It matters that Adam Lambert, the heir apparent as the next American Idol, is apparently gay -- precisely because it doesn't matter.
First, whether Lambert is homosexual or not, he definitely is "queer," a word many GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered) people have reclaimed from the dustbin of history as a proud self-identification. He gender-bends, he sings high notes, he wears makeup and jewelry. For a show about creating the next typical pop star, he is atypical. Simply being gay is, perhaps, no big deal -- but Lambert flaunts his gender non-conformity. As he himself said, when photographs of Lambert kissing other men surfaced on the Internet, "I have nothing to hide. I am who I am." Bravo!
This bravado stands in sharp contrast to previous generations of androgynous pop stars, who vociferously denied their gayness even as their obvious queerness was leveraged into worldwide pop success. Clay Aiken, George Michael, even Boy George all used to deny their sexualities -- and Elton John hid behind "bisexuality" for many years as well. To most of us in the gay community, this was ludicrous; at the same instant these male stars were protesting the awful insinuations about their manhood, they flaunted their gender-bending and/or androgyny as part of their appeal. Not Lambert. He is who he is, and it's fabulous.
Of course, it's hard to blame these older pop stars for their reticence, as being "openly" gay spelled career suicide for decades. What's different now is that Lambert doesn't seem to feel any pressure to hide. His legions of female fans seem unperturbed that their idol prefers the company of men. Neither does his sweet-voiced and "openly" Christian co-finalist, Kris Allen, whose friendship with Lambert seems to be sincere. Indeed, seeing Allen and Lambert embrace on stage is a particularly hopeful sign that sometimes we really can all get along.
Lambert's legions of "Gay? Fine By Me" fans arrive at a particularly moving time for me and many of my friends. I live in New York, and have been active for many years in "Pride in the Pulpit," a coalition of religious leaders working for equality for all New Yorkers, regardless of sexuality or gender. And as Lambert croons his way to pop stardom, sexual minorities in New York are in a nail-biting race to secure the right to marry the people they love, just as heterosexuals can. No one knows how the "Marriage Bill" will fare in the New York State Senate, where many Democrats from socially conservative districts have yet to take a stand. Thousands turned out at a recent rally in New York city -- but there are counter-demonstrations too.
Underneath all the tension, however, I've noted an odd sense of calm among my fellow activists. We may or may not win this current battle -- but we are obviously winning on this front in the so-called culture war. A recent CNN poll found that opinions about same-sex marriage vary widely by generation. Among those 18 to 34 years old 58% said marriage should be legal. Among 35-49, 49%; 50-64, 41%, and 65 and over, 24%.
In other words, time is on our side -- and Lambert's fans prove it. Just twenty years ago, when I was a teenager growing up in West Florida, being gay was just about the worst thing in the world. These days, it just doesn't matter so much. And why something which doesn't matter so much should stop a person from being able to get married -- well, that makes no sense at all.
I do wish that America's Next Gay Idol would pull a Miss California and take a public stand on same-sex marriage. Of course, he's really just building his career, and it may be the smarter move to stay out of politics. But Lambert's very existence is political. He is benefiting from the Ellens and Rosies who paved the way, just as he is paving the way for others -- especially once he ends the ambiguity, which he exploits so well on stage, and allows writers like me to take "(Probably)" out of our copy. So let me send this message to our Idol front-runner:
Adam, we need you in New York. Tell your fans that if they accept you for who you are -- which they do! -- they should give you the same rights most people have. Including the right to someday marry some very lucky man.