Anderson Cooper, who was socially out but professionally closeted, gave friend Andrew Sullivan permission to publish an email that kicks open the closet door. It’s a thoughtful missive that is worth the read.
Here is the crux of this statement:
The fact is, I’m gay, always have been, always will be, and I couldn’t be any more happy, comfortable with myself, and proud.
I have always been very open and honest about this part of my life with my friends, my family, and my colleagues. In a perfect world, I don’t think it’s anyone else’s business, but I do think there is value in standing up and being counted. I’m not an activist, but I am a human being and I don’t give that up by being a journalist.
The fact is that each gay person has to choose when and if they can come out (unless, of course, they are actively working to harm the LGBT community, thus the practice of “outing”). In the case of celebrities and public figures choosing to leave this air of mystery about them when they bare all in bios or to the media about other aspects of their lives, it’s not helpful to the teen in Podunk wrestling whether to come out to their parents. The kid sees a powerful, wealthy individual who sees the glass closet as a professionally self-protective device, not a matter of life or death — or being kicked out of the house, abused or beaten. That is why it’s important for high-profile people like Cooper to come out. He did, on his own timeline, and ceding that he was ready to share this slice of his personal space for the public good (my emphasis):
I’ve also been reminded recently that while as a society we are moving toward greater inclusion and equality for all people, the tide of history only advances when people make themselves fully visible. There continue to be far too many incidences of bullying of young people, as well as discrimination and violence against people of all ages, based on their sexual orientation, and I believe there is value in making clear where I stand.
…In my opinion, the ability to love another person is one of God’s greatest gifts, and I thank God every day for enabling me to give and share love with the people in my life. I appreciate your asking me to weigh in on this, and I would be happy for you to share my thoughts with your readers. I still consider myself a reserved person and I hope this doesn’t mean an end to a small amount of personal space. But I do think visibility is important, more important than preserving my reporter’s shield of privacy.
It’s why I am out of the closet, as a black lesbian living in the South. I certainly don’t have the privilege or wealth or celebrity of Mr. Cooper, but it’s important to be visible and speak out for those who cannot, as well as for those who are on the edge of coming out but don’t know what lies on the other side. If living out didn’t mean anything, I wouldn’t have had readers coming up to me, or receiving emails or Facebook messages from people thanking me for being out and proud, particularly during the marriage amendment battle here in NC. I take it seriously. The need for visibility is particularly acute for LGBTs living in the South (or anywhere that’s not a gay metropolis). LGBTs of all stripes, particularly people of color in the closet, need to be able to see images of themselves, the possibility that they can live their lives out of hiding.
I expect that Anderson Cooper will hear from many young people thanking him for what he has done today. Good on him.