Why Anderson Cooper Coming Out Matters

Matt Bomer's sex-symbol status in 'Magic Mike' also helps shatter Hollywood's glass ceiling.

Anderson Cooper came out of the closet publicly Monday (July 2), and the news was greeted not by surprise or bewilderment, but with an amused smile. “Finally,” the Internet sighed, and then everyone went back to work like nothing much had happened. That’s because it didn’t. Not really — Cooper simply confirmed what we all already knew.

Which is not to say that his public acknowledgement isn’t important. As Andrew Sullivan, the Daily Beast political writer to whom Cooper gave permission to run his wonderfully worded coming-out statement, points out, “The visibility of gay people is one of the core means for our equality.” And Cooper’s admission is certainly a step in the right direction for LGBT visibility. After all, who better to have in your corner than a respected, Emmy-winning journalist popularly known as “the Silver Fox”?

Celebrities tweet their support for Anderson Cooper.

Cooper had long been in what many call the “glass closet” — a phrase used for a person who is known to be gay but is not out publicly — and is the latest to step out, after “Big Bang Theory” star Jim Parsons, “Magic Mike” actor Matt Bomer and “Star Trek” actor Zachary Quinto all threw open the closet door in quick succession and with little fanfare earlier this year.

In terms of visibility and the shifting attitudes toward LGBT people, particularly gay men, in the media, Bomer and Cooper now find themselves in different but equally game-changing roles.

For four seasons, Bomer has found great success playing a (straight) career thief-turned-FBI consultant on USA’s hit “White Collar,” and this past weekend, the actor — who has three children with his longtime partner, Simon Halls — was featured as a straight, married and often in the buff stripper in “Magic Mike,” which debuted to a better-than-expected $39.2 million at the box office.

Women accounted for 73 percent of the “Mike” earnings, and in the lead-up to the film’s release, Bomer’s sexuality was far less of a conversation topic than his Ken doll good looks and images of the star in various stages of undress. In Buzzfeed‘s funny photo post on the “50 Reasons to See Magic Mike,” Bomer accounted for 13 of them — six of which were awarded to his six-pack abs alone and another five to a film still of a woman grabbing his bare backside.

Whether female audiences felt the same type of affection for Bomer that they did for his fellow “Mike” supporting players Alex Pettyfer, Joe Manganiello and Adam Rodriguez is something I can’t speak to (as a gay guy, I went, in part, for him), but it seems they were able to suspend their disbelief long enough to effectively ogle the handsome actor. His success represents progress on a major front: There is a mainstream, openly gay sex symbol working in Hollywood right now, something that would have been unimaginable just a decade ago.

Bomer’s success in many ways also puts to bed the question of whether a gay actor can play a realistic straight character, which was posed, quite controversially, by Newsweek in an article titled “Straight Jacket.”

Cooper, too, is not without female fans, who admire him for his good looks, apparent smarts and commanding television presence. His brand of reporting also can be expressly authoritative — he has embedded himself with active soldiers, gotten roughed up by rioters in Egypt and visited the sites of natural disasters — a quality that is not always ascribed to gay men.

As he mentions in his email to Sullivan, Cooper travels often to dangerous places, and while he doesn’t say it outright, he sometimes finds himself in places where being openly gay is more than just ridiculed; he goes to places where it is illegal and puts him in even more serious danger. Interestingly, his good friend Kathy Griffin alluded to that fact (and spoke pretty directly about his sexuality without saying the words) in a 2010 interview with the Washington Blade, saying, “Anderson has this great line where he says, ‘I don’t want to be the news, I want to report the news.’ And so that’s why, even though I’m the biggest mouth in the world, I actually don’t talk about his personal life, because you have to keep in mind he goes into third world countries where it’s a very different culture, so, you know.”

It seems likely that Cooper was holding on to his open secret until he’d felt he’d proven something, until he was in a place where his work spoke so loudly for itself that his command as a newsman could not be questioned.

It’s the same with Bomer. If he’d been out in 2010, would the Newsweek writer who dismantled openly gay actor Jonathan Groff’s performance as a straight choir captain on the heightened-by-nature “Glee” by saying, “When he smiles or giggles, he seems more like your average theater queen, a better romantic match for Kurt than for Rachel,” have found a way to undermine his performance on “White Collar”?

Maybe, but at this point it would only be for the sake of causing a stir, and that’s really the point here. Hollywood’s glass closet is shattering because the notion of it is increasingly outmoded. Each time a man steps forward to prove that you can be gay and a heartthrob movie star (Bomer), be gay and be the lead on TV’s biggest sitcom (Parsons) and be gay and be one of the most respected men in news (Cooper), there’s less reason for the next generation to hide in plain sight.