I am going to start this with a simple statement: No one should have the right to out another person, celebrity or other, as gay.
It seems very clear to me that the decision to come out should rest entirely with the individual. While it would be fantastic to live in a world in which no one cared about the pronouncement that someone is not strictly heterosexual because we were all so accepting of the many ways to love others, that world is not yet here. Coming out can be a very emotionally challenging process. Sometimes, it can even be physically dangerous. Studies continue to show that youth who come out, or even those perceived to be gay or transgender, suffer tremendous harassment in schools, in their communities, and often in their own families. In earlier decades, gay and lesbian celebrities lived in fear that their careers would be destroyed if they were outed in sources like Confidential magazine. When older people come out, they face unique challenges, such as marriages, in-laws, and children, to whom acceptance may be far from secure. Thus just because the celebrities being outed are adults does not soften the blow when someone makes accusations, correct or not, about their sexual orientation.
Last week, actor and dancer Julian Hough, who is currently a judge on Dancing with the Stars, while engaged in a conversation with Extra host Mario Lopez, saw fit to proclaim DWTS contestant and former All My Children star Jonathon Bennett to be gay. She claimed that he had made flirty comments but that she did not reciprocate because he is gay. Hough made it sound like it was public knowledge, but Bennett has never officially commented on his orientation. Blogger Perez Hilton has made a name for himself by outing celebrities, all the while claiming his invasions as “civic duty” and that he is “making the world a better place.” Brian Molan of Hollywood.com has even argued that not reporting on the private lives of allegedly gay celebrities is discriminatory, as the media would never ignore the private lives of heterosexual celebrities. As if the media’s ability to probe the most precious and intimate things about someone is some kind of birthright.
Comedian Margaret Cho has made the point that gay celebrities need to come out of the closet, as doing so will help gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual, transgender and questioning (GLBTQ) youth feel safe. I agree, but outing them only tells youth that it is still someone else’s right to “proclaim” your sexual orientation. It’s not like anyone spends any time “outing” heterosexual celebrities or politicians. Thus, when we allow people to out others with no repercussion, we are reinforcing the heterosexist norm that being gay is something odd, different or salacious that requires identification.
While we continue to work toward that world in which we truly love and accept the full rainbow that is humanity, I say to the media: Stay out of the outing business.
Laura Finley, Ph.D., teaches in the Barry University Department of Sociology & Criminology and is syndicated by PeaceVoice.