The tricky issue of coming out has become even more complicated with the recent deaths of gay teens in Canada and the U.S. In September, a gay Buffalo, N.Y., teenager killed himself after being bullied online. In early October, gay Ottawa teenager Jamie Hubley took his own life after being bullied in school. These were only two of a string of suspected gay teen suicides, but they were the most public.
In response, American actor Zachary Quinto came out of the closet to denounce bullying. Canadian TV personality Rick Mercer publicly urged gays in public life, to come out of the closet and be role models for gay teens. And professional soccer player David Testo, who lives in Montreal, came out, saying it was his duty to come out.
Quinto has been making a name for himself as super villain Sylar in the TV series Heroes and as Spock in the reboot of Star Trek. He came out in an interview in New York Magazine. On his blog he wrote: “It became clear to me in an instant that living a gay life without publicly acknowledging it is simply not enough to make any significant contribution to the immense work that lies ahead on the road to complete equality.” Although he didn’t actually say it, in essence he was challenging other gays to come out.
Mercer was more explicit. On his TV show, he criticized schools for not doing more to deal with bullying and said adults have to take a stronger role in helping gay teens. “So if you’re gay and you’re in public life, I’m sorry, you don’t have to run around with a Pride flag and boor the hell out of everyone, but you can’t be invisible -- not anymore.” There is nothing ambiguous about Mercer’s message.
Testo came out publicly in a CBC interview in November. “’Change is not going to happen until people start stepping up and saying: I’m gay, and I’m a soccer player,’” he said. This was a not-too-subtle way of saying other gay athletes should also come out.
The response to these men’s actions was generally positive – as it should be - but the Globe and Mail in an editorial said Mercer was wrong to urge people to come out of the closet because it would be an unfair burden that no other segment of society faces. They could be risking their careers, friendships or family connections. Sure, but isn’t that exactly the point that Quinto, Mercer and Testo are making? Hiding in the closet does absolutely nothing to change bigotry and ignorance.
More to the point – most adults have the strength and supports to survive the coming out process. The risks may be high, but they can survive and move on. Kids don’t have those same resources. The rules are different, the stakes are higher. Yes, it is up to each of us to decide whether we can come out, but fear is a lousy reason to stay in the closet. Not when kids are dying.