So, in a move that will surprise no one at all, CNN’s Anderson Cooper informed the world, via a letter to the Daily Beast’s Andrew Sullivan, that he is gay.
I find myself feeling about Cooper’s revelation the way I did about Ellen DeGeneres’ similar revelation years ago, namely: each of these people waited until they were a) household names and b) millionaires many times over before making public comings-out. On balance, I can’t say that either DeGeneres’ or Cooper’s statements aren’t a good thing, for the same reason it’s worthwhile to put a political bumper sticker on your car during election season. The reason one does such a thing is not to be a bandwagon-jumper or a fanboy, but (especially if the candidate one supports is an underdog in one’s community) to send up a flare to other supporters of that candidate, letting them know they’re not alone. The public coming out of a major media figure like DeGeneres or Cooper has value, ultimately, for the same reason – because it shows young (or even older) gay people who may be struggling with the decision to come out that there are more of “their team” out there in the public than perhaps it might appear.
But it’s this same reason that makes such a declaration by these public figures (only after they’re already well-established) a good thing only on balance in the long view. Because, while it’s unquestionably positive having having Anderson Cooper or Ellen DeGeneres available as signposts for young gay people who often desperately need positive role models or even just a sense of belonging, it’s equally undeniable that there were also gay youths in 1995 or 1989 who would’ve benefitted from knowing the same thing about these two particular people.
I hate to be the bad stink at a party here, but even as a straight man with no personal experience with coming out, I just don’t find it particularly brave of very successful public figures like Cooper or DeGeneres who both have said they’ve known their whole lives (essentially) that they were gay, waiting until they were more secure, financially and socially, than most people – gay OR straight – will ever be in their lives, before coming out publicly. Like I said: on balance, a good thing…but zero points for heroism, example-setting or risk-taking for the cause.