Phil Attey is the gay activist in Washington D.C. behind ChurchOuting.org, the project that threatened to use crowd-sourcing to out gay Catholic priests if the Washington archdiocese made good on plans to eliminate social services if D.C.’s gay marriage law passed. (It did.) With the website, Attey, who once worked for the Human Rights Campaign and is now a social media consultant, was following a new way of thinking about activism and securing LGBT equality, popularized by Mike Rogers, who makes outing anti-gay gay politicians a sport. So why is Attey suddenly thinking there’s no room to change how capital-a Activism works — and dumping on Dan Choi’s White House stunt?
“It’s a shame that our community needs to be educated about the political process and they don’t get it,” Attey told a reporter after HRC’s rally in D.C. on Thursday, which Choi hijacked. “They don’t understand that Congress needs to be moved on this issue and that people across the country have the power to do that. And if they’re going to get them to yell and scream at the president, we’re going to fail, we’re going to lose.”
This is a curious way of thinking from a man who is also bucking status quo with ChurchOuting.org. At its core, Attey’s website is a threat: Unless D.C.’s Catholics get in line, they’ll be exposed. (To be sure, ChurchOuting.org says it doesn’t want to out priests, but it’s willing to.) To use his own words, you might say that it’s Attey who doesn’t “understand that the Catholic Church needs to be moved on this issue and that people across the country have the power to do that. And if they’re going to get them to yell and scream at the archdiocese, we’re going to fail, and we’re going to lose.” See how that works? Institutions, whether faith- or political-based, don’t change just because you ask them nicely.
Like Attey of Choi, there are critics of Attey’s website (which doesn’t appear to be online anymore, but is available via Google’s cache). Its mission: “This is a campaign to collect information about closeted gay Catholic priests, as well as heterosexual Catholic priests who secretly engage in romantic or sexual affairs, yet are unwilling to speak out against the church leadership’s antigay political campaigns. Once a story is verified, we will be contacting the priests involved to help them make the right choices. It is our hope that NO Catholic Priest is outed because of this campaign, rather that we can use knowledge of the truth of their lives to combat the hypocrisy of their silence.”
One might say that Choi’s mission, and that of GetEqual.org, is to do something similar: To move beyond the failed efforts of HRC and local groups and do something experimental. Attey himself calls the site “like an intervention, with the tough love and support you need. Consider this a spiritual intervention.” Perhaps Choi and Get Equal’s efforts should be considered a legislative intervention. Or at the very least, an activist intervention.
But if Attey’s project is so in line with conventional activism, as he claims Choi’s efforts should be, why didn’t HRC create it? Why didn’t HRC voice support for it? Because: It was too renegade, too outside the lines, and too far beyond HRC’s emphasis on lobbying lawmakers. Attey himself recognized an opening in activism that wasn’t being filled, and which, theoretically, could have proved successful.
So too have Choi and Get Equal, and yet Attey is already denouncing their efforts as too far-fetched. Which is funny, because long before activist leaders tried to get scared lawmakers in Washington to enact equality, there were folks engaged in sit-ins, bus boycotts, and good old fashioned marches. But those were too radical, weren’t they?