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Debate: Outing of gay public figures

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Is it justifiable to pressure gay and lesbian celebrities out of the closet, in the interests of gay rights?

Background and context

This is one of the most interesting gay rights debates, because it is not about attitudes towards homosexuality, but rather about the methodology of the gay rights movement. A March 1990 article in "Outweek", by Michelangelo Signorile, named the millionaire Malcolm Forbes as gay, one month after his death. This article prompted a furious debate about journalistic ethics and the coinage of the term ‘outing’. Signorile founded the activist group Queer Nation which made headlines by distributing posters naming celebrities such as Jodie Foster.

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Argument #1

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Yes

The 1990s saw a welcome march towards the full inclusion of gays and lesbians in society, but there is still work to be done. Homophobia and discrimination are still linked to the perception that gays form a tiny minority in society, not helped by the fact that so many remain ‘in the closet’, pretending to be heterosexual. Outing celebrities increases the number of gay role models, improving perception and making the process of coming out easier for all gay men and women.

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No

The progress of the gay rights movement has indeed been considerable, to the extent that such radical tactics are unnecessary. There are numerous gay celebrities who can be role models to young gays and lesbians. The need for outing is therefore so negligible that it cannot possibly overcome the right to privacy and to choose what people know about your sexuality.

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Argument #2

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Yes

Celebrities (especially in the showbusiness world) enter into an unspoken ‘contract’ with their fans; in return for the vast amounts of adoration and money they are able to make, they must surrender something of their privacy. The public has the right to know about the people who profit immeasurably from its support.

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No

The public’s obsession with celebrities has gone too far. Sexuality can be a very private issue to some people and it does not fall under the category of things that celebrities must share with their fans.

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Argument #3

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Yes

Outing celebrities is particularly justifiable in the political world, where sexuality can be linked to legislation. Many politicians are responsible for laws which affect sexual practice, such as the age of consent. Closeted politicians are hypocrites if they win the support of homophobic voters on the basis of their ‘heterosexuality’.

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No

It is the nature of democracy that politicians pander to votes with populist policies. If the majority of a society is homophobic, then a politician’s only chance of success in his or her career is to remain in the closet, until such a time as society changes. It is naive to expect them to sacrifice their career for the sake of this principle.

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Argument #4

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Yes

Like pulling off a Band-Aid, outing can actually be a beneficial act in the long run. Most closeted gays and lesbians regret having to live a secret life, and would prefer to be honest; but the ostensible backlash to coming out persuades them to remain silent. In fact, in today’s day and age, they are much less likely to suffer prejudice and there is nothing to fear. Outing them actually helps them obtain relief in an honest life.

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No

There is still enough prejudice against homosexuality in parts of society (for example in Muslim cultures or the Bible Belt of America) that coming out of the closet can bring shame and the destruction of relationships. Even if a gay or lesbian wanted to come out, they should be fully prepared for the consequences and be allowed to do it in their own time, not at the time chosen by someone else who may not understand their situation fully.

See also

External links and resources:

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