SAN FRANCISCO -- California GOP Rep. David Dreier and a number of other politicians are the unwilling stars of a controversial new documentary with an explosive premise - it's time to blow open the closet door on prominent politicians who have hidden their homosexuality while actively working against gay causes.
The film "Outrage," which opens today at the Embarcadero Center Cinema in San Francisco, presents interviews and documentation charging that a number of prominent legislators - including Dreier, the U.S. representative from San Dimas (Los Angeles County), GOPFlorida Gov. Charlie Crist and former Democratic New York Mayor Ed Koch - have remained closeted while publicly opposing legislation on issues such as same-sex marriage, HIV/AIDS funding, and gays in the military.
Kirby Dick, the film's director, told The Chronicle on Thursday that "it's not only the right thing to do, it's the responsibility of journalists and filmmakers to report on hypocrisy wherever they see it.
"And just because it involves gay sexuality does not mean it should be off-limits."
The passage of Prop. 8 - the anti-same-sex-marriage initiative approved by voters in November, he said, has also fueled "a new urgency ... a wake-up call" on gay civil rights issues.
None of the lawmakers named in the film has publicly responded to the film's charges. But Dreir has in the past strongly dismissed such accusations as smear tactics.
Although the film notes Dreier has had just a 17 percent positive record on gay civil rights issues, the director says that even in the gay community, "there's a great deal of respect for him as a legislator."
Still, the purported outings that take center stage in "Outrage" have sparked a firestorm of controversy about the fairness and appropriateness of the tactic - and whether it signals a willingness of increasingly militant activists to make private lives fair game for political strategy.
"I don't see it as outing, I see it as equalizing," said Geoff Kors of Equality California, a gay civil rights organization that unveiled two new ads and a statewide grassroots mobilization campaign to support marriage equality this week. "When a member of Congress goes on vacation and is on the beach holding hands with his partner, they're out in public.
"And if they want to get married, we'd love them to be a part of our campaign," he said.
Terry Hamilton, chairman of the board of California's Log Cabin Republicans - the gay GOP group - said Thursday that his organization "recognizes the individual and very personal decision to come out - and does not support third-party outing."
Jo Kenney, a lesbian activist who heads Kenney Consulting, a San Jose organizational development business, also cautions that sensitivity is needed regarding the fear of outing that still exists among many in the gay community.
"Not too long ago, you could go to jail for congregating in a bar, and for some people it's still very real," she said. "I'm not going to condemn those people," she said, "unless they use their power as a public official to hurt their own community."
But Republican officials - noting that the film's targets are limited mostly to Republican politicians - question whether "Outrage" is merely a veiled partisan effort.
"When a (movie) like this only highlights Republicans, it causes you to immediately question the motives of the people putting it out," said Jon Fleischman, the conservative vice chairman of the state GOP and publisher of the Flashreport.com, a California Republican Web site.
"If people have made lifestyle decisions they've kept private, then the makers of this video are showing the utmost contempt for the people who have made the sacrifice of being in public office," he said. "This flies in the face of an American tradition - that is, that people's personal lives are supposed to be just that."
Fleischman noted that Dreier - who has headed the powerful House Rules Committee - was targeted in his last re-election campaign by a Hollywood-based PAC that sent tens of thousands of mailers to GOP primary voters "accusing Dreier of being gay."
Many Republicans considered that effort to be offensive and over the top, he said.
"I don't know about David Dreier's personal life, and I don't want to know," Fleischman said. "If he isn't breaking the law, it shouldn't be in the debate. ... This is not the 1920s, and I don't think being gay means you can't be elected and retained in public office."
Even some Democrats agree that "Outrage" may appear to the general public to be spiteful, not helpful to their cause.
"We will win the same-sex-marriage issue - and other issues that deal with civil rights for gays and lesbians - not by pointing out Republicans who may be gay and may be hypocrites, but by talking about the issues themselves and winning people over," said Democratic strategist Garry South.
"We Democrats constantly criticize right-wing, moralistic Republicans for trying to legislate what goes on in the bedroom," South said. "You can't say (sexual orientation) doesn't matter with Democrats but it matters with Republicans."
State Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, one of four openly gay California legislators, said he doesn't personally participate in outing, but added that it's no secret why Republicans have been outed in "Outrage."
"The Republican Party has historically and consistently fought every and any advances to LGBT civil rights," said Leno, who has sponsored legislation twice to make same-sex marriage legal in California, only to see it vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
"All my Republican colleagues in Sacramento - every one - voted against a domestic partner registry ... against giving same-sex couples hospital visitation rights, against adding sexual orientation to the Fair Employment Housing Act," said Leno, who is sponsoring a law to establish Harvey Milk Day in California to recognize the slain gay civil rights leader.
"They have, without exception, been on the wrong side of history regarding our civil rights."