Do closeted celebrities owe it to their public to come out? It’s a question that many have tackled, but few have come up with a satisfactory answer. Pundits and columnists argue their point of view every time a famous actor or singer comes out. Some believe, to quote from Spiderman, “with great power comes great responsibility”.

In other words, if you’re going to accept celebrity and all that comes with it, you also become a role model simply by being in the public eye. Others believe that becoming famous doesn’t negate one’s right to privacy.

In the past, celebrity outings have caused much hullabaloo on both sides of the fence. I still remember clearly the criticism that was flung at Rosie O’Donnell when she came out publicly. At the time, it seemed there were more people judging her for not coming out sooner than there were people congratulating her for having the courage to live openly.

More recently, Olympic skater Johnny Weir has drawn the ire of many for skirting the issue of sexuality. Now, I don’t know Weir, so I can’t say for certain if he’s gay or not, but let’s just say he sends my gaydar off the chart. There’s no doubt he’s a flamboyant little thing, and on most topics, quite outspoken. When it comes to his sexuality, however, he’s been strangely reticent.

In the past, Weir has given us telling quotes such as, “I’m very princessy as far as travel is concerned, having a nice room and things like that,” when discussing the Olympic Village, and “I don’t like to be called a jock. That makes me think of spandex-covered football players. It’s not me. I’m in rhinestones and velvet, not spandex.” Those don’t sound like statements from someone overly concerned about being called gay. However, when a reporter asked if he was gay at a press conference, Weir responded: “I think it’s funny that people care. Who I sleep with doesn’t affect what I’m doing on the ice or what I’m doing in a press conference.”

Of course, that begs the question, is it any of our business really? The reporter’s queer query was in response to earlier criticism from openly gay skater Rudy Galindo. Galindo slammed the media for ignoring Weir’s sexuality while playing up his “style” and “flamboyance.”

Obviously, Weir doesn’t feel he owes it to anyone to come out. Or maybe he’s not gay at all. Then again, when was the last time a heterosexual celebrity had any trouble saying he or she was straight. People who avoid the question usually feel they have something to hide. (Waves at Sean Hayes and Ricky Martin)

If Weir is gay, then why on earth won’t he come out? It’s not like the vast majority of the people who follow skating don’t already assume he is anyway. Personally, I was shocked to learn he wasn’t out and proud. The way the announcers talk about him, I just assumed he wore rainbow necklaces to practice. And I’m hardly alone. According to a poll in the Chicago Tribune, 95% of the respondents don’t care if he’s gay or not.

Like many celebrities who refuse to come out, it probably boils down to fear. Actors are afraid they will lose out on roles, singers are afraid their sales will drop, and while being openly gay probably wouldn’t hurt Weir’s scores on the ice, it could potentially affect his endorsement possibilities.

Of course, in many cases, those fears are largely unfounded. While I’m sure coming out causes celebrities to lose a few fans, that loss is more than likely offset by the support gained from the LGBT community. Being openly gay certainly hasn’t hurt Sir Ian McKellen’s career. Ellen Degeneres is enjoying more success than ever, raking in awards and ratings for her talk show. Melissa Etheridge is a rock music icon, and her recent victory over breast cancer touched the hearts of millions. I could go on, but you get the idea. I can’t think of a single celebrity whose career has been hurt simply by coming out, at least in recent years.

“Should we hold someone to a different standard just because they are a public figure?”

Openly gay celebrities are important. Having a talented and respected sport’s figure like Sheryl Swoopes come out of the closet has a major impact on people. Not only did she give gay women of colour someone to look up to, she also added another dimension to the public face of the LGBT community. The very act of her coming out forced many people to examine their feelings towards gay people. Every famous person who comes out becomes a powerful force in the fight for equality.

But should we expect them to come out?

Truthfully, every person who comes out plays an important role in the fight for equality — whether famous or not. Studies have proven that people who know someone who is gay are more likely to support gay rights. Of course, celebrities reach more people at once. You might say, they get more bang for their buck. Someone like Ellen Degeneres coming out on national television is going to impact more people than Ellen Smith coming out to her friends and family in Kansas. That’s not to say that one is more important than the other. Ellen Smith’s coming out will have more impact on her friends and family than Ellen Degeneres ever could.

I’ve always believed that coming out is a very personal decision. You have to be ready emotionally and mentally before you take that step. No one should ever make that decision for someone else, and no one should ever force someone else out of the closet before they’re prepared. I think celebrity outing is a nasty business. My one exception to this rule is homophobes. I think ex-Spokane mayor Jim West got what he deserved. But hey, that’s just my opinion.

Anyway, the point I’m trying to make is: Should we hold someone to a different standard just because they are a public figure? I have to admit I’m a little divided on this. On the one hand, I want to respect people’s right to privacy. On the other, I do believe that part of being a celebrity is accepting that you will be held to a different standard than the average man on the street. You give up a certain degree of privacy when you agree to put yourself in the limelight.

With that said, I believe it’s every gay person’s responsibility to come out, whether you’re famous or not. The time for hiding is past. We need every ally in this fight, and the more visible you are the better.

So do closeted celebrities owe it to their public to come out? No more than anyone else.

By Josh Aterovis

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Provided by GayLinkContent.com.

Josh Aterovis is the author of the Killian Kendall Mystery Series as well as numerous columns and articles. He can be reached at www.steliko.com/bleedinghearts

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