Outing celebrities and political figures is a thorny subject that I wrestle with myself all the time – well, I should say that I wrestle with the outing celebrities part – not so much the politicians, which is a no-brainer for me.
I thought about this subject after reading an outstanding article by Charing Bell, “Why the Whitney Houston Gay Rumors Need to Die” which was itself a response to UK gay rights activist Peter Tatchell’s article “Whitney’s REAL tragedy was giving up her greatest love of all – her female partner Robyn Crawford.” Tatchell wrote about Houston’s rumored bisexuality and affair with her personal assistant Robyn Crawford. After meeting Houston and Crawford at an HIV rally, he writes about the two women canoodling and giggling. In the article he even implies that her descent into drug and alcohol may have been caused by being forced into the closet by a conservative church.
In Bell’s article, she doesn’t really refute Tatchell’s claim, nor does she imply that Tatchell is somehow besmirching Houston’s memory by suggesting she was gay; what Bell argued was that Houston’s sexuality is her own, and reviving an old story in the wake of her death, when media interest in her has spiked is deplorable – not to mention culturally insensitive as Tatchell seemed to be pointing his finger at Houston’s faith, a huge part of her life as well as the lives of her family and community.
And I agree.
I’ve always felt that outing celebrities was an absurd, and sometimes cruel process. If a movie star or a pop singer is hiding part of his/her life, then the public should maintain a respectful distance for a few reasons –
1) It’s no body’s business
2) People should come out, when they’re good and ready
3) It’s not news, people – with the Arab Spring, the Occupy Movement and the presidential elections, isn’t there enough to talk about then whether or not Whitney Houston was a lesbian?
When politicians pursue anti-gay policies, but themselves are closeted, then I believe it’s in the public’s best interest to out them – simply put, they must be outed to prove that the Right Wing doesn’t have the moral authority to judge as it believes it does – that is why we must also look at our religious institutions with a discerning and critical eye.
But whose life did Whitney Houston ruin by staying in the closet? Or Ricky Martin? Or Neil Patrick Harris? that Martin, Harris and a host of other LGBT performers are now out and proud is fantastic – and yes, they are great role models for kids growing up in a sometimes-hostile world. But should we encourage this kind of hero-worship among our youth towards pop stars and TV actors?
Instead of raking over Houston’s life or Cary Grant’s, why not look to Alan Turing, a guy who help crack secret German codes during WWII. Not only is Turing’s story heroic, but also tragic as he was subjected to torturous methods of aversion therapy because homosexuality was illegal in postwar Britain. Turing’s example is not only an example of how important gays are to history, but also of the negative and devastating effects of homophobia. Or how about Bayard Rustin, the civil rights activist of the 1960’s, who was the main architect of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom; while fighting for rights for everyone, he was under siege from some of his own colleagues for his sexuality, and like Turing was arrested for being gay.
When we out a celebrity – especially if it’s someone recently deceased like Houston, then we’re running the risk of hurting family members and friends. Now, I don’t know the attitude that Houston’s family had towards gays and lesbians – but let’s just assume that Houston’s loved ones aren’t completely cool with homosexuality: to compound their still-fresh grief with rumors that Houston was gay will make a terrible situation worse.
Tatchell defended himself by saying that there’s nothing shameful about being gay – of course there isn’t. But he’s running under the assumption that everyone feels that way – and that’s where he makes a misstep. Because Houston isn’t around to address the rumors, Tatchell can dictate a dialogue about her and the family has to just sit and listen…
As a public figure, Houston understood that her life was not completely her own. But because her actions didn’t effect policy or legislation, then there is no reason, outside of salacious gossip, to out her. If her family feels that it’s in her memory’s best interest to identify her as a lesbian, so be it. But in the mean time, let’s just let the woman rest in peace.