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Anderson Cooper and the Big Gay Elephant

Do you know who Anderson Cooper is? Yes, yes you do. Anderson Cooper is one of the most ubiquitous and well-respected journalists in America today. He reports live from war zones, natural disasters, and the front lines of revolutions, unafraid to ask hard-hitting questions to ensure that his viewers are receiving a complete understanding of what’s going on in their world. He’s a Vanderbilt, a well-liked member of the New York society set, and he even has his own cult following–the Silver Fox has many fans. He has had numerous successful CNN projects, and is soon to embark on his latest expedition–into the contrived and surreal arena of daytime television. Anderson Cooper also just happens to be homosexual*.

The sex life of the Silver Fox has been gossip blog fodder since the beginning of his career. Paparazzi shots have been making the rounds of Anderson just hanging out with one particularly buff, Aviator-adorned “friend,” Ben Maisani–often going to the gym, for example, or leaving the gym, or on the way to the opening party for Maisani’s new gay bar in Alphabet City. You know, just hanging out. When asked about the rumors, he gives the same response time and again: “I don’t talk about my personal life.” Of course, bloggers and New Yorkers have no such qualms, and the rumor mill churns madly on. Indeed, Maisani has been upgraded from Cooper’s “friend” to “companion” In the NY Post’s Page 6 column. Clearly, denials aside, the public has made up its mind as to who Anderson Cooper really is; the only missing piece is to hear it from the horse’s mouth.

Why is this news, you might ask? Why is OutWrite concerned with Page 6 and male companions and workout partners? Why is OutWrite giving credence to speculation about a man’s private life? Because Anderson Cooper, whether he asked for it or not, is a Gay Icon–in one of the most aspirational senses of the word.

He has graced the cover of OUT and has defended gay rights causes on his show. He has devoted copious airtime to investigating gay issues, from ex-gay therapy to child abuse to gay suicide. He has consciously accepted his role as one of the only faces in American media to tackle LGBT problems in a straightforward, open way. By forcing our concerns into the national media conversation, ratings be damned, he has made a deliberate, and courageous, effort to help our community–and one that should not be underestimated. And he has done it with grace, sensitivity, and professionalism in the face of a firestorm of negative portrayals of our community in America.

But here’s the thing. Anderson Cooper is one of the most powerful and recognized figures in the world today. The fact that details about his “personal life” are on the internet for the world to see appears to have had little effect on his viewership; at a time when CNN itself is barely breathing, people tune in to watch Anderson Cooper talk about the world and the issues he thinks are important. So the fact that he hasn’t found his way out of that cushy closet of his has become increasingly odd–and increasingly problematic.

To me, it isn’t about whether or not Anderson Cooper Is A Homosexual. If he isn’t, then great. Have a good workout, Coop. If he is, however, and he chooses to keep that fact hidden from America, he sends a strong message about what it means to be gay in today’s world. If  he is, and he chooses to stay in the closet, he is demonstrating that he is either afraid of what will happen when America Finds Out, or that he chooses not to identify with the LGBT community, with those kids who killed themselves because people thought they were gay. If he is gay, and he refuses to say it, he is wasting a crucial opportunity to show young LGBT individuals all over America, that watch him and admire him as a productive member of society, that it is in fact possible to be gay and to make a difference, to be gay and to be successful, to be gay and to be respected, to be gay and to be loved–if not necessarily by all of America, then at least by friends and family. Anderson Cooper has the potential to be an inspiration to so many gay kids, possibly more than any male-identified figure that I can think of; he has the potential to change the way . So many kids could use an Anderson Cooper to look up to. Hell, I know I could have used Anderson Cooper to look up to. By coming out, he would present an undeniably positive and powerful image of the LGBT community, sending a message to Americans that being gay is something of which we should be proud, not ashamed. If he is gay, and isn’t brave enough to say it, he isn’t exerting his right to privacy–he’s a disappointment to all those LGBT kids he claims to care about.

Cooper has stated in interviews that rumors surrounding his sexuality don’t bother him, because he has learned that as a reporter, the only way he can perform his journalistic duty and maintain his objectivity is by taking himself, his personal human identity, out of the equation. But whether Anderson Cooper likes it or not, we live in an age where sexual identity is a major factor in our interactions with each other. By pretending otherwise, by claiming to be above this reality, Cooper is forgetting that seeking shelter in the secrecy of one’s sexual identity is a luxury not afforded to Lawrence King, or Tyler Clementi. Sexuality can get you killed (or make you kill yourself).

Naturally, given the fact that Cooper’s nationally syndicated talk show is slated to start at the beginning of September, speculation has been rampant as to whether the anchor, whose already considerable public profile will likely soar with this new venture, will choose this time to come out to America.

I, for one, hope he makes the right choice.

*Allegedly, of course.

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