Growing up, I never dreamed that openly LGBT people could be politicians, athletes or celebs, let alone thrive as teachers, cops, doctors or clergy. It was shocking news when the late Rock Hudson was outed by AIDS; tennis icon Billie Jean King revealed she is a lesbian; and former Rep. Barney Frank came out. Yet, as I write this, Rep. Mike Michaud (D-Maine) who’s running for governor, has just come out as gay, and the sky hasn’t fallen.
“My #gaydar missed it, but happy to welcome @RepMikeMIchaud to team lgbt,” Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), who is gay, tweeted. Many in the media agree with Michaud, who wrote in an op-ed column in the Portland Press Herald and the Bangor Daily News, “Why should [being gay] matter?”
Media mavens had the same reaction recently when Gawker, the news and gossip site, seemingly confirmed what many have long suspected: Fox News anchor Shepard Smith is likely gay. Smith was in a New York bar with “a muscular 6-foot-2-30-something white male.”
“At a time when gay people can marry and fly helicopters in the Marines, is it time to consign outing to history, alongside other 90’s crazes like Zima and square-toed shoes?” Alex Williams wrote in the New York Times about Gawker’s Smith reveal.
At the risk of sounding so 1999, I beg to differ. We can marry now in 14 states plus Washington, D.C.; a celeb comes out every nano-sec; and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” has been repealed. Coming out often no longer involves the drama, tears, fears and angst of yesteryear. When I was young, I felt like I was in an “After School” special when I told my family I was queer. Last summer, when I saw relatives for the first time in years, we chatted about same-sex weddings we’d attended. Jim Parsons of the “Big Bang Theory” came out seamlessly by briefly mentioning his partner in a New York Times interview.
“That may seem like a big announcement to some people. For me, it’s just a part of who I am, as much as being a third-generation millworker or a lifelong Mainer,” Michaud wrote in the op-ed saying that he’s gay, “One thing I do know is that it has nothing to do with my ability to lead the state of Maine.”
Michaud’s being gay has nothing to do with how effective a governor he would make. Yet, fair or not, his being gay and coming out do matter. Michaud isn’t a right-wing, anti-gay hypocrite. Yet, he didn’t come out voluntarily. He disclosed his sexual orientation after his opponents insinuated that he’s queer. “I wasn’t surprised to learn about the whisper campaigns … some of the people opposed to my candidacy have been using to raise questions about my personal life,” Michaud wrote in his op-ed. “They want people to question whether I am gay. Allow me to save them the trouble with a simple, honest answer. Yes I am.”
Some may not care who Shepard Smith dates or which celebrities and politicians are closeted. Yet many of us still struggle with homophobia. In this country, you can be fired in the workplace for being gay in 29 states, and 33 states have no protection for employment discrimination based on gender identity. While ENDA is likely to pass the U.S. Senate, it’s unlikely to be passed by the House of Representatives.
My friend Penny recently talked to her pal. “Her 19-year-old nephew just came out,” she said, “ His father said to him, ‘being gay is a sin! How can you still go to church?’”
This young man’s story is far from unique. In a world where despite much progress, homophobia remains a part of our daily life, coming out still matters.