It should go without saying that even public figures have a right to privacy. As long as their private life does not interfere with or corrupt the carrying out of their public duties, they should be allowed to keep it shielded from public scrutiny. Even if other people have information about them, releasing that private information publicly should be condemned.
This is a rule that is particularly apt for one of the most private areas of people’s lives, their sexuality. It is generally considered wrong to gratuitously out a person as being gay. And most of the time, people abide by that rule. The standard for allowing exceptions to this general rule seems to be hypocrisy. So for example, if it turns out that an elected official who supports actions to discriminate against members of the LGBT community is in fact gay, that is often considered to be justification for publicly outing him or her.
I used to agree with that hypocrisy standard but am now less sure. Why is hypocrisy singled out as the one transgression that merits outing? Is there something fundamentally worse about being a hypocrite than there is about other moral failings? And sometimes it may not even be hypocrisy. It is at least theoretically possible that a person who is gay may believe, for various reasons, that marriage should be between a man and a woman and thus vigorously oppose moves to legalize same-sex marriage. They may even think that homosexuality is wrong and a sin and feel guilty for engaging in it.
I am beginning to shift to the position that hypocrisy is not a sufficient standard for outing someone because it is beginning to look uncomfortably like we are punishing them because we think their private lives is different from what we infer it should be from their public statements.
The better standard might be that that particular aspect of their private life has to have a tangible negative effect on public policy. Otherwise, we end up using people’s secrets as a form of intimidation, threatening to reveal them unless they change their views to be consistent with their private lives. What right have others to demand that of someone?
I’d be curious to hear from readers what they think about this because I am still a little unsure of what a good standard for outing should be, assuming that one exists at all.