If you haven’t the foggiest notion of what this headline refers to and want to sail smoothly into an uncomplicated weekend, just stop reading right now. But if your equanimity is already shot, let me get you up to speed on the latest episode of The Internet Is Terrible. Back in December, Twitter user @Jamie_Maz found some insensitive, mildly homophobic posts that MSNBC anchor Joy Reid had written on her now defunct blog, The Reid Report, between 2007 and 2009. Reid apologized, and the matter went away. Then, the same Twitter user found other, more explicitly homophobic posts from the same blog, time stamped between 2005 and 2009. Reid has denied writing those entries, saying that her blog had been hacked, a claim that several writers have expressed skepticism about, citing sources from the Internet Archive, among others. An FBI investigation is reportedly underway.
I don’t know if Reid did or did not write these posts, and I do not have the technical expertise to comment on the central question about hacking around which this controversy now revolves. But I was a gay blogger and a prolific reader of blogs, gay and political and otherwise, during the period in question. And when I forced myself to review the posts, many of them were instantly recognizable to me as something a liberal blogger in those years could have written. In fact, the more I put on my 2006-ish hat, the more unexceptional they seem to me. To my mind, the homophobia expressed falls into four different categories:
1) Ridiculing and recirculating rumors about purportedly closeted politicians and celebrities, including Charlie Crist, Queen Latifah, Tom Cruise, Clay Aiken, Oprah Winfrey and Gayle King, Karl Rove, Rick Santorum, John Roberts, Harriet Miers, and Anderson Cooper.
I know it’s hard at a moment when Adam Rippon is blinding us all with his dazzling gayness, but it’s important to recall how powerful the closet still was as an institution back then—and how flummoxed the country was by its spectacular rupture. At the time, only one person had ever been newly elected to Congress while out (Tammy Baldwin); the first gay man to be newly elected while out (Jared Polis) would follow in 2008. There was only one out gay anchor on TV (CNN’s Thomas Roberts). Actor Sean Hayes, for Christ’s sake, had finished eight whole seasons of playing the flamboyantly gay Jack McFarland on Will & Grace and was still not out and would not be until 2010.
Still, something was breaking. The masquerade of the open secret, which had protected pols and celebrities alike, was becoming increasingly risible. It’s in this specific moment, during a fraught national debate over same-sex marriage, that the lie of the closet began to stink, especially when it came wrapped in hypocrisy.
Gay bloggers like Mike Rogers and John Aravosis began outing Republican officials and staffers in 2004, the same year that New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey confessed to being a “gay American” and then promptly resigned. Rogers routinely mocked people as “closet cases” and “beards” and bestowed upon even relatively obscure staffers, whose e-mail addresses he would publish, a “Roy Cohn Award” for “faithful service to homophobes.” When Rogers and Aravosis attempted to out RNC chair Ken Mehlman in 2006, based in part on the fact that “he’s single at 38” even though he has “all those beautiful eligible Republican activist women at his beck and call,” Republican strategist Steve Schmidt emphatically told Jake Tapper that “Ken Mehlman is not gay” (Mehlman came out in 2010). In September 2006, Florida Congressman Mark Foley was caught sexting a former page. Later that year, evangelical pastor Ted Haggard was outed by a sex worker. In August 2007, Republican Senator Larry Craig was arrested for soliciting sex from an undercover cop in a bathroom at the Minneapolis airport.