On Sunday night's Grammy Awards, during Macklemore and Ryan Lewis' marriage equality anthem "Same Love" (featuring Mary Lambert), Queen Latifah presided over the wedding of 33 couples -- gay and straight -- live on television. It was sort of touching, sort of corny, and then Madonna showed up. I personally actually found the entire number surprisingly moving, but was less surprised by the instant backlash on social media. Not from hardline conservatives (although there was a fair share of that), but from (mostly) gay people complaining that Queen Latifah didn't take this perfect moment to come out of the closet.
Queen Latifah is one of those celebrities who has been rumored for years to be in the "Glass Closet," a phrase popularized by journalist Michael Musto, describing a public figure who lives their lives openly with friends, family and even colleagues, but who never "officially" discloses their sexuality to the public. Funnily enough, Musto's 2007 article in Out Magazine focuses on Jodie Foster and Anderson Cooper, both of whom officially came out last year.
While the United States has made some major strides for LGBT equality in the last year alone (as well as a few steps back), there are still horrible travesties being inflicted on gay people across the world. India just re-criminalized gay sex after de-criminalizing it 2009. Nigeria recently passed a law that can put anyone who is suspected to be gay or anyone who knows someone who is gay in prison. There are several new laws like this popping up all over Africa. While gay reparative therapy is slowly being banned here in the States, it has had a huge rise in China. Not to mention Russia's own anti-gay "propaganda" law, which I hope we'll hear a lot about during the Sochi Winter Olympics.
Visibility is certainly the best way to combat fear and for that reason I'd personally like to see all public figures be open about who they are, but I still don't think it's right to force someone out of the closet. Unless that person is say a closeted politician who consistently votes against the interests of gay and lesbian peoples. That's a very real kind of hypocrisy that makes the "hypocrisy" my gay friends are crying on Facebook against Queen Latifah seem... well... bitchy and petty.
I'm not saying that the backlash is 100 percent unfounded. Queen Latifah presided over the Grammy wedding ceremony, and is obviously an advocate of marriage equality. She has performed at many gay and lesbian pride festivals over the years. She's clearly a supporter of "The Cause," so do we really need her to say those three little words: "Yep, I'm Gay"?
As I mentioned before, I think the world would be a better place, and certainly an easier place for LGBT youth, if more public figures were open about their sexuality in public. It would be particularly nice if more professional athletes came out before they retire, but I also understand that someone's private life should remain as private as they want it to be.
I know plenty of straight celebrities who are in relationships -- some very long term -- who don't discuss their partners in the press. Shouldn't a gay celebrity be afforded that same right?
Was anybody actually surprised when Anderson Cooper came out? Did Jodie Foster need to make that incoherent speech at last year's Golden Globe Awards? (Did she even come out? I'm still unclear on that one.) When figure skater Bryan Boitano officially came out last month after being named to the Presidential Delegate representing the United States at the winter Olympics, I didn't even realize he had been "in." Did these disclosures advance the national discourse in any way? Would a similar disclosure from Queen Latifah? The answer is... probably. But that's not our call to make.
Coming Out is a very personal and usually very challenging moment for any gay person. When someone is in the public eye, there's an added layer of pressure most of us will never understand. It would be beneficial for more public figures to be open about their sexuality, but we have to remember that even celebrities are people, not symbols. So in the meantime, isn't it just okay to perform a bunch of gay weddings while Madonna hobbles around behind you?