Yesterday’s news that Anderson Cooper had finally come out of the closet brought a smile to my face. Sure, it wasn’t a watershed moment like the 1997 coming-out of Ellen DeGeneres, but it does carry significance. After all, his show is viewed every night by millions of people across America. Yesterday, thanks to Cooper, many of those people became familiar with an LGBT person for the very first time. Cooper’s decision to come out also sets a great example for LGBT youth and brings hope to those who still suffer with internalized homophobia, bullying, or ostracism. And high-profile, successful LGBTs like Anderson Cooper undermine one of the most malicious lies made by the anti-gay movement: that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans people are broken, unhappy, and empty simply because of who they are and who they love. By coming out of his glass closet, Anderson Cooper isn’t just liberating himself, he’s helping to make his entire community more visible and bringing us just a little bit closer to full equality — and that’s definitely something to celebrate.
I’m dismayed, however, by the number of people I’ve observed on Facebook and Twitter reacting to Anderson Cooper’s coming out with indifference, trying desperately to sound enlightened with remarks like “I couldn’t care less what he does in his private life.”
While I understand that there was a time where the whole “my private life is none of your business” thing was an acceptable way to deflect nosy inquiry into one’s sexual orientation and blunt societal homophobia, in most parts of the country that time has long since passed. Discussion of LGBT identity as a matter of an individual’s “private life” is not only utterly useless, it’s counterproductive and more than a little infuriating.
In our heterosexist culture, straight people feel no obligation to keep any details of their love lives private. We’re surrounded by art, music, literature, drama, and media dissecting, lamenting, and extolling every facet of love between opposite-sex couples. How often do we hear about the boyfriends/girlfriends, fiancées, spouses, or even the one-night stands of everyone from our straight friends and co-workers to heterosexual celebrities, major and minor? Yet as soon as LGBT people enter into the discussion, love and sexuality become a matter of a person’s “private life?” Give me a break.
What it really boils down to is that LGBT people and couples feel pressure to keep our love and relationships private in order to avoid making straight people uncomfortable. I, for one, refuse to make this kind of accommodation for others’ bigotry, so I will continue pushing back by speaking just as freely about my love for and marriage to my husband Michael as my straight friends do about their relationships.
As far as I’m concerned, this flagrantly hypocritical double standard only serves to silence our voices and prevent us from telling our stories — and as we know, breaking our silence and telling our stories is how the movement for LGBT civil rights has achieved so much so quickly. Keeping our lives, loves, and relationships “private” only perpetuates the shame of the cultural closet and postpones our equality.
Gay hero Harvey Milk once said that the LGBT community “will not win our rights by staying silently in our closets.” I believe that Milk was right: coming out is the single most important thing LGBT people can do in the struggle for our civil rights and human dignity. So I’d like to echo his words and encourage everyone — LGBT people and allies alike — to come out, provided they feel ready and that it’s safe to do so. Closets — even glass ones — are simply not places where people can fully embrace and be true to themselves. I don’t want any part of that, and as his words yesterday prove, neither does Anderson Cooper.