Former Arizona Rep. Jim Kolbe -- a moderate Republican who had been mentored by Barry Goldwater -- took a phone call in 1996 that would change his life.
Debate on the defense of marriage amendment was in full swing and a reporter from the gay media was ready to "out" Kolbe, who voted in favor of the measure but whose entire political life had been in the closet.
"I panicked when it was obvious The Advocate was going ahead with this," Kolbe told ABCNews.com Thursday. "Then, there was this moment of extraordinary peace and calm, a feeling that the weight of all these years had come off my shoulders."
Kolbe decided to beat the reporter to the punch, admitting to his close colleague in the U.S. House of Representatives, John McCain, that he was gay.
"It turned out to be a positive thing," said Kolbe, now 66, who works for a Washington, D.C., think-tank. "Basically, he interrupted me and said, 'Jim, don't worry, because it doesn't matter. You were a good legislator in the past and you'll be a good one in the future.'"
That perceived hypocrisy is the subject of the new documentary film "Outrage," which opened to favorable reviews last week in New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Washington, and will open in seven more cities this weekend.
"Washington is a very gay town," one person interviewed in the film said. "And it's also a deeply closeted town."
There are no openly gay U.S. senators but three openly gay representatives: Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc.; Jared Polis, D-Colo.; and Barney Frank, D-Mass. Baldwin, who was interviewed for the documentary, was the first to be elected as openly gay.
Polis was elected openly gay and, Frank, like Kolbe, came out in office, according to the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund.
Documentary director Kirby Dick , who earlier exposed sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, now takes aim at the perceived hypocrisy of closeted gay politicians, whom he argues are often the most hateful opponents of gay rights in order to hide their own sexual orientation.
In interviews with politicians like Kolbe, former Democratic Gov. Jim McGreevey of New Jersey and Frank, who came out in office, the film blames the mainstream media with a "brilliant conspiracy" to hide their secret lives.
Those lawmakers "have a right to privacy, but there's no right to hypocrisy," according to Frank, who came out in 1987 and has been a vocal supporter of gay rights.
The film focuses on public officials who Dick said have previously been alleged to be gay: California Rep. David Dreier, former Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman, former Louisiana Rep. Jim McCrery, former New York City Mayor Ed Koch and former Idaho Sen. Larry Craig, whose political career ended after an arrest in a Minneapolis men's room.
Dreier, McCrery and Craig have publicly denied being homosexual. Koch and Mehlman have repeatedly refused to answer questions about their sexual orientation.
"When you have someone who is closeted and gay and voting anti-gay, what you are reporting is hypocrisy," Dick said. "If all Americans had civil rights, this wouldn't be an issue."