The first TV interview I ever did, after becoming the first openly gay priest ever to be elected bishop in the Episcopal Church, was with Anderson Cooper. I was new to the national media and a neophyte at such notoriety, but still, Anderson seemed nervous and uncomfortable. I wondered if he was distracted by other important news, simply uninterested in matters religious, or uncomfortable to be a closeted gay man wanting to stay as far away as possible from anything gay.
Coming out is an intensely personal decision, and I would be the last person to judge harshly anyone who chose not to do so. Still, as Mr. Cooper’s sexual orientation moved from rumor to open secret, I wondered why. In a rather elegant explanation to a friend, which he recently allowed to become public, Anderson Cooper has publicly come out. I am grateful to him for that, and yes, I think it matters.
It matters to the young gay kid in Anywhere, USA, who, despite the strides forward we have made, still wonders if being gay is okay. It matters that gay and lesbian kids have role models, especially the likes of Anderson Cooper, who has to be the hardest working journalist in America. It matters that that kid can see someone gay who excels at what he does with his life. It matters that Mr. Cooper has now said openly, “The fact is, I’m gay, always have been, always will be, and I couldn’t be any more happy, comfortable with myself, and proud.” Those are the words every gay kid wants to be able to say about themselves.
It even matters to me, a publicly gay figure. Fighting this battle for acceptance – in the church and in the society – can get lonely. Despite the increasing numbers of openly gay public figures, it can be isolating and lonely on the front lines, and as every war combatant can tell you, it helps to have comrades who have your back – even if that comrade has merely announced the colors he’s wearing in this fight.
It also may turn out to be surprisingly important to Anderson himself. A dear friend and colleague, Tom Shaw, bishop of Massachusetts, came out in the new documentary “Love Free or Die.” His identity as a gay man, albeit a celibate monk as well, was a rather open secret too, and his coming out was not a surprise to most people in and beyond his diocese. But since the film’s January premiere, I have noticed a lightness to his spirit, a surprising lift in his witness to the Gospel, and an ease about his life that was not present before. I hope that Anderson is pleasantly surprised by the difference it makes in his own life.
At its best, the religious life encourages and enables us to live lives of integrity and authenticity. For me, as a religious person, I credit God’s acceptance of and love for me for my happiness as a gay man, while most of the world still condemns me. I don’t know what motivated Anderson Cooper to come out at this time, in this way. But I do know it matters. It especially matters to that gay kid who wants someday to be able to say, along with Anderson Cooper, “I couldn’t be any more happy, comfortable with myself, and proud.”
Mr. Cooper, welcome to the light!
Bishop Gene Robinson, ninth bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire, is author of “God Believes in Love: Straight Talk about Gay Marriage,” which is set to be released in September. Follow him on Twitter @BishopGRobinson