Many people were not surprised by Anderson Cooper’s weekend announcement that he is indeed gay. Rumors had been swirling for some time, and Cooper’s perennial excuse that he didn’t want to lose his journalistic integrity by answering the gay question rang a hollow tone.
A lack of shock, though, doesn’t take away from the message that Cooper’s coming out of the closet sends. Gay youths across the country who face discrimination and prejudice on a daily basis have yet another example of how things do get better. In Cooper’s email, he stated that he was proud of who he is and that does a little more than just lift a weight off of his own back.
Many of us urban gays who have matured in liberal cities like Chicago may feel that our sexual orientation doesn’t have a serious effect on our day-to-day lives. We have the luxury of living in a bubble of acceptance that can get a little too comfortable. I’m certainly thankful for that — I enjoy the freedom and acceptance I’ve gained and would never personally whine about how being gay is “so hard.”
But for the LGBT youths of America –and especially those in conservative areas — every day can be a daunting struggle. Millions of teens live in small towns where no one is “out” and being gay is a considered a cardinal sin by the majority of the population. Those who do express themselves face bullying and institutional discrimination from schools, police … even their own parents. Just being yourself is a task that requires a bit more will power outside the city limits.
We know what sort of environment this creates: look at LGBT suicide rates in rural areas and you can see that the shame is overwhelming. But a message from a respected journalist like Cooper that being gay is okay shines a bright ray of hope into the darkness that these youths face every day. It makes homophobes look like ignorant hicks and gives a familiar face to a community that can seem alien to many.
Of course, one person is hardly going to change the world. Cooper’s sexuality won’t have an immediate, direct effect on tortured LGBT youths. It isn’t as if the day after he came out, all bigots across America woke up and said, “You know what? Today I think I’m going to stop being so hateful.”
But progress is a game of patience, and while it’s understandable that gays want immediate acceptance, the slow road is the only way to the top. The message that Cooper sent to the LGBT community — that he’s gay and proud of it — is just one more step towards that goal.
Fortunately, these things tend to have a snowball effect. In fact, Cooper’s own announcement may have been sped up by fellow CNN anchor Don Lemon’s announcement last year that he is also gay. As the world gets more accepting of gays, more and more will come out. And as more come out, the world will get more accepting. It’s what we call the virtuous cycle.
Some elder gays have been unhappy with Cooper for clearly staying in the closet too long. One thing that’s important to remember, though, is that everyone is free to live their own life and no one should be forced out of the closet — even if it is the right thing to do. Cooper’s decision may have come late, but late is better than never.
As a journalist, I do understand Cooper’s hesitation — we want to seem unbiased and trustworthy. But being gay doesn’t make a person biased or prescribe all of their beliefs to one set of values. I doubt the way Cooper gives the news will change at all.
Though it was late, it’s good to see someone of Cooper’s integrity let the world know who he really is. He stands as a good role model for gays and gives visibility to the movement. Most importantly, though, it let’s young gays know that things do get better. And hopefully, with more and more prominent LGBT faces like this, things will continue to get exponentially better for all of us.