Although the documentary Outrage focuses on present-day politicians and the battle for gay rights, there's a reason director Kirby Dick decided to cede the film's final scene, and its last word, to the late Harvey Milk, one of the first openly gay people elected to public office in the 1970s.
"There's something very inspirational about the vision of this man from 30 years ago saying that this whole debate would be over if everyone just came out," Dick says. "I find it sad that, three decades later, we're still having this discussion, and there's still a need for this film. I'm appalled that all Americans still don't have full civil rights."
According to the argument that Dick lays out in Outrage — which is in limited release and has not opened in Central Kentucky — some politicians have backed anti-gay legislation despite their being gay — and the national news media has played along, failing to report on their hypocrisy.
Outrage dares to name names, alleging that politicians of various degrees of power — including Idaho Sen. Larry E. Craig, California Rep. David Dreier and Florida Gov. Charlie Crist — have supported bans on gay marriage, gay adoption and AIDS-support bills from the relative safety of their closets.
Dick acknowledges that a lot of the material presented in Outrage has been reported elsewhere. Craig's arrest for soliciting sex in a Minnesota airport bathroom made national news, and rumors of Crist's homosexuality were stirred in an article by the Broward New Times, which interviewed two men alleging to have had sexual relationships with Crist. (Crist's office did not respond to phone calls asking for comment.)
"If you follow politics closely, there are a lot of things in this film that you already know," says Dick, whose previous films include This Film Is Not Yet Rated, an exposé of the Motion Picture Association of America's ratings board, and the Oscar- nominated Twist of Faith, about sexual abuse within the Catholic Church.
"But 95 percent of the people who have seen Outrage are more stunned by this subject matter than any other film I've made," the filmmaker says. "That's why I think it's so important for this film to get out, because once the discussion gets started, it'll be harder and harder for politicians to stay in the closet."
Dick, who is heterosexual, says he set out to make a film about the process of outing. But as he began his research, the subject of closeted politicians took precedence.
The director insists that Outrage is nonpartisan, even though most of the officials it alleges to be closeted happen to be Republican.
"The only reason it's mostly Republicans we focus on in the film is that the Republican party is the one that has focused on these anti-gay issues and forced a number of its gay politicians deeper into the closet," Dick says. "It was a very cynical strategy on their part. George W. Bush is not homophobic: He has gay friends and gay staff himself. It's reprehensible that he decided to go after the rights of millions of Americans for his own political gain."
The Bush administration's failed attempt to pass an amendment to the Constitution defining marriage as exclusively male-female is one of the topics that Outrage examines. The film also uses interviews with former and current out politicians, including ex-New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey, to explore the pressures that force some politicians to remain closeted against their will.
"McGreevey was extremely candid, frank; not only talking about the pain of being in the closet but also the political calculation that goes with protecting the closet," Dick says. "He told me, for example, that even though he was personally pro-gay marriage, he opposed it publicly, because he was afraid people would think he was gay if he supported it."