came when gay bloggers like Michelangelo Signorile and Dan Savage wrote about Mr. Whitney, eliciting vitriol from their readers like nothing seen since Stalin fumed about Trotsky.

The way these bloggers had it, Tyler Whitney is the second coming of Joe McCarthy, Sheriff Clarke, and Jesse Helms rolled into one. Signorile, in particular, engages in character assassination based on guilt-by-association. Calling this 18-year-old, low-level campaign worker a "high profile" staffer who is a "rising star" in the Republican party, the man who turned outing into an art form wrote:
Whitney was handpicked to run a YAF chapter at Western Michigan University by the leader of the MSU chapter, Kyle Bristow. Bristow, who has championed "Catch an Illegal Immigrant Day" and appeared on The O'Reilly Factor, has said that “homosexuality kills people almost to a degree worse than cigarettes… these [pro-gay rights groups] are complicit with murder.” (Michigan Republicans actually defended him after this, something Democrats criticized them for.) Bristow calls gays "deviants" and says he's "against the notion that deviants deserve extra rights." According to Between the Lines, "Bristow has opined that if he had a gay son he would kill him, and that homosexuals should be in prison."
Advice columnist Dan Savage, meanwhile, suggests that hypocrisy of higher ups is reason enough to breach the privacy of underlings:
Bay Buchanan, Senior Advisor to Tancredo, says Whitney’s “sexual preference is a personal matter,” and that it should have “nothing to do with the campaign.”

Sorry, Bay, but gay-bashing conservative thugs—people like you, your horrible brother, your vile candidate—can’t have it both ways on the gay issue. If Whitney’s sexual preference is a personal matter, if Whitney’s sexual preference shouldn’t have anything to do with the campaign, then neither should mine—or the sexual preferences of any other Americans. Until your candidate lays off the gay bashing, until the GOP stops attacking the rights and humanity of gay and lesbian Americans, then Tyler Whitney’s sexual orientation—it’s not a preference, Bay, and you know it—is fit for public debate.
The comments from Savage's readers, however, are truly vile. Some examples:
I don't have any sympathy for Tyler Whitney. We've all got mistakes in our past, but seriously: What. An. Asshole.

* * *

Out the bastard. The little sh*t should be dragged kicking and squealing from his padded red closet. Junior can hate himself all he wants, but once he starts spraying his execrate all over normal people, it's open season. Actions have consequences.

* * *

There's a sadistic, hateful streak at the core of the Republican Party, and this junior Karl Rove needs to be taken down a notch.

* * *

Whether or not he is too ignorant to understand, he is being used to perpetuate hate. He needs to learn the hard way that what he is doing is far, far beyond unacceptable.

No sympathy for tools of hate. If he needs to learn, then let us and the rest of the world teach him.
I am appalled by the cruel comments made here and elsewhere. (And I just gave the most family-friendly sample I could ooze out of the mud on Savage's blog.)

You would think that none of these people had never gone through the anxious, raucous, frightening, unpredictable process of coming out. Their comments suggest that a kid fresh out of high school has as much maturity in his political/philosophical/social views as a 30-year-old law-school graduate.

Granted, Tancredo would not be my choice to support (today or when I was 18), but the offer of a job on a presidential campaign at that age has to be enticing. Talk about a resume-builder.

But that's only the most cynical view of why he might have taken this job. Has anyone thought about the possibility that a job in Washington was Tyler Whitney's ticket to liberation? It took him away from a hostile environment (if what Between the Lines describes about YAF chapters in Michigan is true) and offered him a chance to go to a big city with an active, welcoming gay community that includes conservatives as well as liberals, libertarians as well as socialists.

A Tancredo campaign is not likely to last very long, is it? But to use it as a stepping-stone to another job in a cosmopolitan area, rather than remain behind in a more stultifying environment -- that is a clever move. (And who knows? Maybe Tyler was following not just his political bliss, but his romantic dreams too. Could there be a boyfriend attending Georgetown or George Mason to whom he wanted to be nearer?)

It wasn't that long ago that most of us -- liberal and conservative alike -- were facing the daunting prospect of inching out of the closet. As for myself, it took many years. A few friends knew about me when I started college, but the rest of the world -- including my family -- was not told until I ran for the Virginia House of Delegates in 1991. I was 32 years old before most people knew I was gay.

Luckily for me, in that time of my life when I was working at conservative think tanks, there was no Michelangelo Signorile or John Aravosis to force my closet door open before I was ready. The consequences of that would have been very grave for me; I know that for others they could potentially be deadly.

Have any of these gloaters thought about the personal consequences for Tyler Whitney, the consequences that any one of us might have faced had we come out to the wrong person or at the wrong time? How will it affect his relationship with his parents, his grandparents -- or even, perhaps, with his boyfriend (if he has one)? Could he be disowned, disinherited, sent to an ex-gay treatment facility where he would be scarred by psychotherapeutic quacks?

People like Tyler Whitney need sympathy and support, not opprobrium. I'm tempted to say he should be given a chance to grow up -- since his detractors have obviously not taken the time to do so.

P.S.: What's with this left-wing obsession with Young Americans for Freedom chapters in Michigan and Tyler's connection to them? Anyone who understands the conservative movement knows that YAF is a spent force, and has been for years. It has none of the influence that it once had in the 1960s. The infamous St. Louis convention took care of that, and YAF has since been superseded by several other groups. So Tyler Whitney's critics are not just cruel, they are ignorant and uninformed.

Update, 8:48 a.m.: Thanks to Matt Comer, a North Carolina advocate for LGBT youth (and himself just 21 years old), for linking to this post and for offering his own sensitive, sympathetic analysis of the Tyler Whitney situation.

Further update, 8:55 a.m., June 15: GayPatriotWest was unaware of this news item until I brought it to his attention. He has posted his views on Tyler Whitney's outing, with an active conversation among his readers in the comments section.


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14 comments:

Anonymous said...

Nice post, Rick, but I can't work up much pity for the lad right now. He's been running with a bad crowd, people who make it as difficult as humanly possible for gays and lesbians to, as you put it, "grow up."

Many readers of Savage's and Signorile's blog have vivid memories of their own mistreatment at the hands of this crowd. That they would lash attack "one of their own" who has contributed to it is as inevitable as it is regrettable. Fortunately for Whitney, he's eighteen years old, and cannot be sent to a treatment facility without his own consent.

Armistead Maupin started out as an assistant to a certain race-baiting US Senator from North Carolina. I suspect someone as ambitious as Tyler Whitney will also have a second act.

Keith said...

You got a few things wrong. Sylvester is a friend of Tyler's. Also, Tyler wasn't 'outed'. He had already come out to his friends and family almost two months ago. Another misconception is that he desperately accepted any job coming his way - again incorrect.

Tyler is a self-described paleo-conservative. That is the same ideology as Justin Raimondo. He was was one of Pat Buchanan's campaign managers back in '94, and openly gay. Tom Beddingfield, another one, worked with anti-gay Pete Knight, in California to get Prop 22 passed.

You are making a lot of incorrect assumptions in your comments. As with these other paleo-conservatives mentioned, Tyler has strong beliefs that homosexual militancy has gone too far, gay marriage is an attack on traditional values, and legislation like ENDA and hate crimes laws are unecessary special rights. I could go on, but suffice it to say you are mistakenly assigning innocent motives to a lot of this stuff.

There have always been gay men (and very few lesbians) working for the most extreme anti-gay of politicians. We usually find out about them long after the candidate has retired. You cannot shame Tyler Whitney from supporting a family-values candidate. Some people do not identify with the gay lifestyle and see the value of families, the sanctity of marriage, and opposition to amnesty as much more important than a bedroom lifestyle choice.

David said...

Has anyone thought about the possibility that a job in Washington was Tyler Whitney's ticket to liberation? It took him away from a hostile environment (if what Between the Lines describes about YAF chapters in Michigan is true) and offered him a chance to go to a big city with an active, welcoming gay community that includes conservatives as well as liberals, libertarians as well as socialists.

Exactly what I thought. Maybe he will now have the freedom to examine the misguided assumptions that would lead him to oppose equal treatment under the law for himself. The "bedroom lifestyle choice" comment is beneath contempt.

North Dallas Thirty said...

Nice post, Rick, but I can't work up much pity for the lad right now. He's been running with a bad crowd, people who make it as difficult as humanly possible for gays and lesbians to, as you put it, "grow up."

Funny, it doesn't seem like either Rick or myself had much trouble managing it.

Personally, I'm of the school that the immature behavior of adults has to be traced back at some point to being their own fault. Sure, they can blame their parents, their teachers, Jerry Falwell, and that annoying guy on the Right Guard ads, but when it all gets down right to it, these are people making the choice towards behavior that would be inappropriate in an elementary school locker room, much less on radio, TV, the Internets, and public.

Either that, or they can be consistent and say that it is now within bounds to make threats of violence and death against people just because you don't like them. I'm sure Fred Phelps will be overjoyed.

John said...

Good post, Rick. I'm glad I stumbled across your blog. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

A Quick lookup online shows that Tyler Whitney belonged to a YAF group that was NOT listed as a hate group by the SPLC. Michigan State U's chapter was, Western Michigan U's was not. Just thought I'd clarify that for those reading.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the hairsplitting anonymous 12:08 am. If my chapter of a larger organization was affiliated with a cult, but my chapter itself had no criminal charges on its record (yet), then I suppose it's all fair game until things go down the drain? Wait, what happened to the conservative doctrine of preemptive strike?

Further, I don't buy this:
Has anyone thought about the possibility that a job in Washington was Tyler Whitney's ticket to liberation? It took him away from a hostile environment (if what Between the Lines describes about YAF chapters in Michigan is true) and offered him a chance to go to a big city with an active, welcoming gay community that includes conservatives as well as liberals, libertarians as well as socialists.

I can see that you're breathing a lot of your personal experience into this, yet an individual's quest for emancipation should never involve inciting hate crimes against others. (We can discuss whether killing gay children is a hate crime or not some other time.) Your attempt to defend this individual from character assassination is grounded on the virtue of selfishness, one which in this case has the manifestation of social oppression of those who do not have the ladder climbing chance to get to congress.

sisko197 said...

Tyler Whitney deserves to be subject to his own words. I hope he gets what he dishes out. Punk is going to learn the golden rule the hard way. Nice.

Sean said...

Must one shed a tear
For the Collaborators?
Cry them a river.

Anonymous said...

"Has anyone thought about the possibility that a job in Washington was Tyler Whitney's ticket to liberation? It took him away from a hostile environment (if what Between the Lines describes about YAF chapters in Michigan is true) and offered him a chance to go to a big city with an active, welcoming gay community that includes conservatives as well as liberals, libertarians as well as socialists."

If, as you assert, he needed a job in Washington to find a safe enough environment to come out, he has nobody to blame but himself and his compatriots. He was not just conservative in the fiscal sense, or neo-conservative in a foreign policy sense, or in a libertarian- get the government out of my life sense, he was anti-gay. While he was and is gay.

And perhaps his bigotry was an indiscretion of youth, a foolish over-compensation to placate his homo-hating friends. If so, some understanding and forgiveness is called for. But first he needs to apologize. Really. He needs to come out, way out and talk about why he carried the "Get back in the closet sign." He needs to explain how he feels about homosexuality in general now that he has embraced his own. Dan Savage's point, and he has a good one, is that he cannot, after making such a public spectacle of himself as an anti-homosexual bigot, he cannot now retreat behind the safe wall of a privacy he denied to others. Over the past 40 years, brave men and women have died to provide him with the general tolerance of society that he now wants to wrap himself in and disappear, a general tolerance that he has actively fought against. He needs to explain his own relationship to homosexuality now at least as publicly as he denounced it before.

And furthermore, have you been to Michigan? Are you seriously suggesting that there are not healthy gay communities in that state? Do you really think that a gay man in Michigan has to move to Washington D.C. (?) to find a tolerant environment to express his or her homosexual orientation? You sound not just a little uninformed and stupid making such a statement. Let's leave aside for a moment the fact that it was Mr. Whitney himself and his compatriots who were propagating the intolerance to be found within the state. The fact is that thousands, tens of thousands, probably hundreds of thousands of gay men and women live openly in Michigan. It was never a geographical move that Mr. Whitney needed to come out safely, but a philosophical, psychological and ideological one.

Mr. Whitney deserves our understanding, sympathy, and patience, but he owes us all an explanation.

Steven Latimer said...

No, Mr. Whitney does not owe anyone an apology. Who really cares? He is a principled conservative of the first order and we don't get our rights because we're part of groups.

Joe Sylvester said...

Amen Steven

Anonymous said...

I have to say I read the Savage article and I disagree with you. There was nothing less family friendly then the quote you selected. He did drive the point home very firmly. Dan Savage said that it is ridiculous to pity an outed 18 year old anti-gay activist when young gays are gay bashed and killed everyday in America and I will add that there is no law making it a hate-crime.

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