Do public figures have a responsibility to come out?

Last week I wrote an article about the importance of respecting others and their sexuality, including when it comes to the the speculation about the sexuality of public figures like Ian Thorpe and Hugh Jackman.

There is an opinion amongst many members of the GLBTI community that public figures, entertainers, sports people and alike have a responsibility to “come out” because of the good it would do for the community”. Young GLBTI people certainly are in need of role models and the hope that they can have a future in mainstream public life.

For a young footballer struggling with homophobia in his sport there is no doubt that having a professional level player who is out and proud could make a real difference to whether or not he sticks with his dream. Celebrities not only inspire us, they also offer us a glimpse of what we might achieve ourselves.

But do they have a responsibility to come out?

I have always maintained that coming out is an intensely personal experience. It is a process of self acceptance and everybody has a different story and experience. Celebrities who are living “in the closet” have just as much right to preserve the integrity of their life as anybody else. It is great when they do come out, but they are not under any obligation to. Even those who are comfortable with their orientation but who choose to keep their sexuality private have every right to do so, and the GLBTI community certainly has no right to push, drag, or harass them in to outing themselves.

Some public figures come around to it eventually. Ricky Martin for example. But it is a choice that they need to make without us heaping the baggage of the community and all our wishful thinking upon them.

Great role models exist all throughout our community. The life savers, the Defence force personnel, teachers, doctors, PFLAG parents, counsellors, activists, youth workers and thousands of others who march each year in Pride events all around the world. They are not celebrities, but their contributions make them great role models.

Perhaps we need to do away with our childish obsession with the pageantry and glitz of celebrity worship and recognise the amazing resources we have in our own backyard for building hope. Everybody is somebody’s role model, it’s just up to you to decide if you want to be a good one or a bad one.