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Friday, June 12, 2009

Safe or Out?

The hesitancy on the part of gay people to fully come out proves we still have a long way to go.

By Steve Charing

It’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that the more LGBT folks who come out, the more likely our march towards equality will strengthen. When straight neighbors, co-workers, family members and friends know you as a person and then learn that you are LGBT, they are prone to be on the side equality and justice because of YOU. With straight allies, we will make progress. It’s a guarantee. They just need to find that comfort zone.
TV shows like Will & Grace presented images of our community through the antics of the likable characters. Clever and witty as the show was, it did tend to reinforce stereotypes that gay men are screaming queens or they are loveless. But all in all, we benefited since the show provided a needed comfort zone for an audience that in many cases never knew any out gay people.

When celebrities or other public figures come out—voluntarily—it gives our cause an added boost. Ellen DeGeneres’ coming out was the talk of the whole world. Although it wasn’t a complete surprise that she is a lesbian, the public still saw this as a bold and largely welcome step. Her career has since skyrocketed.

Years earlier Elton John admitted he wasn’t "bisexual" after all, but declaring he is gay didn’t hurt his career either. In fact, he emerged into superstar status and was even knighted!

Neil Patrick Harris has a successful TV gig going even after his coming out and deservedly so. He is not only a polished performer but he is right out there on the front lines fighting for equality. If there ever was a true lgbt role model, he is definitely on the list.

Others celebs, such as Rosie O’Donnell, Melissa Etheridge, T.R. Knight, Clay Aiken, Lance Bass and Lindsay Lohan came out with varying effects on their careers. But in every case, it was a positive development for the LGBT community.

Most recently, Adam Lambert, the runner-up in American Idol’s 8th season, came out officially and publicly in Rolling Stone magazine. No shocker there. But why did he wait?

Obviously, it was a calculation that while the AI contest was still in play, he didn’t want to risk losing the potent "tween" vote if he had been more up-front about his sexuality. It turned out he lost that vote as well as others amidst the swirling rumors fueled by his guy-liner, wild costumes and enlightening photos.

Would it have changed the results had he come out during the show’s run? Not likely. While some would have given Lambert props for his courage, those voters who were inclined to vote for Kris Allen would have continued to do so.

Lambert’s coming out is welcome to be sure, but his comment to Rolling Stone, "I'm trying to be a singer, not a civil rights leader," tempered the enthusiasm some.

Other "out’ celebrities have been even more reluctant. They are known to be gay but don’t want to push the envelope. One prominent local celebrity who had come out in the Baltimore Sun declined an interview with OUTloud lest she be defined by her sexual orientation. Despite the fact she would have been embraced as a role model, this iconic figure is ostensibly "playing it safe."

Also puzzling was the rationale given by the staff of Sex in the City’s Cynthia Nixon to an OUTloud request to publish the text of a recent speech at Equality Maryland’s "Night Out For Equality," where she had been the guest of honor. Her speech garnered a standing ovation from the 400 or so in attendance.

On May 17 the actress had publicly announced her engagement to Christine Marinoni at a gay-rights rally in New York. Her address to the cheering crowd is on You Tube. It made all the papers. She’s out!

But when asked to allow our readers to see her exceptional speech in print from the "Night Out for Equality" event, we learned through an intermediary that the Cynthia Nixon camp did not want to release the text to the press because they were worried that the words would be taken out of context.

That’s as mystifying as it gets. If the spoken word is not considered vulnerable to misinterpretation, why would the written word be taken out of context? This safe and cautious approach mitigates the gutsy pronouncements from other celebrities who come out unambiguously.

It’s bad enough that gay and lesbian elected officials tend to remain in the closet. Gay professional athletes fear coming out. Other gay and lesbian celebrities stay closeted as well. And that’s a sad thought especially since we are in the midst of celebrating Pride.

But if you are out, then REALLY come out. All this caution does is demonstrate that there is still fear, still trepidation, still hesitation for declaring unequivocally who you are as a person. That shouldn’t be.

Apparently, we still have a long way to go.

1 comment:

Rob Lance said...

Steve -

One out celebrity you didn't mention is Chad Allen. He was outed by the tabloids some years ago and has since done what I think is a great service to our community - he's made movies playing a gay main character. There are now four of the "Donald Strachey" mysteries filmed, with "Ice Blues" still waiting to be released. Strachey is an openly gay private eye. Two years ago Chad made "Save Me" about an ex-gay Christian ministry. What I'd love to see is more celebs coming out voluntarily, unlike Harris and Allen, but every little bit helps. Check out Chad Allen via imdb.com to learn more about his post-outing movies. They're enjoyable!