Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Importance of Anderson Cooper's Coming Out Statement

Last month, I wrote a posting focusing on comments that Sr. Margaret Farley made at the recent meeting of the Catholic Theological Society of America.  CTSA happened to hold its annual meeting not long after the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had announced that it finds Farley's book Just Love deficient as a statement of Catholic teaching about sexual ethics (though it wasn't written to be such a statement, but as a reflection about the foundations of sexual ethics from a multidisciplinary and religiously pluralistic standpoint).

At CTSA, Farley explained why she thinks it's important to keep thinking, talking, and writing about sexual ethics and about how religious traditions address questions of sexual ethics.  She stated,

My reasons for thinking it's important for everyone to think about these issues is because people are suffering. All over the place, people are suffering.

My posting links to a statement by theologian Mary Hunt about Farley's work, which notes that she thinks and writes about ethics from the standpoint of active engagement with those who live on the margins, with those who are suffering.  Hunt points to Margaret Farley's ongoing involvement with women in Africa living with HIV and AIDS.

I noted that I keep blogging for precisely the reason that Margaret Farley calls on us to keep thinking, talking, and writing about sexual ethics: people are suffering.  All over the place.

Two days ago, Mary Hunt left a comment in response to my posting, in which she states, 

Yes, and I do it [i.e., keep writing] because those of us who speak 'Catholic' need to speak/write until the violence stops, the kid stop trying to commit suicide etc. based on the things they are taught about themselves. 

I'm thinking of Mary Hunt's comment today as I read the news that the prominent telejournalist  Anderson Cooper publicly came out of the closet as gay yesterday.  In an email to Andrew Sullivan, which Sullivan has published at his Daily Dish site, Cooper states,

The fact is, I'm gay, always have been, always will be, and I couldn’t be any more happy, comfortable with myself, and proud.

And he adds,

I love, and I am loved. 
In my opinion, the ability to love another person is one of God’s greatest gifts, and I thank God every day for enabling me to give and share love with the people in my life. I appreciate your asking me to weigh in on this, and I would be happy for you to share my thoughts with your readers. I still consider myself a reserved person and I hope this doesn’t mean an end to a small amount of personal space. But I do think visibility is important, more important than preserving my reporter’s shield of privacy.

I fully understand Anderson Cooper's need for personal space, for privacy.  Living out loud, as some people choose to do on blogs these days, takes a toll.

At the same time, I think it's extremely important that those of us who are gay or lesbian, and who have found some space to be free and to love in our personal lives in a world often hostile to our very existence--a world often adamant about not even permitting us to speak our own names--to live out loud.  It's important that we speak our names when highly placed religious leaders like Catholic Bishop Salvatore Cordileone of Oakland, California, want us never to do so: never to speak our own names, but to accept the demeaning, marginalizing terminology imposed on us by religious leaders like those of the Catholic church, who insist on calling gay and lesbian human beings "intrinsically disordered" homosexuals.

It's crucially important for people like Anderson Cooper to speak openly and honestly about their identities as gay and lesbian persons, and about how they have found productive and happy lives even in a world that often does everything possible to thwart such happiness for those of us who are LGBT.  This is crucially important because young people struggling to understand and claim their sexual identities still suffer tremendously, as Mary Hunt reminds us.  In many areas, they still cope with pressures and overt hostility that sometimes lead to suicide.

Even before Anderson Cooper made his coming-out statement yesterday, I was thinking this past weekend about the importance of providing positive role models for young gay folks as I listened to country singer LeAnn Rimes sing with the Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles, and explain her commitment to creating safe spaces for gay and lesbian teens.  The clip in which Rimes performs with GMCLA is at the head of this posting.  She has also recorded a message to young people at Dan Savage's powerful and important It Gets Better project.

We need people gay people like Anderson Cooper and straight allies like Leann Rimes speaking out.  We need many people creating safe spaces in which gay, lesbian, and gender-questioning youth can cope with questions of identity and begin journeys to happy, fulfilled adult lives.  We need, of course, religious communities that provide spiritual foundations for all of this.  Bishop Cordileone's persistent attacks on his gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, and his recent attempt to deny gay folks even the right to speak our names openly, are the very antithesis of authentic Christian spirituality.

And that makes the spiritual foundations provided by people like Margaret Farley, Mary Hunt, Anderson Cooper, and LeAnn Rimes all the more vitally important--since many young people cannot any longer find the safe, nurturing spaces they need to grow into happy and productive adults within their own communities of faith.

P.S. For some salvific humor in the midst of the insanity we often find all around ourselves: see Abby Zimet reporting this morning at Common Dreams on the funniest Twitter response yet to Anderson Cooper's coming-out statement: "CNN still reporting Anderson Cooper is straight."

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