April 30, 2007

Do GLBT Celeberties Have a Greater Responsibility?

Are they obligated to come out? That's an interesting question posed in this blog post by Kevin Naff, the editor of the Washington Blade.

The obligation is not to hold pinkies, it’s merely to be honest about who you are. And what straight celebrity feels the need to keep their sexual orientation a “mystery”? From Paris Hilton and Pamela Anderson, whose videotaped sexual romps were released for mass consumption, to Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston, whose divorce generated headlines for months, the personal lives of straight celebrities are on full view. You can debate whether or not that’s a good thing, but it’s reality. And the standards should be the same for gays.

If Alec Baldwin’s private voicemails to his daughter are fodder for mainstream news coverage, then other gay celebrities should at least be able to answer truthfully whether or not they are gay.

The issue received renewed attention thanks to Out magazine’s deliciously brilliant May cover that features the faces of CNN anchor Anderson Cooper and actress Jodie Foster to illustrate a story about the “glass closet.” The magazine also named the ambiguous duo on its list of the 50 most powerful gays.

My colleague, Chris Ciompi, editor of Genre magazine, which is affiliated with the Blade, denounced the Out cover in an interview with the New York Daily News.

"Your right to privacy is a constitutional right," Ciompi said. "Maybe Jodie and Anderson would prefer to be known for their work, not their sexuality. The climate of the United States today still would not allow that to occur. With Anderson, many people would perceive his credibility to be undermined."

The problem with Ciompi’s reasoning is that straight celebrities don’t have the option to be “known for their work,” and the rules should be the same for their gay counterparts. And how does being gay undermine your credibility as a journalist? Cooper has cited that offensive canard in refusing to answer questions about his sexual orientation and the gay media ought not give him cover. As for privacy rights, there are far different legal standards of privacy for public figures. Just ask Alec Baldwin.

I agree with Naff up to a point. Anyone who is marketing themselves as something they are not (which includes a GLBT person passing themselves off as straight) should be held to a standard of at least being honest about who they really are.

Where I part ways with Naff is that you can hardly say straight celeberties are held to that standard. Yes, as he points out, they can flaunt a heterosexual lifestyle and no one even blinks, but sexual orientation is only part of who a person really is. It would be quite a reach to say that the general public has much true insight into the type of people Paris Hilton or Alec Baldwin truly are.

Therefore, if a celeberty is disengenous about his or her sexual orientation, it's hard for me to say that is much if any worse than the difference between image and reality many straight celebs work hard to maintain. I'm not sure at all that GLBT celeberties should be held to a higher standard.

What do you think?

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