When Anderson Cooper officially came out today in a beautiful, published email to his friend Andrew Sullivan, there was one collective response: A big yawn. “Who cares?” said people on Twitter. “Isn’t this old news?” said people on Facebook. “When is a person’s sexuality going to stop making headlines?” said commenters on Web posts.
But Anderson Cooper officially coming out is important, and I’m going to tell you why.
First, people who think that coming out no longer takes courage or isn’t brave in today’s more equal world likely haven’t come out themselves. Coming out means one risks always being known as “the gay X“: the gay journalist, the gay actor, the gay dentist. The word “gay” is still so loud to most people that it can drown out the other parts of an individual’s identity. It can change the way people feel about a person, even if they are basically strangers.
It may seem like everyone knew Anderson Cooper was gay, but I assure you that not everyone knew. Cooper took a risk by doing this. He may endanger himself when he flies to Middle Eastern war zones to do his job as a journalist, but now he’s endangered himself in another way: He may lose viewers whose prejudice will not allow them to see Anderson Cooper, reporter, only Anderson Cooper, gay. He will have some blowback.
He is probably well insulated from it, but nevertheless, it will occur, and this is why he’s brave.
Second, people being openly gay, people continuing to come out, is the reason it is getting better. Change doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Life isn’t just “getting better” just because that’s what life does. Life is getting better for LGBT young people because other people are making it better by taking risks like this one.
As Cooper said in his email, “I’ve also been reminded recently that while as a society we are moving toward greater inclusion and equality for all people, the tide of history only advances when people make themselves fully visible.”
Sure, all you jaded tweeters in New York may have known that Cooper is gay. You may have seen him around with his boyfriend. You may have read the many stories speculating on his sexual orientation. Who knows, you may have slept with him yourself (lucky you!).
But an adult New Yorker or Angeleno or Chicagoan is not the same as a 12-year-old gay kid in Missouri who is being bullied and is searching for reassurance that someone, anyone, gets out of his situation alive to find happiness and success. Maybe that kid has seen Anderson Cooper on TV. Maybe his parents watch his show. In any case, Anderson Cooper is living a life anyone would admire: He’s respected, handsome, adventurous, good at his job, and liked by the masses.
For a kid like the scared 12-year-old in Missouri, Anderson Cooper’s coming out is a beacon of hope.
Cooper’s statement is a reminder to all of us that coming out, no matter how ordinary it may seem to those of us on the other side of it, is still a risk, is still brave, is still courageous, and still matters. Bravo.