On Monday morning, CNN's star primetime anchor Anderson Cooper told the world, via a thoughtful email to Daily Beast columnist Andrew Sullivan, that he was gay.
"Even though my job puts me in the public eye, I have tried to maintain some level of privacy in my life. Part of that has been for purely personal reasons. I think most people want some privacy for themselves and the people they are close to," he wrote.
Most of us – no, let's make that everyone – would like a measure of privacy, whether it's about our sexuality, our eating habits or our taste in TV shows. But Cooper, like a bunch of Hollywood male movie stars and one or two powerful people in the entertainment industry that many of us can name, has never been given that luxury. Type "Anderson Cooper" into Google, and it gives you the option of autocompleting "gay" before spewing out pages of innuendo, rumor and ridicule.
"There continue to be far too many incidences of bullying of young people, as well as discrimination and violence against people of all ages, based on their sexual orientation, and I believe there is value in making clear where I stand," writes Cooper in his email. What he doesn't complain about is that he has been a personal victim.
Cooper has been harassed to come out for years. By Gawker, by Out magazine and by Twitter – to name some of the worst offenders. (Gawker's founder and proprietor, Nick Denton, still found fault in Cooper's declaration: "The choreographed publication of a private letter from Anderson to Andrew Sullivan has so much in common with Obama's mealy-mouthed statement of personal belief on afternoon TV: both are missed opportunities," he wrote.)
But, as Cooper says in his email to Sullivan, he was actually never "in": "I have always been very open and honest about this part of my life with my friends, my family, and my colleagues." He never tried to hide his sexual orientation, as he has been accused of. He just didn't think it was the public's business.
And why should it be? Why did Cooper have to be so bullied? He never pretended to be straight. He just chose not to address the issue. Why did that enrage people? Shouldn't the increasing acceptance of gay lifestyles, the growing legalization of gay marriage, the realization that 21st century families come in all shapes and sizes, mean that Cooper should have been left alone? Of course it does. Why should anyone care about this? What's it got to do with you or me? Are you NOT going to watch him on TV now that you "know"?
It's interesting that Cooper doesn't express any uncertainty about the effect his public statement will have on his career. Those days are definitely over. I would guess that you're either going to continue to watch him or not based on whether you think he's a good reporter.
Towards the end of his email Cooper writes that he hopes his coming out to the public, "Doesn't mean an end to a small amount of personal space." Now that he has come out – or been forced out – because, by not responding to pressure he eventually decided he may "have given some the mistaken impression that I am trying to hide something", let's give him that small amount of personal space he's more than entitled to.
The news trend of this cycle is that gay people can now come out in a quiet, understated way with their dignity intact. Three cheers for that. But there are still many, many people in the public eye who won't want to talk about their orientation. It's time to spread the dignity. Stop the taunting. Leave Anderson Cooper alone and hope that next cycle's trend will be that those who choose to keep their sexuality a private matter are given some peace.
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