CNN’s Anderson Cooper, the face of the network, recently admitted he is gay. While this has created a huge buzz in media and political circles, it has been met with a mostly unexpected response in mainstream America: indifference.
“The fact is, I’m gay, always have been, always will be, and I couldn’t be any more happy, comfortable with myself, and proud.” Cooper stated in an email to the Daily Beast.
Homosexuality in the media and entertainment world is no longer the taboo subject it used to be. The death of Rock Hudson from AIDS, along with revelations of heartthrob James Dean’s homosexuality began to break this, but this subject was broached full scale in the 1990s, first when comedienne Ellen DeGeneres was quite visible with her relationship with partner Anne Heche. Though it ended her ABC series “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” she has since experienced a comeback through her talk show “Ellen” and even has been hailed for finding another partner in former “Ally McBeal” star Portia di Rossi. Instead of being known as a lesbian first and entertainer second, she has now become known as an entertainer who just happens to also be a lesbian.
While the taboo of discussing sexual orientation was still not entirely ended, the public was introduced to a new way of doing it in the late 1990s, when the series “Will & Grace” debuted. Centered around the friendship of a woman and her former boyfriend who happened to gay, “Will & Grace” created a whole new view of how gay and lesbians are perceived. Through it relied on mostly stereotyping for its humor, the series opened doors which Hollywood previously avoided touching. Will Truman was a surprisingly masculine homosexual, and was the perfect foil to fellow homosexual Jack MacFarland, whose character portrayed the gay stereotype so many Americans have become accustomed to. What made the series so groundbreaking was how it showed that the character of Will Truman was more the rule in the gay community, while Jack MacFarland was more the exception. The series “Glee” dealt with how a football player dealt with issues surrounding his own sexuality manifesting itself in his bullying of main character Kurt. That player later came out to Kurt directly, even going so far as to admit Kurt was the target of his affections. Both programs created buzz with their approach to gay and lesbian issues; “Will & Grace” was comedic, while “Glee” was very serious. Yet both shows opened the door for a national discussion.
Yet it remains a highly personal and sensitive subject. Many in the military openly oppose homosexuals serving in the ranks. The word “fag” is still very much a part of our standard vernacular. Singer Bruno Mars vehemently denied rumors he is gay. Former Pittsburgh Steelers Quarterback Kordell Stewart saw his career cut shorts by homosexual rumors. He was later cast aside in favor of the now infamous Ben Rothlisberger, whose exploits with women are now well documented but since forgotten. Even Ashton Kutcher’s remarks about Twilight star Robert Pattinson being a “gay vampire” set off a firestorm. It remains a “third rail” of discourse on many levels.
Florida is well experienced with this sort of thing. Former Florida Governor Charlie Crist has accused former GOP head Jim Greer (now serving time in prison for bribery) of a smear campaign involving a rumor that Crist, during his U.S. Senate campaign, bribed former lovers to leave the country. Another prominent Floridian, Tampa strip club owner Joe Redner, came out in 2005 and has since been a vocal supporter of gay rights in the Tampa area. With celebrity comes rumor, and with rumor comes innuendo; sexual orientation remains the nuclear weapon used to destroy careers and lives, but why?
The sad fact is we are living a time of hyper-partisanship, and sexual orientation remains a very effective weapon of personal and political extortion. Even it were to be declared a genetic issue, much like diseases such as ALS, Cystic Fybrosis and the like, homosexuality would remain a very difficult thing for most people to deal with. Gallup polls suggest most Americans favor gay rights almost anyone will say they have gay and lesbian and even bisexual friends The fact is, most people do, indeed, have friends whose sexual orientations are different. The problem is that, as with other issues of prejudice and preference, we are programmed from a young age to perceive a particular situation as strictly a lifestyle choice, and not just a matter of “it simply is.” Sexual orientation does not predispose one to being a predator or a pervert. The way one perceives sexuality, as a tool of power and control, rather than a gift intended for intimate expression, is what does that.
President Barack Obama has come out openly in favor of gay marriage and gay rights. Doing so has led to comments about Newsweek calling him being “The First Gay President” There is nothing funny about this. Why would the sexual orientation of Anderson Cooper, or Barney Frank, or Charlie Crist, or Hillary Clinton, or Ellen DeGeneres, or anyone, for that matter, make a difference in how they perform their jobs or what sort of character they have? It only makes sense to the same sort of people who care about having a single thing: power.
Being respectful on one’s sexual orientation, and how they choose to tastefully express it, should be guaranteed as a First Amendment right. It’s the American thing to do; our own Declaration of Independence states that “All men are created equal.” It would serve those who choose to show enmity towards this issue to remember that America is a constitutional, democratic republic, not a theocracy.
Benjamin Franklin once said “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” An appropriate paraphrase of that would be “those who would sacrifice essential human compassion in the name of foisting morality. understand neither.”