Anderson Cooper Comes Out as a Gay Man. Does It Really Matter?

Ellen DeGeneresI’m an openly gay communication professor who writes about the relationship between the media and the LGBT community.

When I talk about this topic in class, I often begin by asking my students, “Who’s the most prominent lesbian in the media today?” Virtually in unison, they say Ellen DeGeneres.

Then I ask, “Who’s the most prominent gay man in the media today?”

Inevitably, the room goes silent. After thinking for a moment, one or two students mention Tim Gunn from Project Runway or Neal Patrick Harris from How I Met Your Mother. But for the last several semesters, the most frequent name that my student have offered up is that of journalist Anderson Cooper.

This prompts me to say something like, “But Cooper hasn’t publicly stated that he’s gay.” And that observation causes my students to respond, “That doesn’t matter. Everybody still knows it.”
Neil Patrick Harris
So if a sizeable slice of the American population already knew that Cooper is gay, did it really matter that he officially came out of the closet last month?

To me, Cooper’s announcement is important for a similar reason to why actor Matt Bomer’s recent acknowledgment of his homosexuality matters.

The handsome Bomer has played a former criminal who’s become an FBI consultant on the USA network program White Collar, now in its fourth season thanks to a loyal audience of Matt Bomerprimarily female viewers. And late last month, he was featured as a buff male stripper in the film Magic Mike. In both roles, Bomer is a straight guy who spends a lot of his time romancing beautiful women.

In February, Bomer came out as a gay man by announcing to the world that he’s been in a relationship with publicist Simon Halls for several years and that they have three children. Since Bomer’s revelation, White Collar’s viewership has remained strong. What’s more, Magic Mike’s $39.2 million box office take on opening weekend was substantially stronger than expected.

And so, it’s clear that women audience members aren’t having any problem continuing to ogle Bomer—who’s just about as close to a Ken Doll as a guy can get—both on the small screen and the big one.

The larger importance here is that the Bomer case study provides solid evidence that should seal the coffin on the fear that an openly gay actor can’t succeed at playing a sexually active straight character.

As for Anderson Cooper, for twenty years the silver-haired newsman has been bouncing around the globe reporting breaking news. He’s covered the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, he’s brought a human face to the earthquake in Haiti, and he’s been knocked around by protesters during the political upheaval in Egypt.

Observers have repeatedly pointed out that female TV viewers make up a critical mass of Cooper’s fans. These women tune in to see “the Silver Fox,” as he’s often called, not only because of  his journalistic skills butAnderson Cooper also to get a look at his striking blue eyes, his slender physique and his boyish smile—not to mention the tight T-shirts he’s partial to wearing.

Those same qualities were a big factor in CNN creating the news program Anderson Cooper 360 in 2003 and CBS signing on to air his syndicated daytime talk show Anderson last year.

There have been rumors about Cooper’s sexuality for many years, but he repeatedly dodged the question. “I understand why people might be interested,” he told New York magazine in 2005. “But I just don’t talk about my personal life.”

That changed on July 2 when he gave Daily Beast columnist-blogger Andrew Sullivan permission to make public an e-mail from the Silver Fox. “The fact is, I’m gay, always have been, always will be,” Cooper wrote, “and I couldn’t be any more happy, comfortable with myself, and proud.”

One significant element in the e-mail is that Cooper pointed out that he often reports from dangerous places in the world where being gay isn’t merely frowned upon but is against the law.

And so, like Bomer, Cooper is breaking new ground. He’s the first American reporter to show that a gay man can be a respected international journalist, even though his sexual orientation has the potential of getting him a prison sentence—or worse—in some of the countries he travels to while doing his job.

Rodger StreitmatterCooper has made a powerful statement that’s turned him into a courageous role model for young people who are struggling with whether to acknowledge their own sexuality. In Cooper’s coming out e-mail, he wrote, “While as a society we are moving toward greater inclusion and equality for all people, the tide of history only advances when people make themselves fully visible.”

By Rodger Streitmatter
© LGBT-Today

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