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Fox News anchor Shepard Smith outed; will people of note ever willingly come out?

Smith once chatted me up in a New York City gay piano bar, bought me drinks, and invited me back to his place. When I declined, he asked me to dinner the next night, another invitation I politely refused. We sat at the bar chatting and drinking martinis until 3 a.m., our conversation interrupted only when he paused to belt out the lyrics to whatever showtune was being performed.

— Washington Blade Managing Editor Kevin Naff, on getting hit on by showtune aficionado Shepard Smith

Just getting around to surfing some of my regular pitstops, and both BlogActive and Julien’s List point me to a great editorial, which dovetails nicely with my earlier post on the present-day Hollywood celluloid closet.

Washington Blade Managing Editor Kevin Naff was propositioned by Faux News anchor Shep Smith, and Naff decided to write about it. The Blade, you may know, has had a position that it won’t out public figures, so this development was a surprise.

The editorial is broader though. It addresses outing and the cowardice of the famous and powerful.

When rich, famous, wildly successful Americans refuse to acknowledge their sexual orientation, they contribute to keeping us at the margins of society and send a message that homosexuality is somehow shameful.

There is nothing more ridiculous than a public figure refusing to reveal whether he or she is straight — no heterosexual person would deny being straight.

He goes on to describe the barely closeted Anderson Cooper, who won’t say one way or another for attribution.

Cooper, the popular CNN anchor, coyly refused to answer “the question” in a recent lengthy profile in New York magazine. Though long rumored to be gay — he once suggested he is gay in comments made at a GLAAD Media Awards event — Cooper chooses the closet over honesty.

The whole thing about being a reporter is that you’re supposed to be an observer and to be able to adapt with any group you’re in,” Cooper told New York magazine, “and I don’t want to do anything that threatens that.”

Does he believe that female and African-American reporters lack credibility to cover stories since their minority status is showing? Should any heterosexuals who let it slip that they’re married to someone of the opposite sex be kept off the air, or does his rule apply only to gay journalists?

Exactly. It all tumbles out so easily when the person is straight. For gay people of note to come out certainly poses less risk that if the average queer person kicked open the door, yet these public figures suddenly find discussion of who they are seeking or are partnered with is “private.” Oh? I see no evidence in my US Weekly, that heterosexual celebs and news figures have any problem talking about who they are dating and mating.

Jodie Foster’s recent film “Flightplan” spent two weeks atop the box office charts. She, too, continues to refuse any discussion of her private life.

Incredibly, even Sean Hayes, who plays the flamboyantly gay character Jack on NBC’s “Will & Grace,” won’t say whether he’s gay. Maybe when his hit show ends its run this year and the acting roles dry up, Hayes will muster the “courage” to appear on the cover of the Advocate.

And then Naff wraps it all up and ties it with a bow. It’s exactly how I feel about this.

The biggest sleeping asset in the fight for full gay equality lies in the shadows of the closet. When we live openly, we force those around us to reconsider their negative views of homosexuality. That’s when the stereotypes give way to understanding and real change occurs.

No Human Rights Campaign ad campaign in the “red states” can produce the impact of gays who live in those states actually coming out.

How can we expect the construction worker making $20,000 a year to come out when the rich and pampered are still hiding in the closet? How will gays living in Peoria find the fortitude to live honest lives, when the gay denizens of New York and Hollywood won’t?

No one is asking Anderson Cooper to wear a pink triangle on the air or Jodie Foster to ride with the “Dykes on Bikes” contingent. Simply acknowledging the truth — whatever it is — would be enough.

We need role models and spokespeople to boost visibility, increase understanding and, most importantly, to inspire those living less privileged lives to come out and stand up to those who would deny us the right to marry, to adopt children and to go to work free from the prospect of legal discrimination.

Bravo.

Also see: Fight or flight, queer edition

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding