In a recent blog post on The Root, Keli Goff, discussing Jason Collins' announcement that he is gay, expressed her hope that we close the door on outing and allow people to reveal their sexuality on their own terms. She noted that she does not understand how outing is relevant beyond certain limited circumstances, such as exposing the hypocrisy of elected officials. And she decried the fact that there is a blatant double standard "between the respect and privacy heterosexuals are allowed, versus what gay Americans are granted today."
Let me start where we agree. Goff is absolutely right that no one should ever be "outed" against his or her will. She is right to compare such an outing to bullying. I also agree that the right to privacy, or the "right to be left alone," as Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis articulated it all the way back in 1890, should be extended equally to both straight and gay Americans.
However, a missing piece of the puzzle here is straight privilege, and I say this as a straight man. Straight people have always been able to freely discuss their love lives, their spouses or intimates and their children without having to think twice about it. Conversely, until recently, gay Americans have not had that privilege anywhere. And, yes, straight people are privileged by not being defined solely by their sexuality. Even more significant, straight people never have to "come out," because being straight is presumed.
As Kevin Arnovitz, an openly gay ESPN sports writer, explained recently in talking about Collins, this is essentially a workplace issue. Whom you love should not be a secret and is essential to your being. As Arnovitz noted, whom you love is a part of who you are just like all the other components of your character: your family, your religion, the schools you attended, the languages you speak, etc.
Arnovitz also correctly asserted that everyone should be able to bring their loved ones to a company holiday party or discuss their weekend plans with those in their lives. Most fundamentally, Arnovitz points out that we should each be able to be whole wherever we are.
So, although no one should be outed unwillingly, it is fair to be disappointed by public figures who are unwilling to be their whole selves, thereby making it harder for all of us to be our whole selves.
Imagine not being able to talk to coworkers about whom you are dating or are in love with. Imagine having to hide your religion from them. Or imagine having to hide any other essential component of yourself, including your race.
I know how it feels to hide a part of oneself. I was a child of divorce and was raised during my formative years by my mother and her first long-term girlfriend, whom I called my other mother. I was never comfortable discussing this during my childhood. I can only imagine how much more painful it would have been if I were hiding my own sexuality.
We all owe it to each other to be comfortable with who we are and to lead the way for those around us. It is only in this way that we will achieve a full acceptance of the diverse experience that is humanity.