Can the culture of outing a closeted LGBT person ever be justified?
American journalist Anderson Cooper became the latest high-profile personality to be forcefully dragged out of the closet last month, despite years of contentment of dodging the question.
His sexuality had been one of the worst kept secrets in show business, having featured as one of the cover stars of Out magazine’s ‘glass closet’.
The man who claims to be responsible for Cooper’s ultimate decision to set the record straight is Brian Moylan, who wrote in the Guardian of his ‘personal crusade to nudge Cooper slowly out of the closet whether he wanted to come or not.’
The former staff writer at Gawker claims to be one of those who wrote most often about Cooper’s unacknowledged sexuality.
Justifying this Moylan writes: ‘Every gay New Yorker with a set of eyes and a membership to David Barton Gym could see the truth, and I thought it the height of hypocrisy not to report it.’
The backlash of his outing somewhat overshadowed another outing, that of writer Jonathan Merritt.
Understandably you might think, as one is a high-profile TV personality, the other a faith and culture writer.
But when it comes down to who deserved to be outed more, perhaps the media coverage of each outing was somewhat distorted.
Merritt, still young and attractive, has achieved some high-profile platforms with his writing – including USA Today, The Christian Science Monitor, The Huffington Post, and CNN.com.
Using some of these platforms he has been less than supportive of the LGBT rights movement.
Following the recent publication of one such article came the revelation from an ex-evangelical blogger that Merritt himself had engaged in homosexual activity.
The incident, which began with ‘sexting’ and ‘steamy skype sessions’ resulted in physical contact in a Chicago parking lot.
Writing on his blog, he said: ‘Exposing this truth of Jonathan’s sexual orientation is not an easy decision for me. I take no pleasure in doing this. As I type this my stomach is turning because I know of the backlash he will receive. I have thought about what all of this will mean for him and for me. I base my reasoning in the importance of living an authentic and honest life.’
Indeed there was the inevitable backlash, and musings of the age-old hypocrisy of some of the worst homophobes being guilty of the very crime they protest against.
Responding to the allegations in an interview with Ed Stetzer, Merritt did not deny the incident, and revealed a past of sexual abuse.
He said: ‘I don’t identify as "gay" because I believe there can be a difference between what one experiences and the life that God offers. I’m a cracked vessel held together only by God’s power. And I’m more sure each day that only Christ can make broken people whole.’
Yet these two public outings are just the very latest individuals to have fallen foul of the media and had their sexualities used against them, which is by no means a modern phenomenon.
In the run up to the First World War, the court of Kaiser Wilhelm II became embroiled in scandal after journalist Maximilian Harden exposed an illicit gay affair between Philipp, Prince of Eulenburg-Hertefeld, and General Kuno, Graf von Moltke, resulting in their dismissal from court and a public trial, at which Moltke’s wife testified against her husband.
While their behavior would have been frowned upon in turn of the century Germany, it was widely accepted at the time that the two men were merely victims in an attempt to weaken the Kaiser’s power.
Politically, outing a candidate has in the past been a sure-fire way of knocking a career on the head.
During a by-election in South London in 1983, Labour candidate Peter Tatchell became the subject of an extreme tabloid ‘witch-hunt’ at a time when the tide of acceptance was turning against members of the LGBT community over the AIDS epidemic.
Responding to a reader’s letter (Outraged of Lambeth) on Valentine’s Day 2000 in the Guardian, Tatchell said: ‘It not not true that I "refused to discuss" my homosexuality during the Bermondsey by-election.
‘Under pressure from the Labour party, I did not talk to the press about my private life. That was a mistake, and I apologise. But I was totally open about my gayness when canvassing on the doorsteps, which is why there was such a homophobic campaign against me.’
Despite his political career taking a bit of a battering Tatchell has gone on to be a high profile LGBT rights campaigner, and his views on the outing of homosexuals is unequivocal.
He said: ‘I do not support outing gays who have "denied, or kept secret" their sexuality – only those who are hypocritical and homophobic, and who condemn and harm the gay community.’
Somewhat ironically though, Tatchell ended up outing Whitney Houston following her death in February 2012.
He claimed that the singer’s one true love had indeed been – as some had believed at the time – Robyn Crawford.
‘When I met them, it was obvious they were madly in love,’ he said.
‘Their intimacy and affection was so sweet and romantic.
‘They held hands in the back of the car like teenage sweethearts. Clearly more than just friends, they were a gorgeous couple and so happy together. To see their love was infectious and uplifting.’
The media’s taste for the fresh blood of an outing is just as fierce in the celebrity world as that of the political.
Rock Hudson made his name as the romantic leading man in a number of films throughout the 1950s and 60s. His image was key to the success of both himself and the films that he appeared in.
It is not surprising then, that when celebrity gossip magazine Confidential obtained information that Hudson was in fact engaging in off-screen affairs with other gentlemen his agent Henry Wilson agreed to supply the publication with damning information on two of his lesser clients in exchange for silence.
The deal paid off, until Hudson was diagnosed with AIDS and People magazine wrote a largely sympathetic expose on his sexuality, featuring interviews with colleagues such as Robert Stack and Angie Dickinson who confirmed the story.
In being outed, Hudson brought a spotlight upon the largely unspoken devastation that AIDS was wreaking across the world along with a number of high profile multi-million dollar donations to AIDS research.
The summer of 2006 saw How I Met Your Mother actor Neil Patrick Harris and *NSYNC singer Lance Boss preempt media allegations of their sexuality by responding to rumors and publically outing themselves in People magazine before they had the decision taken out of their hands.
Even LGBT activist group OutRage!, founded by Tatchell, has got in on the act of attempting to out high-profile personalities.
In the early 1990s they spearheaded a campaign against religious homophobia by naming 10 English bishops they had reason to believe were homosexual and called upon them to come out of the closet.
They repeated the campaign with 20 MPs. But it didn’t prove successful for the group, and matters were further complicated by the death of Northern Irish MP James Kilfedder, who died of a heart attack on the day that the Belfast Telegraph ran a front page story reporting OutRage!’s allegation.
While there has been widespread tutting at the outing of Anderson – an innocent victim of a blood-thirsty press – there has not been any discussion of how to prevent lives being affected by this sort of tactic in the future, despite the devastation that has been wrecked upon countless individuals over the years.
In a recent poll on Gay Star News, 53% of respondents voted ‘no’ to the question: ‘Is it ever right to force an LGBT person to come out of the closet?’
Contrastingly, 41% thought that it was okay to do so if the person in question had been homophobic.
Surprisingly, Uganda has taken a forward step on the outing of individuals through the media by banning the practice.
The landmark decision came after a tabloid in the country published the names of a number of individuals believed to be homosexual. But then, in Uganda the punishment for being LGBT carries a much more severe penalty.