By Cliff Dunn
In an email this week to journalist Andrew Sullivan, CNN host Anderson Cooper confirmed what many people already knew—or claimed to. “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,” Cooper, 45, wrote in his email, which was posted at Sullivan’s blog on The Daily Beast. Cooper’s admission is unique in some ways, in that it covers the emotional gamut represented by celebrities “coming out:” It both confirms what has long been held to be “true,” while offering an “I told you so” form of relief for some.
Cooper’s email—sent in response to a question from Sullivan, who is himself openly gay, about an Entertainment Weekly story concerning celebrities who “out” themselves— went viral almost immediately, with a reported 100,000 shares of the story posted on Facebook within a matter of hours. In it, the television personality and author attempted to navigate the path between explaining the reasons for his late-day admission, and trying not to sound apologetic for valuing his personal privacy.
“Recently, however, I’ve begun to consider whether the unintended outcomes of maintaining my privacy outweigh personal and professional principle,” Cooper wrote. “It’s become clear to me that by remaining silent on certain aspects of my personal life for so long, I have given some the mistaken impression that I am trying to hide something — something that makes me uncomfortable, ashamed or even afraid. This is distressing because it is simply not true.”
Cooper, a Yale University graduate and the son of socialite heiress Gloria Vanderbilt, has maintained a well-known privacy barrier for years. He acknowledged in his email to Sullivan that his sexual orientation was kept out of his 2006 memoir, “Dispatches From the Edge,” as well as during a 2005 interview for New York magazine, in which he coyly offered, “I understand why people might be interested. But I just don’t talk about my personal life.”
He offered a professional context for keeping a lid on his sexual orientation. “Since I started as a reporter in war zones 20 years ago, I’ve often found myself in some very dangerous places,” he noted. “For my safety and the safety of those I work with, I try to blend in as much as possible, and prefer to stick to my job of telling other people’s stories, and not my own. I have found that sometimes the less an interview subject knows about me, the better I can safely and effectively do my job as a journalist.”
Cooper also noted the social climate in which he decided the time was ripe for his announcement. “There continue to be far too many incidences of bullying of young people, as well as discrimination and violence against people of all ages, based on their sexual orientation, and I believe there is value in making clear where I stand.”
Cyberspace erupted with reaction to Sullivan’s post. Television personality Kelly Ripa tweeted, “So proud of you Anderson Cooper. Always have been, always will be,” and talk host—and fellow openly gay celebrity— Ellen Degeneres added, “I’m proud of you, @AndersonCooper.” Manhattan-based Gawker.com publisher Nick Denton—who is gay, and has a habit of outing media personalities—posted on his news site that his own efforts at getting Cooper to own up had finally paid off. “You can call that bullying. But without some pressure, there wouldn’t be nearly as many public homosexuals,” Denton wrote in a column. “Everybody agrees by now that visibility is essential if one is going to change attitudes. What they don’t yet acknowledge is this: for visibility, you need a searing spotlight.”
There were negative reactions, as well, including the response from conservative Media Research Center spokesman Brent Bozell, who tweeted, “Can @andersoncooper give us his expert opinion on teabagging now?”—a reference to a remark that Cooper made during a 2008 interview with former presidential adviser David Gergen, during a discussion of the Tea Party movement’s influence on the Republican Party. “This happens to a minority party after it’s lost a couple of bad elections, but they’re searching for their voice,” Gergen said of the GOP.
“It’s hard to talk when you’re teabagging,” Cooper replied.