Yesterday on my own blog, I wrote, "Ricky Martin Comes Out: 'I Am Homosexual.' In Other News, The Earth Is Round." The title itself got a lot of guffaws on Twitter and Facebook. But at the end of the piece I wrote,
While I'm happy Ricky Martin has found the strength to come out, I have to ask, what took so long? Everyone must make their own journey at their own pace, but, like Sean Hayes, Ricky Martin was an assumption, and the LGBTQ community needs everyone's help, now more than ever. Those in the public eye have a responsibility to help their community.
That part didn't get as many laughs. Readers were split. So, I thought I'd share my thoughts with the Bilerico community, and ask you yours.
I embrace, support, and welcome Ricky Martin into our community. I hope he will use his position to support us, just as our community has supported him. I'm sure we're all happy that he has found himself and the strength to be true to himself.
Everyone's journey is different and no one can truly understand another person's choices, pain, or needs. I, myself, will confess I had it pretty easy. In honor of National Coming Out Day last year, in these very pages, I wrote, "How I Never Came Out." In it, I tell how "I never really had to" come out. A fact that I confess I neglected to consider when I rhetorically asked of Ricky Martin, "what took so long?"
That said, after listening to many readers' and friends' responses, here are my thoughts:
Several reminded me that Ricky Martin has a huge Latin fanbase who would not have supported his coming out, saying Ricky Martin himself grew up in a fiercely homophobic, latin, Catholic culture.
My response is, Jorge Steven Lopez Mercado, the teen whose body was decapitated, dismembered, and burned in Puerto Rico. The Governor of Puerto Rico, where Ricky Martin grew up, refused to label that despicable act a hate crime, forcing the federal government to threaten to make Jorge Steven Lopez Mercado's murder one of the first hate crime cases prosecuted under the newly-signed Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. What a great opportunity Ricky Martin had then to speak out against this heinous and despicable act, and throw his support to battling the increase we are seeing in homophobic hate crimes.
Several mentioned that had Ricky Martin come out earlier, his career would have died and he never would have reached stardom, thus rendering him unable to use his star power to help the LGBTQ community. To that, my response is, Ellen DeGeneres, who came out at a time it was not popular to do so, and, though putting a bump in her career, rendered her ultimately more popular and more powerful.
Several mentioned that it takes courage to come out, that perhaps it was just too hard for him. To that, my response is, Constance McMillen, the rural Mississippi eighteen-year old who just wanted to take her girlfriend to her high school prom, and ultimately was scorned and chastised by her classmates. She sued, thanks to the help of the ACLU, and won.
Several mentioned that he needed to come out on his own schedule, when it was comfortable for him. To that, my response is Wanda Sykes, who felt compelled after Prop 8 to do something for her community, and came out to speak publicly about anti-gay rhetoric and hate. Her career certainly hasn't been hurt -- she's more popular than ever.
While Ricky Martin may be seen by some as a fading icon in America, internationally, he is a huge star. Again, to those who say he needed to come out on his own schedule, I think of all the bi-national couples he could have helped. While we're fighting for the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA,) what better spokesperson than someone like Ricky Martin to help educate the public? I hope now he will choose to use his position to help our community more directly.
A reader reminded me of this quote from Martin Luther King, Jr.,
The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.
I have this final point to offer: Rock Hudson. He was a man, dying of AIDS, with no financial or career concerns left. He had all the friends and money he needed. His coming out as a gay man dying of HIV/AIDS in 1985 would have hastened this country's move toward understanding and de-stigmatizing the disease that ultimately killed him, and put a face on a disease and a minority that desperately needed help. Instead, he pretended he was straight, went on Dynasty as a last attempt to prove the illusion he trying to live was real, and, sadly, died.
Times were different then. Times are different now.
OK. One last point.
If you're in the public eye, if you chose a career in the media, in entertainment, or even in politics, you make your living from those who vote for you, buy tickets to your shows, movies, concerts, buy your recordings, buy magazines that put your picture on the cover. In short, your entire career exists because of others. Which means you have a responsibility to give something back, to help others in your community, even if it's hard, even if it hurts a little. To those who do, from the bottom of my heart, I say, "thank you."
Every day, too many LGBTQ teens, like Derrick Martin, are forced out of their homes, before or after coming out, because of the response they receive from friends and family. Every day, the bigotry machine on the right is working to not only stop us from gaining ground, but to actually roll back our hard-won advances. (A few of the latest examples, the Governor and Attorney General in Virginia who removed LGBTQ protections from state workers and advised public schools and colleges to do the same, and, our marriage loss in Maine.)
In his coming out letter, Ricky Martin wrote,
This was not supposed to happen 5 or 10 years ago, it is supposed to happen now. Today is my day, this is my time, and this is my moment.
That of course is true because it is his life. All I can do is respect that. But I ask others not yet out, make this your time, too.
I'm happy Ricky Martin found the strength to come out, and I sincerely congratulate him. I'm sure his journey, like those of Constance McMillen, Derrick Martin, and countless other youth, and even adults who choose to come out after decades of living in the closet, was not an easy one. But I fervently believe we are all in this together.
To those who are living in the closet, afraid of what they may lose, I urge you to think of how much more you will gain, and I urge you to consider how much good you could do for yourself and for your community, by taking that step to come out, and live proud.
Now, more than ever, we desperately need you.