Mike Rogers laughs sheepishly and asks me if he sounds crazy. It's a moot point, probably, given how he sometimes comes off over the phone. The founder and editor of blogACTIVE (www.blogactive.com)—a journal that is, depending on your point of view, either bravely or reprehensibly devoted to outing closeted congressmen and other government officials unfriendly to the gay-rights cause—Rogers in conversation is everywhere at once. He's prone to fervent, rambling tangents, the occasional pause to hold back tears, and referring to himself in the third person in a manner that seems to imply he's both more influential than he's given credit for and simply the humble, hunted quarry of those on the right.
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"When Mike Rogers is attached to that, it can be the finger of destruction," he says, by way of explaining why he doesn't want to go too much into details about some of his past work as an activist. "I know what happens. I know how they work. They look for anything they can go after. I'll give you an example: A story appeared about me [that] talked about how I was the president of my student organization at SUNY Buffalo. The next thing you know, there were three letters [of complaint]. And I haven't been on the school campus since, what, 1994? It's just so ridiculous. But that's how they work."
"They" are the conservative Republicans—"they" is the word in the Rogers lexicon— and listening to Rogers unload his tireless condemnations of them can make you worry for his present and future well-being even when you're agreeing with him.
"They have lost the battle," he says, explaining the right's own vociferousness. "This is their [last] fighting breath. It's always a vicious battle. But let's be clear: It wasn't about slavery, and it certainly wasn't about the rights of black people when we went to war in this country against each other—no more than I believe the next war will be about 'those queers.' But it very well may be about these people, who are arming to the teeth with automatics in Alabama, telling a federal court, 'We are not recognizing Steve and Joey's marriage, and if you have a problem with that, this is Mr. AK-47.'"
He laughs, knowing how that sounds, but he doesn't back away from it.
"I believe that it could come down to that," he insists, "because what people have ever won true freedom and justice and liberation without dying for it? Now, I want to make it pointedly clear—that is a battle that I am not interested in undertaking. But when gay men feel the need to line the streets of the Salt Lake City Pride [Parade] with guns to protect my brothers and sisters, I won't judge them. And I'll give them a place to talk about that. I won't do it—I know what I'm capable of—but I understand why other people may turn to that."
Even while offering such incendiary notions, Rogers has the chummy frankness of an East Coaster, a gay Jew who grew up in Monsey, N.Y., and went on to various marketing and development positions for liberal organizations (Greenpeace, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force). The persistent affability required for such outreach, which still pays his bills, must be a natural for him: He says anything and everything that comes into his head. He might best be described as a neurotic mensch, a man of decided integrity who's slightly distracted by what's required of a man of integrity in a nation overwhelmingly ruled by just the opposite. He's not so distracted, however, that he can't suggest I stop cradling my phone receiver between my neck and my shoulder.
"Steve, get yourself a headset," he says, noticing some effort on my end. "I'm telling you this after 20 years as a fund-raiser. I'm not talkin' about a crappy cell phone headset. I'm talkin' about a nice headset for your office. Because, eventually—you know how your head is tilting? It's gonna kill your neck."
If Rogersis the nut he self-deprecatingly worries he is, he's a nut with passion and purpose, as Republican Ed Schrock learned late last August, when blogACTIVE posted an alleged recording of the virulently antigay congressman asking for action on a gay chat line. Though Schrock—who had also been busy co-sponsoring the federal marriage amendment—never confirmed or denied the "I'd-just-like-to-get-together-with-a- guy-from-time-to-time" sex plea, he soon announced he wouldn't be running for re-election. And that was that.
It was Rogers' biggest knockout since setting up shop online in the nation's capital in the spring of 2004, but, he wants it to be known, the thrill of victory does not have him gunning for the innocent, however much those opposed to his methods claim he may be.
"There are a lot of gay men on the right and the left who are doing things for our community, who are living their lives, and I'm not going to report on them," he swears. "And, yeah, they're engaged in a battle. They're directors of county commissions, or they're closeted members of state and civil commissions. And when the stuff about marriage comes up, they sit in the back room and they manage things and they do what they do. It's not going to benefit me to drag these people out and destroy their names. They're on their journey, man. They're on a journey that you took and I took as gay men. It is a thin line. But it's not like I just go slapping names up. I build a case and cause for every person I expose."
Gay conservatives, naturally, would not agree. Andrew Sullivan, a fellow blogger and writer for The Nation, recently told GQ that "hypocrites have human rights, too." And then there is Dan Gurley, another of Rogers' successful targets, who maintains that his involvement with the perniciously antigay tactics of Election 2004 did not warrant the attention given to him on blogACTIVE. ("What he does is fundamentally wrong," Gurley told GQ. "Who is he to know or understand the personal journey a gay person makes?")
Rogers is appalled.
"What's fascinating is that [Gurley] was the field director for the Republican National Committee during the campaign," he scoffs. "So you know those horrific fliers that they mailed out, saying [gay] marriage will be allowed and the Bible will be banned? There's your boy. I mean, he's certainly in the loop on that crap—he's the field director. He picks what resources go to what states for what battle. And [he says], 'Well, I'm not responsible. . . . ' Well, where does the buck stop then?"
And, Rogers adds, the notion of him "outing" someone like Gurley is ridiculous. "This is what's unbelievable," he explains. "I didn't out him. He was on gay.com with his full-face photo! Now get this [Rogers refers to Gurley's gay.com profile]: He is cheating on his boyfriend seeking multiple partners for unprotected bareback sex. This man is another successful [graduate] of the Republican sex education network. This is what they want gay men to do. They don't want them to learn about condoms. They don't want them to learn about safer sex. They just want them to go out and do what they do without any concern or discussion, and now Dan Gurley and Andrew Sullivan are both successful graduates of their program." (Sullivan, no favorite of Rogers, is HIV-positive.)
Rogers' site, which has expanded to include a comprehensive gay news and information branch called PageOneQ.com, has had enough of "the program," and anyone doubting where his heart is on the matter need only hear why he began blogACTIVE in the first place. The inspiration was a combined outrage over the 2000 Florida election fiasco, the Republican manipulation of the gay marriage issue during 2004, and Rogers' pained memories of his time as a fund-raiser for New York's Hetrick-Martin Institute, home of the gay-populated Harvey Milk High School.
"I'm fed up by this absolute conspiracy of silence," he says. "It's not about Ed Schrock. It's about the kid who showed up at Hetrick-Martin—"
He stops for an emotional pause.
"I'm sorry, I'm a mess when I think about it," he continues, then berates himself with a laugh. "Twenty years later, right? Tired old queen. But it's about a kid who showed up at that school who was branded with the letters 'F-A-G' in his skin. They spelled it out with a paper clip they heated up. [This was] the late '90s. And that's one story. The stories I would hear—unbelievable."
Maybe it's not that Rogers is a nut, I think, as I consider the besieged valor of his mission. It's simply that, to paraphrase Wordsworth, the world is too much with him.
"You do sound crazy," I tell Rogers in response to his initial query. "But in a good way."