In recent days we've seen some very high-profile people come out in many different fields -- like CNN's Anderson Cooper, R&B singer Frank Ocean, Jamaican singer Diana King, and Olympic soccer player Megan Rapinoe. While Cooper may have received the most attention, I think all these stories have a greater impact than many in the media are giving them credit for.
That was the discussion that took place on Gay Chicago TV's Critical Thinking, in this week's media roundtable with journalists Kate Sosin of Windy City Times and Joe Erbentraut of HuffPost Chicago. While one might think that three journalists discussing the politics of coming out and LGBT visibility would naturally gravitate toward Anderson Cooper, the in-depth conversation actually pivoted quickly to delve deeper into issues of diversity, media stereotypes, and the importance of looking at the greater story behind the headlines of such a diverse group coming out.
While Ocean, King, and Rapinoe didn't get the same attention as Anderson Cooper, it quickly became apparent that their coming-out stories might actually be of more importance. Beyond just the news of someone like Cooper, who comes into people's living rooms every day on television, people like Ocean, King, and Rapinoe coming out in traditionally closeted professions and fields like sports and hip-hop can reach a swath of Americans that may not be tuned-in to or even familiar with LGBT issues. It also helps combat opponents of queer visibility who seek to demonize our community, like One Million Moms, which the show also takes on, criticizing the group's background and efforts.
Too often we see the queer community literally white-washed; faces of middle- or upper-class white men are what are predominately used in pop culture or in the media. This furthers an untrue stereotype of queer people as rich, white, gay elites, when our community is actually incredibly diverse, crossing racial, socioeconomic, and gender-expression lines. Telling the stories and honoring the coming-out struggles of people of color like Frank Ocean and Diana King, or of people who challenge gender roles like Megan Rapinoe, is extremely important.
While many in the LGBT community may question the need to come out in this time of great change and social progress, such questions really speak to a feeling of comfort and privilege that far too many in the queer community simply do not share. To say that there is little or no value to coming out, or that such declarations are "passé," is to deny the need to see the many faces of our community -- and not just ones that look like Anderson Cooper. Yes, his story and his visibility are important, but his coming out shouldn't be given precedent over the brave declarations of people who represent parts of our community that too often get shoved to the side.
It's an important conversation that we need to have in the LGBT community and in the media world, and a lot was added to it by simply sitting down and discussing the issues together at a political roundtable.
Now it's time for all of us to join the conversation.