KNOCK, KNOCK. WHO'S THERE? THE CLOSET. YOU'RE STILL AROUND? YOU BETTER BELIEVE IT!
There's been a great deal of discussion on the site [After Elton] over the past couple of weeks about gay celebrities, the closet and what constitutes being "out." And even though we've discussed the issue numerous times before, it seems like it is once again time to revisit the topic. And it's a subject that is as tricky as ever and that can have real consequences for the celebrities involved.
Perez kicked the latest round of debate off when he posted an item about White Collar's Matthew Bomer. Without citing a source or saying how he knew, Perez simply claimed Matt was an out gay man. If true, we were certainly interested in writing about Matt and his show, but as we aren't a gossip site, I wasn't going to simply repeat Perez's claims — for lots of reasons.
But I did call up Matthew's publicist and request an interview if, in fact, Perez's information was correct. Through his publicist, Matthew passed on doing the interview and the publicist told me they don't comment on their client's personal lives. And that post set off a heated discussion about outing, the closet and all the other related issues.
The issue of the closet is something we deal with at AfterElton.com a lot and we are constantly evaluating how we cover celebrities that may or may not be gay. First and foremost, we do not out people. It's our firm belief that despite the undeniably greater gay acceptance in society today, coming out still has serious ramifications for many people and is a decision to be made only by the individual in question (excluding closeted politician's, but that's another conversation for another site).
That being said, we also don't believe there is anything wrong with treating everyone the same and the questions asked of a straight celebrity are perfectly fine to ask of a gay celebrity when appropriate. Are you married? Single? What was your childhood like? How does being straight influence the way you play a gay character? Does your husband get jealous when you kiss another man? And so forth.
Here are some general observations and thoughts about where we stand today.
1) For our readers: Just because "everyone" in West Hollywood or New York "knows" Celebrity X is gay because you've seen him around town with another guy does not make it true or mean that the person is out publicly. First of all, New York and Los Angeles are not the entire world and secondly, being seen out in public with another man is not being out in any practical way.
2) For gay celebrities: Just because your family and friends know you are gay does not make you publicly out.
3) For representatives of gay celebrities: If your client is gay and your response is "no comment" because "we don't ever comment on our client's personal lives" all I have to say is "Poppycock." I may understand why you are hiding the info, but I'm not an idiot and neither are our readers. If your client discusses raising funds for Alzheimer's because their dad had it or working to fight testicular cancer because they have it or anything else not specifically about a particular role, then they do discuss their private lives.
4) There are legal issues involved. Like it or not, claiming a person is gay still has legal ramifications and you can be sued for defamation in almost half of the states in the U.S. Yes, the celebrity has to prove you are wrong, but the fact of the matter is not every celebrity rumored to be gay is gay, and I'm not about to risk my job on Perez Hilton's say so.
BTW, publicists? Please don't tell me information "off the record" and then hint you don't care what I say as long as it's without any attribution at all. Again, that could end with your client suing me and I don't traffic in gossip. Thanks, but no thanks.
5) Dear fellow journalists, please don't treat gay celebrities differently than straight ones. If you regularly ask straight actors about their spouses, children and how they personally relate to playing an ad executive from the 1950s, a starship captain or a serial killer, but avoid similar questions with those you suspect to be gay, you aren't doing your job. And given how quick you usually are to ask officially out actors about the same things you do straight ones, you know I'm right.
I can honestly say that after the success of Neil Patrick Harris has had after coming out publicly (apparently everyone in New York knew he was gay all along) I really thought things would be different and more actors would follow the Luke Macfarlane model and simply acknowledge the fact of their sexuality and move on. But I can tell you from personal experience that we still aren't there no matter how much I'd like us to be.
Which isn't to say I don't understand and appreciate the issues gay celebrities face. But the only reason things ever get better is because some people have the courage to care enough to make things better for all of us.
Source: Best. Gay. Week. Ever. (November 06, 2009), After Elton