Monday, May 16, 2011

Not Much Ado about Coming Out...

While I don't spend much time focused on celebrity coming-out stories because I believe they should be more of an everyday occurrence rather than a major event, two recent announcements—and the non-reaction that surrounded them—made me somewhat hopeful.

Over the weekend, the New York Times published a great article on long-time NBA executive and Phoenix Suns President & Chief Executive Officer Rick Welts, who has just now publicly come out as gay. Welts, who lived in the closet for more than 40 years for fear that those within the NBA would discover his homosexuality, saw a 14+-year relationship end because his partner could no longer handle living in secret. Ironically, Welts came out to NBA Commissioner David Stern the day before Kobe Bryant used a gay slur when yelling ata referee.

Said the Times:
"'This is one of the last industries where the subject is off limits,' said Mr. Welts, who stands now as a true rarity, a man prominently employed in professional men’s team sports, willing to declare his homosexuality. 'Nobody’s comfortable in engaging in a conversation.'"
Interestingly enough, although homophobia is routinely expressed by professional athletes, when it came to Phoenix Suns player Steve Nash, Welts' publicly acknowledging his sexuality wasn't that big of a deal. "Anyone who’s not ready for this needs to catch up," Nash said. "He’s doing anyone who’s not ready for this a favor."

Since the announcement was made public, Welts said the feedback he has received has been tremendously positive. "The outreach has been amazing," Welts said. "I've been hearing from families, friends. The emails have been uniformly positive."

The day following Welts' announcement, CNN anchor Don Lemon also acknowledged his homosexuality. While Lemon's sexuality was apparently not a secret from his friends, family or colleagues, he came out publicly in an interview with the New York Times, a month before the release of his memoir, Transparent.

Lemon has gotten significant support from CNN, which also supported him when he publicly divulged that he had been molested by a pedophile as a child. However, Lemon fears how the public will react to him now that his sexuality is public. As he told NPR, "Most people would think if you’re the prime news anchor, then you should sort of be this Edward R. Murrow, Clark Kent guy with the family and 2.5 kids — or the perky cute, yet smart Katie Couric." Lemon said. "Anyone would have to be naive to think that it wouldn’t make a difference."

However, Lemon felt that coming out was important to help those struggling with their sexuality to steer clear of suicide. (He dedicated his memoir to the memory of Tyler Clementi, who committed suicide last October after his roommate videotaped his encounter with another man and then bragged about it on Twitter.) And although many people believe that everyone in the public eye should come out (including Lemon's colleague, Anderson Cooper), Lemon doesn't agree.
"I think it would be great if everybody could be out," he said. "But it’s such a personal choice. People have to do it at their own speed. I respect that. I do have to say that the more people who come out, the better it is for everyone, certainly for the Tyler Clementis of the world."
What is refreshing is that while both of these stories have garnered media attention—and the usual crackpots trolling anonymous internet chat rooms and Twitter feeds—they've not been viewed as that big of a deal. While I'm not naive enough to think that this signifies a wholesale shift in public perception of homosexuality, it does mean things are changing.

And a little bit of change is a good thing...

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