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Unlike Anderson Cooper, Many Out LGBT Journalists Paid the Price and Paved the Way

Posted: 07/05/2012 9:48 pm

Unlike Anderson Cooper, I didn't want to wait until I had a contract with the largest cable network in the United States -- and millions and millions of dollars in the bank as a result -- before I came out.

My career in journalism, born of a desire to write about the AIDS crisis, began at Boston's Gay Community News in 1988; back then, gay newspapers were the only places one could read about AIDS. So in 1989, along with Mike Signorile and Gabriel Rotello, I helped found, and then wrote for and edited, Outweek, New York's first weekly LGBT news magazine.

After it folded in 1991 and I began looking for another job, I confirmed what I'd suspected during the two years I worked there: There was no such thing as an "out" mainstream journalist at that time. No magazine or daily newspaper in the country was willing to hire a reporter whose clips came exclusively from the LGBT press -- not even to cover school-board meetings or write obituaries.

By contrast, Cooper's career success has been in part due to his talent for managing his image to his own best advantage. Today Cooper has become (through his own hard work) one of CNN's most valuable commodities -- and not one the network is likely to take any chances with, in the field or in the press. So why come out now?

Cooper claims that he did not announce he is gay previously because doing so would have endangered his life, as he often reports from countries hostile to gay men. But unless he's planning on staying studio-bound from now on, this makes no sense. Nor is this about his privacy: His being gay was journalism's worst-kept secret. He has even discussed privately how common knowledge of his homosexuality endangered him while reporting abroad.

But Anderson Cooper would be a target for terrorists anyway, as one of America's most visible television personalities. Whether in Egypt, Afghanistan, Haiti, or Iraq, he's as much an advertisement for CNN as he is a journalist for CNN. (To be fair, that says more about the state of American journalism than about Cooper's journalistic prowess.)

President Obama did not just happen to "evolve" in his support for same-sex marriage six months before the election. It was a calculated political endeavor. Similarly, Cooper's announcement was likely approved by network executives who believe it will be good for ratings but not further endanger their star reporter in war zones.

Those who now see Cooper as a risk-taking role model for aspiring gay and lesbian journalists should also consider the hundreds of journalists in the LGBT press, and those in the mainstream press who came out long ago, who paid the career consequences of being out gay men and women.

It is not Cooper who will clear the career paths for a new crop of out gay men and women; it is those journalists who paved the way for Anderson Cooper's career, which has, fortunately, been largely free of the burden of anti-gay discrimination. Those journalists are the original risk takers and role models.

Most did not do anything as dangerous as traveling to war zones or meeting with third-world dictators. But then again, most never had the chance to do so; they could never have gotten hired for or kept such a job in the mainstream media once they told the world they were gay.

Andrew Miller was the news editor of Outweek magazine and has taught writing and journalism at Polytechnic Institute of New York University. He is now a book editor for many of the country's largest publishing companies.

 
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