If you live outside the Beltway or the 18th congressional district of Illinois and are familiar with the name Aaron Schock, chances are it's because of the soon-to-be-former congressman's charmed, inordinately-publicized lifestyle: He tangoes in the streets of Buenos Aires, treks through the glaciers of Patagonia, sips sherry with Prince Charles, and takes selfies with pop star Ariana Grande.
You may also know the name because Schock, first elected to Congress in 2008, has been dogged by whispers of homosexuality virtually from the moment he arrived in Washington.
There was that teal belt, the dapper clothes, and that video of Schock strolling through Tampa's gayborhood during the GOP convention in 2012, telling reporters that then-vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan should wear outfits that better exhibited his chiseled physique. There was also, of course, an abortive attempt to out the congressman, sparked by a cryptic Facebook post from journalist Itay Hod.
Those of us who inhabit D.C.'s tight-knit gay community have heard no shortage of Schock stories. (They're almost always third- or fourthhand.) Among gays in the nation's capital, Schock is an object of both fascination and contempt. I've heard more than one gay friend say that they're willing forgive the man a lot -- including that 0 percent score from the Human Rights Campaign -- simply because he's such a dreamboat; I've also encountered a fair number of people who seem bizarrely convinced that the progress of LGBT equality demands nothing less than an all-out effort to expose, once and for all, the sexual deeds of a backbench congressman from Peoria.
At any rate, schadenfreude took hold throughout much of Dupont Circle when Schock announced on Tuesday that he would resign amid mounting evidence of financial and ethical improprieties. He didn't go down quite the way many expected him to, but the rising star had fallen just the same. The journalist Jamie Kirchick trains a critical eye on this gleeful reaction in a new piece for The Daily Beast, lambasting "the bitchy gay community" for what he depicts as a sexual McCarthyism akin to that of our most vile, bigoted enemies.
As others have already noted, it's a bit curious to see Kirchick bemoaning gay bitchiness, a mere three months after he penned a catty column in which he dubbed Chris Hughes and Sean Eldridge "America's worst gay power couple" and reveled in the couple's recent series of misfortunes, including Eldridge's disastrous 2014 congressional campaign and Hughes' controversial tenure as owner and publisher of The New Republic.
But let's consider Kirchick's argument.
He first considers the matter of whether it would be appropriate to out Schock. I'm of the mind that any closeted politician who votes to deny other gay people their equal rights is fair game for exposure, but I'm not much interested in getting into an is he/isn't he debate about the honorable gentleman. What I find far more interesting is Kirchick's rationale against such an outing -- a rationale that is quite troubling when you consider its implications:
According to his gay antagonists, Schock deserves to be outed because of his anti-gay voting record. That consists of opposition to gay marriage, the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and the institution of harsher criminal penalties for hate crimes. Disagreement with the latter proposal should hardly be considered a requirement by the gay community for qualification as an ally, considering that many gay intellectuals, policymakers, and writers (this one included) oppose hate-crimes legislation on freedom of conscience grounds. There’s no evidence that Schock personally discriminated against gay people, nor did he ever crusade against homosexuality, like Ted Haggard, the former leader of the National Association of Evangelicals who railed against gays and was later exposed by a male escort as a client.
Sure, Kirchick allows, Schock may have a "moderately anti-gay public record" -- I would submit that opposing equal marriage rights and open military service constitute gross affronts, not moderate ones -- but at least he's no fire-and-brimstone homophobe! This conveniently elides a discussion of the real threats to LGBT equality in contemporary America. Just as institutional racism poses far more of a danger to minorities than do the demented utterings of Cliven Bundy, so, too, does officially sanctioned discrimination degrade the livelihoods of LGBT people far more than fiery rhetoric from the Ted Haggards and Fred Phelpses of the world. Those men never sat in Congress or served in any other official capacity; until March 31, Schock will.
Back to Kirchick:
Not every gay public figure needs to be a hero or trailblazer. Not every gay person’s life is characterized by parents who don’t look askance at their son’s listening to Judy Garland records at a young age. If Schock is gay and lying about it, with a moderately anti-gay public record to boot, then that makes him a coward, and nothing more. Schock hails from a solidly conservative Republican district and voting against repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is presumably what his constituents wanted. He would hardly be the first dishonest politician who covered up some aspect of his life to further his career.
This is even more disturbing. Are we to excuse anti-gay votes simply because Schock's constituents may not be on board with the business of equality? By that logic, there's no reason to chide midcentury racists for opposing interracial marriage, given that only four percent of Americans approved of such unions in 1958. History does not look kindly upon those who blindly follow the perceived dictates of popular opinion to oppose fundamental civil rights, and the same will hold true for Aaron Schock -- whether he's gay or not.
And there's the crux of the matter. When it comes to evaluating Schock's abysmal record on LGBT issues, it shouldn't matter what he does in the privacy of his own home. Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that Schock is as heterosexual as they come: Does that make his opposition to gay equality any better?
I readily admit that there's a sliver of my soul that finds Schock's saga depressing. There's about as much overlap between our political views as there is between West Hollywood and Peoria, but there's something heart-sinking about watching someone not much older than myself squander what once looked like a promising career. By many accounts I've heard, he's quite a nice person. I can't imagine he's having a good go of it right now.
And yes, if Schock is indeed gay, it saddens me that he feels the need to remain closeted -- whether to please his conservative parents, appease his constituents, or just to avoid coming to terms with the man he really is.
In the final analysis, however, Schock has chosen at every available opportunity to plant himself squarely on the wrong side of history. And for that, he deserves whatever scorn the bitchy gays send his way.