In case you're living in a cave and missed it, the June 29 issue of Entertainment Weekly had a very provocative cover on, "The New Art of Coming Out," featuring pictures of eight out celebrities. It generated huge buzz and was part of the impetus for journalist Anderson Cooper and rapper Frank Ocean to come out publicly with a resounding chorus of support.
Using phrases like "casual methods," "matter-of-fact-understatement," "blink-and-you'll-miss-it-style," and "defiantly mellow," the issue celebrated the low-key way many celebrities have chosen to announce their sexual orientation.
As an out gay man and as a publicist who has helped more than a dozen actors and professional athletes come out of the closet publicly, I'm grateful that EW felt this topic worthy of a cover; and that so many celebrities have chosen to come out recently.
But I do believe that the focus on the casualness of the method of coming out obscures a darker, harsher truth: Even when the methodology seems light and breezy, coming out remains a difficult, often anguishing decision for public figures -- likely the toughest decision of their lives.
One of my clients didn't tell her own mother until the morning she came out; others have had death threats; and some have lost major portions of their fan base. Few personal truths, once made public, can impact relationships with your family and friends or your career in the same way.
Let's take a realistic look at where we're at:
1) There is no out movie star (in fact, some will sue you for making the insinuation).
2) There is no out professional athlete in a major sport.
3) A sizable portion of the country remain opposed to basic LGBT civil rights.
4) One of our two major political parties and their presumptive presidential candidate want a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and vehemently oppose basic employment rights based on sexual orientation.
I worked with my first celebrities who came out more than two decades ago and clearly we have made extraordinary strides. But we have not reached the promised land yet. Most lesbian and gay Americans do not have the right to marry the partner of their choice, and if they do, they are prohibited from most benefits by federal law. In most states it is perfectly legal for an employee to fire whomever they wish for no reason other than their sexual orientation. And despite vigorous campaigns our youngest and most vulnerable are being bullied and committing suicide because of their real or perceived sexual identity.
No, do not let the casualness fool you. Most of the public figures that have come out have taken decades to reach that decision. And even if you think you already knew and their pronouncements are no big deal, I'm here to tell you it is a big deal. It's an incredibly courageous act -- the single most important thing every LGBT American can do to advance the cause of our civil rights. While we can take a moment to celebrate what we have achieved, it's important we recommit our efforts to this cause because we have miles to go before we sleep.
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