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Waymon Hudson

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Cultural Comfort Levels: Anderson Cooper, Coming Out, and Visibility

Posted: 07/05/2012 4:37 pm

This week's news of CNN anchor and daytime talk show host Anderson Cooper officially coming out as gay really didn't come as a shock to many. Cooper, who finally came out in an email to the Daily Dish's Andrew Sullivan, cited "professional reasons" for his long-standing silence about his personal life. But with the lack of shock that met his "official" announcement in most circles, one might wonder why coming out in this day and age was needed at all.

Perhaps Cooper himself puts it best, saying, "I do think visibility is important, more important than preserving my reporter's shield of privacy."

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. That's why beyond just Anderson Cooper, having out news and television hosts like MSNBC's Rachel Maddow and Thomas Roberts, CNN's Don Lemon, and Headline News' Jane Velez-Mitchell can reach a swath of Americans that may not be tuned in to LGBT issues.

Even hosts like Ellen DeGeneres have used their shows and the platform they provide to simply show that gay people are not the boogeymen that the far right makes us out to be. She's featured her wife Portia De Rossi on her daytime talk show numerous times and talked about issues that matter to her, like bullying, hate crimes, and marriage rights. The cultural comfort-level increase that comes along with daily visibility was made obvious when the conservative fringe group One Million Moms launched a boycott of JCPenney for having DeGeneres as a spokesperson. The average American couldn't see how this funny daytime-talk-show host that they spend an hour with everyday, and who just happens to be a lesbian, could be the evil bringer of all things immoral that One Million Moms claimed. The failed boycott effort was thus met with ridicule and helped turn the group into a national punchline, weakening them in future boycott efforts.

The same kind of casual daily exposure is why someone like Anderson Cooper coming out should be met with support and joy, not snark and cattiness. Sure, we all knew he was gay; the New Year's Eve hosting gigs with Kathy Griffin alone should have sent up huge, rainbow-colored warning flags. But there is real power in Cooper finally saying the words, "The fact is, I'm gay, always have been, always will be, and I couldn't be any more happy, comfortable with myself, and proud."

That visibility and positive affirmation also has a resounding impact on young gay or questioning youth across the country. Growing up in a rural farm area, I had no real LGBT role models to look up to or to try and find commonality with. Having a high-profile professional person to look up to and to provide me hope for my future would have made my journey so much easier and made me feel less isolated and different. Whether they like it or not, highly visible out people can become living, breathing It Gets Better messages to millions of young people struggling with hostile families, schools, and communities.

We live in a society often driven by pop culture, television, and celebrity. While the fight for legal equality may be happening in legislatures and courts around the country, the fight for cultural acceptance is happening every day on televisions in living rooms across this country. With more people coming out, it becomes harder for people to say they don't know an LGBT person, and harder for our opposition to demonize us and our lives. So welcome to the front lines, Anderson. We've been waiting for you.

 

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