As recently as 1989, tolerance for gays and gay jounalists was hardly prevalent. I would cringe at the gay jokes in the newsroom. A few years earlier I overheard a colleague tell a cameraman, "You better watch when you interview those gays. You don't want to catch AIDS, you know."
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 been largely free of the burden of anti-gay discrimination. They are the original risk takers and role models.
Those of us who were lucky enough to be born into climates safe for us -- because of where we live or because of the identity we have -- have a moral obligation to be out (and yes, I'm looking at you, closeted celebrities). Cowardice and "privacy" are no excuse.
How often do we hear about the boyfriends/girlfriends, fiancés, spouses, or even the one-night stands of our straight friends and co-workers? Yet as soon as LGBT people enter into the discussion, love and sexuality become a matter of a person's "private life"? Give me a break.
Visibility is why coming out is still a vital part of the fight for equality. Having a high-profile LGBT person come into people's living rooms daily and doing their job well can help remove some of the "otherness" of gay people and increase cultural comfort levels.
Cooper is many things to many people. He has and continues to make his mark on the world and deserves to be recognized not only for his accomplishments, but also for what clearly drives him as a man and as a human being.
Cooper's silence sent a loud if unintentional message to the straight people who still think gays are different and threatening, and to the gay kids who still don't have enough public examples of successful, happy people who happen to be gay. I was that kind of gay kid.
Is someone who is straight (or closeted) any better able to cover a gay story? Every reporter has a long list of bias points. It is time we shatter this notion that being part of a minority group means you should not be able to cover that group.
There are those who are saying it's "no big deal," or "so what?" In this time of intense bullying and too many reports of teen suicides, they just don't get how important it is for young gay people to know every single person in the public eye who is gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.
"Who cares?" said people on Twitter. "Isn't this old news?" said people on Facebook. "When is a person's sexuality going to stop making headlines?" said commenters on Web posts. But Anderson Cooper officially coming out is important, and I'm going to tell you why.
When I was in middle school, homeroom was my favorite part of the morning, because I got to watch Channel One. I remember being infatuated with Anderson Cooper's hair, for starters, and even then, before I truly understood that I was gay, I saw something in him that I saw in myself.