Coming out is a radical act capable of upending deep-seated assumptions about who someone is and challenging our fundamental beliefs about what that ultimately means for how we understand and treat them. In a world where you can still go to prison for being queer and hate crimes are still happening, it’s a powerful weapon that disarms people and changes minds. It makes it harder and harder for people to say “I don’t know anyone who is gay” or “All gay people are like this.” And when minds change, so does our culture. Case in point: Republican Senator Rob Portman, who embraced marriage equality after his own son came out as gay.
What’s more, not coming out continues to feed the lie that there is something shameful about being gay. And there isn’t. By not coming out — or remaining in that gray area where people know you’re gay but you won’t say the words — you are, as Ellen Page put it earlier this year in her stunning coming out speech, lying by omission. By not saying you’re gay, you’re letting others believe you are straight, because straight is still the default — and preferred and privileged — orientation in our society.
Yes, some people have very good reasons for not coming out — they could be thrown out on the street, they could be fired from their job, their physical or mental safety could be compromised. But if that’s not the case, I believe we have a responsibility to come out — especially if you are in the public eye and your being out will have a positive impact. And today, thanks to people like Ellen DeGeneres and Ellen Page and Neil Patrick Harris and Zachary Quinto, coming out in Hollywood does not equal career suicide.