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Before the 1980s, being openly gay in Hollywood made you a target of homophobia. You were shunned and considered to be unemployable and doomed to a life of loneliness, depression and isolation. So especially if you were a celebrity, you kept your sexual and romantic orientation to yourself. Most of your colleagues-including other gays and lesbians- respected your choice and preferred that you remain in the closet.
But today, if you hide your gay identity and are not out, you are targeted for living a secret gay life. For years, comediennes like Kathy Griffin had used humorous speculations around Clay Aiken. But the heterosexual Ms. Griffin is one of the most outspoken gay advocates in Hollywood, so no one could ever accuse her of being homophobic. Nowadays, after celebrities come out, the media leaves them pretty much alone, and no longer are the targets of harassment.
Prior to comedienne Rosie O'Donnell's coming out, she was the target of much gossip, speculation and attacks that she was "hiding her sexual orientation". Many lesbians and gays felt that she should come out, to show that a woman can be famous, smart, successful, funny and still be gay. They wanted her to be the spokeswoman for our community as a whole, to show the world it's okay to be gay. But she wasn't ready and Rosie had to come out in her own time.
Rumors had surrounded Ellen DeGeneres for a long while. Then in 1997, when she decided to come out personally and publicly, she found herself mired in controversy over whether she should have come out at all! Her TV sitcom was canceled. Her relationship crumbled, and her media presence seemed to be over. That, many people speculated is the price of coming out". But they were wrong!
Now Clay Aiken is a perfect example of how your career in Hollywood, even in politics, can be jeopardized if you do not come out. The media was breathlessly questioning his sexual orientation, perhaps picking up where the organization called Act-Up left off. For Clay, staying private was really not an option.
Act-Up was an organization formed in 1987 by playwright and AIDS activist Larry Kramer, who intended to stop the silence around HIV and AIDS by holding demonstrations and attracting media attention. Act-Up's slogan was "Silence equals Death," which has currently been paraphrased as Silence equals homophobic attacks and rumors about you until you finally give in and come out.
Some believed that only those who actively worked against gay interests should be outed. Closeted queers such as Roy Cohn, who defamed and persecuted other GLBTQ people while secretly indulging in gay sex, were prime targets. Outing such hypocrites would destroy their influence and punish them for their disrespectfulness to the gay community.
Some proponents of outing, however, also targeted passive opponents of GLBTQ rights, such as military leaders and church officials. These closeted queers did not directly fight gay rights, but they worked in support of homophobic organizations.
Perez Hilton became famous as a blogger and for outing celebrities before anyone knew of their true sexual orientation. He is best known for his speculations that Lance Bass, an Nsync band member, was gay, and Hilton was later accused of being primarily responsible for Bass' being forced to come out.
Should those in the media feel entitled to out celebrities? Or do public figures deserve some rights to privacy around their orientation?