Fox News anchor Shepard Smith came out as gay Monday in an interview with the Huffington Post — almost 11 years to the day that I outed him in 2005.
Smith hit on me in a New York City gay bar a year earlier. I didn’t immediately out him because he wasn’t actively courting media attention at the time. But a year later, after Smith won praise for his coverage of Hurricane Katrina, he began attracting media attention and answering questions about his personal life in a coy way, always dodging the truth. Hence, the outing in the Blade.
After 14 years at the Blade, it remains one of the most popular stories I’ve written, which is unfortunate. I’d much prefer that privileged celebrities come out on their own and help inspire the next generation. As I wrote in 2005: “The biggest sleeping asset in the fight for full gay equality lies in the shadows of the closet. When we live openly, we force those around us to reconsider their negative views of homosexuality. That’s when the stereotypes give way to understanding and real change occurs.
“No Human Rights Campaign ad campaign in the ‘red states’ can produce the impact of gays who live in those states actually coming out.
“How can we expect the construction worker making $20,000 a year to come out when the rich and pampered are still hiding in the closet? How will gays living in Peoria find the fortitude to live honest lives, when the gay denizens of New York and Hollywood won’t?”
Smith hasn’t exactly been closeted in recent years, appearing in 2014 at a National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association event in New York and posing for a selfie with CNN’s Don Lemon, who’s out. Blade reporter Michael Lavers confronted Smith at that event and asked about his sexual orientation; he quickly disappeared.
The reaction to my outing of Smith ranged from cheers to angry condemnation. It all seems a tad quaint in 2016 — and ridiculous that coming out today in Manhattan attracts any attention at all. But still, thanks to Fox News’s role in promoting the Republican agenda for 20 years that has often included vicious attacks on LGBT equality, it’s noteworthy that one of the network’s top stars is gay.
My outing of Smith was chronicled in the 2009 documentary film “Outrage.” When I sat for an interview with director Kirby Dick, I assumed it would be an obscure documentary screened in a handful of LGBT film festivals. After the film debuted at the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival, HBO picked it up and for a month, you couldn’t turn on one of HBO’s channels without seeing it.
Throughout the controversy, I felt bad for Smith and how lonely it must be as a closeted gay man at Fox News. He’s a good guy, a skilled journalist and I’m relieved he’s finally out. It’s unfortunate it took so long, but welcome to the sunshine.
Kevin Naff is editor of the Washington Blade. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.