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Rachel Maddow on Ethics of Gays Coming Out

Coming Out: A Question of Ethics or Status?

It's not easy being gay. Come out and risk homophobia-induced repercussions from backward-thinking straight (and gay) people; stay in and risk the scorn of the gay and lesbian community.

Yesterday The Guardian insinuated Rachel Maddow criticized a popular journalist for not being openly gay in an interview. "I'm sure other people in the business have considered reasons why they're doing what they're doing," she's quoted saying. "But I do think that if you're gay you have a responsibility to come out."

Maddow later called the paper out, saying she wasn't referring to anyone specific (and more specifically Anderson Cooper) or saying all gay people must come out. But in admitting that, she illuminated a dilemma gay people face with her three tenets of "the ethics of coming out." See what they are.

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"I've long held three basic beliefs about the ethics of coming out:

  1. Gay people — generally speaking — have a responsibility to our own community and to future generations of gay people to come out, if and when we feel that we can.
  2. We should all get to decide for ourselves the 'if and when we feel that we can' part of that.
  3. Closeted people should reasonably expect to be outed by other gay people if (and only if) they prey on the gay community in public, but are secretly gay themselves."

The idea that coming out is a question of ethics seems both forward and backward. Forward because the out-of-the-closet majority can now influence, even pressure, the closeted minority; backward because it's even necessary. The Guardian drama aside, she does unintentionally say coming out is not just about ethics but also status. It's what smart, liberated gay people do — a noblesse oblige — which inevitably marginalizes those who don't.

Forget altruism and consider this question: how much pressure to come out comes from the gay community itself?

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