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Philip Bump Headshot

St. Petersburg's Walk-In Closet

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Wednesday night, America's best and brightest Republicans put on their cleanest red underwear and strolled onto a St. Petersburg, Florida, stage, facing videotaped questions from normal Americans, like Grover Norquist. The debate was hosted by CNN's (extremely) fair-haired boy, Anderson Cooper.

One of the highest profile contests of the primary season, it was a celebration of choir-preaching by the candidates. For those who missed it, YouTube has a simple, clean summary page of questions and responses. The questions were highly partisan, and the responses, if possible, moreso.

Which begs the question: would Cooper have been selected as host if his alleged (and regularly rumored) sexual preference were public? The answer, simply, is no.

America is unable to distinguish between a black or gay man, and an activist. The presupposition is that a member of a regularly and historically oppressed minority treats every microphone like a bullhorn. Skittish media companies trip over themselves to assure that no one even has the chance to step out of line. No network is likely to involve Kanye West in any political event.

A case in point is identified by Media Matters, who note that a question about gays in the military, posed by an openly gay retired brigadier general, has been excised in CNN's rebroadcasts of the event.*

The understood rationale for this exclusion is the asker's relationship with Hillary Clinton's campaign, though General Kerr steadfastly asserts the independence of the query. But had the question been about the candidates' positions on military spending, it is unlikely that CNN would have gone back to the editing room. The General's questioning a fundamental and controversial bigotry by the candidates made CNN's decision much easier.

There is a reason those in the public eye stay in the closet -- even if the closet door is transparent to media watchers. A large, and seemingly increasing, segment of American society feels very comfortable in demonstrating fairly sophisticated expressions of homophobia. The day in which America is comfortable with gays (and, for that matter, people of color) to the point that an openly gay man could host a Republican debate of such prominence is not today. And it seems increasingly distant.

*As quickly as the next rebroadcast, less than two hours after the debate ended, as noted by the HuffPo liveblog).