Originally, I had planned to spend this evening reading the next chapter of Alissa Harris’s book, “Raised Right: How I Untangled my Faith From Politics” and resume my series of posts discussing that book. Those plans changed when Alvin McEwen mentioned that Anderson Cooper officially came out to the world today.
I ran over and read Cooper’s email to Andrew Sullivan in which he admits to Andrew (who I believe already knew), Andrew’s readers, and the rest of the world that he is gay. It’s a wonderfully worded letter and I highly recommend reading it. Right now, I would like to focus on a part of Cooper’s email in which he explains his rationale for not coming out until now:
I’ve always believed that who a reporter votes for, what religion they
are, who they love, should not be something they have to discuss
publicly. As long as a journalist shows fairness and honesty in his or
her work, their private life shouldn’t matter. I’ve stuck to those
principles for my entire professional career, even when I’ve been
directly asked “the gay question,” which happens occasionally.
On the surface, Cooper’s statement makes perfect sense. When he is acting in his capacity as a journalist, his religion, sexual orientation, marital status, race, and any other personal characteristic should be irrelevant. And I salute Cooper for wishing to make sure his sexual orientation doesn’t effect how people perceive how he does his job.
The problem is, we don’t live in a world made up of what should be. We live in reality. And the reality is that being gay, being a member of a minority religion, and several other personal characteristics or private matters do become an issue if they come out in the open. There are those who will approach Cooper’s reporting with (more) suspicion now that it’s known that he’s gay. (Peter LaBarbera has already suggested that Cooper should refrain from covering any LGBT stories.)
The thing is, this mentality unfairly targets LGBT people and minority groups. No one would question the journalistic integrity of Barbara Walters if she officially announced she was a heterosexual. No one would have questioned the journalistic integrity of Walter Kronkite or suggest he shouldn’t cover certain stories after mentioning in passing that he had a wife.
The system we currently have does not make sexual orientation irrelevant. The system we have punishes sexual minorities by treating them with suspicion. Keeping one’s sexual minority status out of the picture encourages the latter, not the former. It’s simply giving tacit acceptance and approval of a system that says that people who do not fit the characteristics that society has determined makes a person a default human must either hide their differences or face the penalties.
If everyone plays that game, then the system will never change. And I’d like to think that this is what Cooper finally realized. Because the only way the system will change is if people challenge that system.