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.
Today, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs – Admiral Mike Mullen (a Bush appointee), came out unambiguously in Senate hearings in favor of repealing the Clinton-era policy of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, governing our country’s policy on gay men and women serving in the armed forces.
Then there was Senator McCain’s response.
Honestly, you want a definition of political hack, opportunist, windsock – look no further than Abe Simpson John McCain:
McCain, Hardball, October 2006:
We have to have the most effective and professional military we can possibly obtain. I listen to people like General Colin Powell, former head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and literally every military leader that I know. And they testified before congress that they felt the DADT policy was the most appropriate way to conduct ourselves in the military….I understand the opposition to it, and I’ve had these debates, the day that the leadership of the military comes to me and says “Senator, I think we ought to change the policy,” then I think we ought to consider changing it.
McCain, today, C-SPAN, Senate hearing on DADT:
Our men and women in uniform are fighting two wars, guarding the frontlines against a global terrorist enemy, serving and sacrificing on battlefields far from home, and working to rebuild and reform the force after more than eight years of conflict. At this moment of immense hardship for our armed services, we should not be seeking to overturn the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy.
At what point do we just stop listening to this old hack?
and the weight of history:
The military’s top uniformed officer declared Tuesday that gays should be allowed to serve openly in uniform, arguing that it is “the right thing to do.”
Adm. Mike Mullen’s statement was the strongest yet from the uniformed military on this volatile issue, although he stressed that he was “speaking for myself and myself only.” He told the Senate Armed Services Committee Tuesday he is deeply troubled by a policy that forces people to “lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens.”
For most of us who actually know a fair number of gay people – who interact with them no differently than we do other people – this may seem like a bit of a “yeah, so?” moment. But it isn’t: despite how much progress it seems like the public consciousness has made recently on the idea of gay marriage, institutionalized attitudes and especially official policy usually lag far behind the public’s willingness to embrace any new-seeming idea.
That’s understandable, since laws enacted (or attempted) the reverse way – enacted from the top down, before widespread public acceptance or understanding – often have a much tougher time of passage, sometimes even becoming bigger battlegrounds than they might otherwise have become. That’s why, even though this feels like it’s been a long time coming, I’m glad that it’s taken the time to build public support first. Because when laws banning gay marriage, or DADT, are overturned – and mark my words, they will be overturned, and soon – it will be with the weight of inevitability and the force of the civil rights movement’s memory behind it.
The only other thing to wonder about with respect to Admiral Mullen’s newsmaking statement this morning before congress is whether the right-wingers in this country, who were so keen to defer to and not question the military chain of command’s judgment under George W. Bush, will remain consistent in that approach now that what the “brass” is advocating is a repeal of DADT. Any takers? Anyone want to bet that Rush Limbaugh will spend the first ten minutes of his next show talking about how we need to respect the decisions of the men who understand how things work in the military?