I take it we're not talking about family trips?
Certainly not: these outings are no picnic. The intentional and public disclosure of someone's homosexuality, without permission, can be very damaging to their career; it's pretty much guaranteed to upset the wife and kids as well.
How long has this been going on?
You probably Wouldn't have heard the word "outing" before 1991 unless you were a gay activist in New York, where the idea of forcing closet gays "out" for political reasons developed. But the activity itself has been around as long as homosexuality has carried any sort of stigma. Julius Caesar was mocked by opponents as "The Queen of Bithynia", after his alleged romps with the king, Nicomedes - hardly a scoop as it took 130 years to come to press.
So how do you make a sudden disclosure? Call Fleet Street?
Or a court of law. In fact, until the last 20 years, outing was usually a legal affair. Accusations of sodomy have destroyed many a public figure, but the crown prince of the gay prosecution has to be Oscar Wilde, convicted in 1895. Despite having "nothing to declare except my genius", he made the rash error of suing the Marquess of Queensberry for libel, when large numbers of the London, working class be called up as witnesses. The Wolfenden report (which advocated making homosexual acts legal) seemed to cause a spate of high-profile convictions in the 1950s, as the establishment made the most of the existing arrangements.
When was outing first used as a gay activist tactic?
The imperial German chancellor Prince Bernhard von Bulow was forced to sue an activist, Adolf Brand, for "defamation" in 1914. Brand offered the startling defence that being gay was nothing to be ashamed of. …