Monday, August 20, 2012

The Witch-hunt for Gay Celebrities

Rashida Jones
I'm thinking we need to establish some rules of conduct for discussing people's sexuality.

It was in very poor taste that Rashida Jones, who is straight, called out John Travolta, saying:
"A movie star [needs to come out]. Like John Travolta? Come out! Come on. How many masseurs have to come forward? Let’s do this."
Luckily, she apologized (via Twitter...does that count these days?) soon after, but still. For straight people to loudly and publicly proclaim that queer people should 'come out already' and that 'it's not a big deal' is either woefully ignorant or naively optimistic. I've heard many a straight student voice these types of sentiments as well. It may come from a good place--wishing that people could be themselves everywhere--but this flippance doesn't acknowledge the reality that coming out 1) is never easy no matter how progressive an environment you are in (author of this blog a case in point...); 2) is not always a good thing--it can have very real negative impacts on your life, career and livelihood; and 3) is not a topic that straight people are in a position to make accusations or proclamations about, given their heteroprivilege. 

Exhibit A: Chely Wright. The once popular and up-and-coming country singer came out in 2010, and she recently reflected on the subtle but icy reception she's been receiving from the country music world since. And that's just an example of someone famous. There are no doubt thousands of examples of LGBTQ employees who are punished subtly and not-so-subtly when they come out. Twenty-nine states have no laws that protect LGBTQ people from discrimination in the workplace, meaning that it's entirely legal to be fired or retaliated against for being out.

Yes, in the long-run, the more people who are publicly out, the better. And yes, we do certainly need more high-profile movie stars, athletes, politicians and the like to come out. And yes, it's probably better for individuals' mental health in the long run to come out. But only the closeted queer individuals themselves can make that assessment accurately, and we need to respect people's right to choose if and when they come out.

So if Rashida Jones wants high-profile queer folks to come out, she should put her money where her mouth is and get behind some LGBTQ rights advocacy efforts. Like, for example, a federal GENDA law so that all people in this country can have legal protection against workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Because the whole rigamarole about who's out and who's closeted is not about individuals who won't just come out it already, it's about a society that gives LGBTQ people many reasons to keep their closet doors shut.

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A post-script to leave you with:

At the bottom of the Huffington Post article Jones was quoted in, you can be treated to another set of problematic celebrities....HP put together a slide show of celebrities 'accused' of being gay or lesbian and provided quotes from the celebrities disputing the 'accusations.' Like Alicia Keys saying she understood that people thought she was a lesbian because she looked "rough around the edges." Or Zoe Saldana's defense: "It's that my sisters and I spent all our time among men. We were very popular with them. Our way of thinking is very masculine." Right, because everyone knows being a lesbian always means being unkempt and masculine. And would someone explain to me what "masculine thinking" is?

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