On Monday, I heard that Rev. Grant Storms had been busted masturbating near a children’s playground. I wasn’t surprised, as I was familiar with Storms’ vocal anti-gay protests in Louisiana, and sadly, that’s how these types of stories usually end. I attended Southern Decadence this past September, nicknamed the “gay Mardi Gras,” and Storms and his crew were out on Bourbon St. with their bullhorns telling the revelers that they were going to Hell (after dying from AIDS). People in the northeast — save perhaps the brave people who staff abortion clinics — are simply never exposed to these types of mass public displays of hatred. Louisiana is really the epicenter of the anti-gay movement; Tony Perkins, President of the Family Research Council, got his start in the Louisiana State Legislature.
Unsurprisingly, the story got picked up nationally. LGBTers around the country started to mock Storms as yet another in long line of bigoted weirdos and closet-cases, including Larry Craig, Ted Haggard, and George Alan Rekers. Dan Choi took to Twitter to pile on, as did many prominent LGBT bloggers. By far the most common argument I’ve seen is that Storms is a hypocrite — the theory being that if you don’t support equal rights for gays and lesbians, you really shouldn’t be masturbating near a park. Even Storms himself said he “understand[s] the hypocrisy.”
Honestly, though, I’m not sure if “hypocrisy” is the best way to describe this phenomenon. Assume for a second that you know you are gay, but you also hold extremely anti-gay political and moral views. Logically speaking, it is actually less hypocritical to stay in the closet. You disapprove of your own sexual orientation, so you hide it, and go about your business trying to take away the rights of those who are openly gay, unashamed, and demanding equal treatment. And if by “going about your business,” that includes jerking off in your van, that doesn’t really have to do with anything.
Without diminishing the repellent behavior of Storms, Rekers, Haggard, et al., I am increasingly troubled by another form of gay hyprocrisy — the prominent members of society who are living an actively gay lifestyle in the public eye but refuse to actually come out of the closet. We could all list a dozen or so celebrities who “everyone knows” are gay, but who have yet to publicly confirm this is the case. But why would you hide such a thing if being gay wasn’t shameful or embarrassing? And “privacy” only goes so far when you’re going to hardcore New York gay bars and attending gay parties with your boyfriend. If you’re going to host New Year’s Eve with Kathy Griffin and make jokes about balls, it’s probably time to say, “I’m gay.”
I don’t mean to pick on Cooper, because as I said, there are many more like him. But I’m concerned that the broader LGBT community gives these people a complete pass while coming down hard on closted anti-gay people who pretty clearly have mental issues. I was lucky; many people have truly terrible coming out stories and are therefore much more forgiving about each person going through his or her personal journey at a pace of their choosing. But I’m not sure how much longer that argument will suffice. Poll after poll after poll has shown that the most salient factor in someone’s support for LGBT equality is whether or not they are personally familiar with a gay person. If you’re going to join a campaign telling suicidal LGBT kids that “it gets better,” shouldn’t you, you know, tell them that you know personally that it gets better?
Obviously I’d rather there were more closeted gay people who are supportive of LGBT equality than bigots like Storms who are actively fighting against us. But I’m increasingly of the view that this is a classic case of the “free rider problem,” where generations past of gay activists have put everything on the line to get us where we are today — where someone can be rich, famous, going to gay bars, even marry their partner! — and still not actually come out of the closet. The problem is that the data about changing people’s minds doesn’t lie. People in positions of privilege who are living lifestyles that are only possible because of the strides of the LGBT movement should think about giving back. And all they have to do is say, “I’m gay.”