Interesting Room For Debate column in today's New York Times occasioned by Anderson Cooper's latest disclosure (covered in this recommended diary). It introduces the concept of responsibility and obligation, which I think is new here.
There's a history of coming out (and of outing) of gay and lesbian celebrity. For some reason (well, many reasons, some of which we'll cover in the extended analysis part of this), lesbians in the public eye have had much less trouble with this than gay men in the same situation.
Maybe it's the subject, and maybe it's summer, but the Times only has three writers on the subject instead of the usual six. Kate Aurthur of the Daily Beast takes what she thinks is a radical position (and indeed it was in the early 1970s when NONE of this was going on) that everyone should come out, but with good reason:
Gossip has its own power, not to mention pleasure, but let’s face it: The world is a better place when people aren’t lying.Eric Anderson, professor of sports studies at the University of Winchester, in England, amplifies this for gay athletes (again, we've known that there are lesbians in professional sport for, well, decades). He observes that several pro athletes, like Dave Kopay, Glenn Burke, and John Amaeche, have come out after they retired, and that the interest in each retired athlete who comes out has decreased. It's not remarkable any more. BUT, since Professor Anderson came out as an active high school coach in 1993,
It’s hard for me to suggest that gay public figures have a moral obligation to come out. Personally, I wish they would, however. It is a long-standing sociological finding that when liked people come out, it reduces prejudice. I’m not convinced that an openly gay sports star would have much impact on today’s youth, but it might make a difference for those who grew up in a more homophobic generation.So not an obligation, but really, seriously, dudes.
Finally, we have Howard Bragman, gay public relations consultant to the stars. No, it is NOT an obligation. No, no, no. BUT, given the increasing lack of privacy his industry's celebrities experience with the advent of tmz.com and the like, he can no longer find a reason for an actor (again, this is a male thing) not to come out:
When I work with clients who are in the process of coming out, I fight like hell to tell their stories in an appropriate, authentic and honest way that achieves all they are looking for by this courageous act. By the same token, I will fight like hell to defend people’s right to come out on their own timetable.So, FORTY years after the fact, it turns out that the theorists of gay liberation who said everyone should come out because the more people who know and like one or more of us, the harder it is to paint us as pariahs or diseased people, were correct. it happened pretty much as a matter of historical process, and it accelerated during the 1990s. Consider the fact that we now have groups of gay people dueling over which group is the gay face of the Republican Party. That should tell you something, regardless of what the American Family Association says.
That being said, surely every celebrity who has ever come out is happier and freer of fear, helps other people, furthers the cause of gay civil rights, and lives a more open and authentic life. So if someone wants to stay in the closet, they’re not being immoral — just silly.
I've been out for forty years myself, and I'm not sure it has affected any of my careers. In fact, I think we're at the point where only actors, men in professional sports and religious figures are or would be affected by the issue of coming out. The comments that the Times has seen fit to print are mostly in the "who cares" area, [edit at 5:32 PM PDT] but, as pico reminds us, Kate Aurthur and Eric Anderson both discuss the importance of having a variety of role models for young gay men and it is from that that they get their notion of "obligation." Thoughts?