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Public Good--or Private Matters? : Advocates of 'outing' gay celebrities and powerbrokers say the process is just a part of gaining equality. But critics say it's crossing the line between gossip and news.

April 20, 1995|IRENE LACHER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"There's just more of a pack mentality in media these days where high-minded news organizations are much more willing to follow their low-rent cousins into reporting sleazy or sensational stories. And that's obviously true not just about stories about homosexuals. The main thing is the Gennifer Flowers syndrome--once a salacious story is out, we can't keep it from our readers and viewers anymore."

But some outing proponents see the Wenner story as symptomatic of positive changes in the culture, namely a growing acceptance of homosexuality.

"I think activism directly and indirectly created it," Signorile says. "ACT UP and Queer Nation generally put a face to AIDS and gay issues in general and had a ripple effect throughout our society and culture. So many people came out of the closet--gay journalists and celebrities. Previously, even the most liberal editors deep down thought saying someone was gay was the most horrible thing imaginable.

"Thirty years ago, it might have been the most horrible thing to say a celebrity was having a baby out of wedlock. Homosexuality is reaching the point where no matter what you think about it, it's not the most horrible thing to report. It won't ruin someone forever."

These days, outing seems to be picking up steam. This month alone, an Advocate cover featured two Oscar nominees whose sexual orientation has sparked rumors. Spy magazine ran a story alleging the existence of a "gay Mafia" of Hollywood powerbrokers.

And model Rachel Williams may have become the first celebrity to be "inned." The New York Post reported that she'd left her girlfriend, British pop singer Alice Temple, to return to her ex-boyfriend, Manhattan restaurateur Eric Goode, and that she was pregnant with his child. Williams' manager reportedly denied that his client's lesbian relationship was over.

"Diligent culture observers who had only just learned how to use the phrase lesbian super-model were now confronted with another oxymoron to reclassify-- closet straight --and with it the concept of reverse outing," Ariel Kaminer wrote in New York magazine.

Irony aside, one of the biggest proponents of outing hopes for the day when such reports no longer make news.

Says Maupin: "I went through a lot of pain during the Rock Hudson episode, because I felt completely misunderstood. What I hated most of all was the notion that I'd been engaging in sleaze by discussing in a calm manner someone's homosexuality. That term is still used today in reference to outing-- sleaze-- once again suggesting that the discussion of homosexuality is sleazy but heterosexual affairs are romantic.

"And I've gradually watched the world changing around me. I hope I live long enough to see the whole thing become a non-issue. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could just celebrate whoever anyone chooses to love in this world?"

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