For several years there were rumors about the sexual orientation of Anne Burrell, the popular spiky-haired star of Food Network's Secrets of a Restaurant Chef, but she'd not publicly acknowledged she is a lesbian. Then fellow Food Network star Ted Allen went on the "Derek and Romaine Show" on SiriusXM and innocently said that he had recently met Burrell's girlfriend.
Suddenly, the revelation was out there. But days later, Burrell's publicist set the record straight, so to speak, and told The New York Post's Page Six: "Anne does not feel she was outed. She has made no secret of her relationship [with a woman]. It is no secret in the culinary world."
Perhaps not, but it certainly was a secret in the rest of the world, and, citing unnamed sources, Page Six claimed Burrell was even "alarmed" when she found out what Allen had done. But now that everyone knows, we're told by Burrell's publicist, she's fine with it and wants to make it clear that she absolutely, positively was not hiding. And yes, it's important that everyone knows she's openly gay, in a world where LGBT people have been invisible in popular culture and where too many LGBT teens are attempting suicide in part because they don't see many people like themselves in popular culture.
Chalk it up to progress that some celebrities are now embarrassed to be thought of as having been in the closet, which increasingly seems like a relic from the last century (even as it still endures mightily). More and more gay, lesbian and bisexual actors, and TV and media personalities, don't want to be associated with the often laughable and torturous subterfuge of it.
That's true even as the vast majority are still closeted, told by the powers-that-be in Hollywood, media and politics that coming out will ruin their careers. But the closet hasn't been a comfortable nor stable place for them for a long time now. Thanks to gay activists who drove the message home over a period of decades, an adult public figure living in the closet today is seen by many as sad and pathetic, not to mention living a lie, deceiving the public.
And whether it's a sign of more honesty, or too much prying, the media and the blogosphere make it almost impossible for many celebrities to keep their sexual orientation secret for long anyway. Actor Neal Patrick Harris finally came out because he just got tired of the media speculation. "Rather than ignore those who choose to publish their opinions without actually talking to me, I am happy to dispel any rumors or misconceptions and am quite proud to say that I am a very content gay man," he said. And that was back in 2006. If you're a closeted gay celebrity today and you don't get speculated about by the media and the blogs ad nauseam, or outright outed in the tabloids, you may get outed by a well-meaning fellow celebrity, like Ted Allen, who perhaps isn't aware that your glass closet wasn't meant for the general public to peer through.
Surely celebrities who are in the closet today are also looking at the latest John Travolta saga -- whatever the truth about Travolta may be -- and thinking, "I so don't want to be that guy in the future." Many, particularly the younger ones, are hoping they can just slip out of the closet without making a big deal of it, avoiding any connection with the embarrassment of hiding.
That's exactly what Jim Parsons of the hit CBS comedy The Big Bang Theory did last week. The actor, who starred on Broadway in Larry Kramer's The Normal Heart, was rumored to be gay. But it was never acknowledged until a lengthy New York Times interview last week in which Parsons isn't even quoted. Toward the end of the piece reporter Patrick Healy notes that The Normal Heart resonated with Parsons in part because he "is gay and in a 10-year relationship." It was as matter-of-fact as reporting that he has brown hair or likes bow ties.
Gone are the days of the "Yep, I'm Gay" magazine covers, as The Week noted last week, with celebrities making a spectacle of coming out, and thus focusing on the fact that they were in the humiliating and painful gay closet. Last year Star Trek star Zachary Quinto, rather than doing a "coming out" interview, simply referred to himself "as a gay man" in a New York magazine profile (and later explained on his blog that he came out to give hope to gay teens in the wake of a recent gay teen suicide), while White Collar's Matt Bomer earlier this year nonchalantly let it be known he was gay when he thanked his partner and his family while accepting an award.
It shouldn't matter who's gay and who's not. But it does in a world where gays are under attack, and where young people need to know they are not alone. And the enemies of LGBT rights need to know just how prevalent gay people are in American culture. The closet isn't going away any time soon. But one step toward dismantling it among public figures it to make it a difficult and embarrassing place to be. From the looks of the latest celebrity self-outings, that's perhaps starting to take hold.