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His open-closet policy

Perez Hilton presses online for gay celebs to come out. He believes it's all for the best.

November 20, 2006|Robin Abcarian | Times Staff Writer

THE white-hot center of the celebrity gossip world is currently a back table at a heavily trafficked Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf on Sunset Boulevard, just west of Fairfax. There, Perez Hilton, a slightly pudgy, recently blonded 28-year-old Cuban American blogger, has leveraged his reign as "queen of all media" to become a one-man celebrity outing operation, doing his best to uncloset as many gay celebrities as he can, because, as he sees it, they have forfeited their right to privacy on that point.

"In American culture, a lot of people still think that being gay is bad, and that being gay will hurt your career. I generally don't think that," said Hilton, whose real name is Mario Lavandeira. He began using his made-up Web moniker full time after getting death threats from Clay Aiken fans who didn't appreciate Hilton's calling the singer Clay Gay-kin. (Aiken has denied being gay.)

Styling himself a "gossip gangsta," Hilton picks heroes and villains (Angelina Jolie = good, Jennifer Aniston = bad), elevates obscure figures to fame (the bodaciously endowed British model Jordan) and never tires of ragging on Lindsay Lohan, of whom he delights in posting vulgar photographs.

But it is the absolutely brutal way he demands that gay actors avow their sexuality, coupled with the huge readership of his site, that is something of a departure, even in the rough-and-tumble world of celebrity blogs.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday November 21, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 52 words Type of Material: Correction
Perez Hilton: An article in Monday's Calendar section about celebrity blogger Perez Hilton misidentified the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation as the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Discrimination. The article also quoted Hilton as saying that the Advocate magazine had a readership of 70,000. The magazine says its circulation is 145,000.

"I am not some safe, cookie cutter, queer-eye-for-the-straight-guy homo," said Hilton, who pings between comedy and gross vulgarity on his site. "I am dangerous. I am gonna push the envelope. I am gonna be who I am: a loud, gay Latino that has opinions and in my own way, subserviently, I am trying to make the world a better place."

It is true that Hilton does not take credit for the recent spate of revelations by the actors Neil Patrick Harris and T.R. Knight and the former 'N Sync band member Lance Bass. But, at least with Bass and Harris, Hilton kept up a drumbeat about their sexual orientation. Some think the relentless attention may have played a part in their decisions. He agreed, up to a point.

"I am never gonna take ownership of someone's coming out -- that's their moment, and their decision," Hilton said Tuesday evening, twisting his baseball cap around as he sat at his "desk" in the Coffee Bean with his indispensable laptop and pink Sidekick. "I will say that I may be leading the conversation, and I might grease the wheel and make it easier for them."

Even serious-minded thinkers on the subject do not disagree. "Nowadays, it's the blogs that get it going," said USC professor Larry Gross, author of "Contested Closets: The Politics and Ethics of Outing." "In the previous round of outing in the early '90's, everybody wanted to be first to be second. No one wanted to take the heat for starting it, but the blog phenomenon has changed that by lowering the threshold to the point that other media can't avoid it. What we are now seeing is Outing 2.0"

This year, Hilton practically trilled, "there have been six -- well, 5 1/2 if you count Ted Haggard -- notable people that have come out as gay or lesbian, by choice or not." In addition to Knight, Harris and Bass, he cites ex-Florida Rep. Mark Foley and a TV actress who has not publicly acknowledged she is gay.

In 2004, Hilton added, there was only one notable gay person who stepped out of the closet: James McGreevey, who resigned as governor of New Jersey when he came out. "It's gone from one to 5 1/2 ," said Hilton. "Wow, wow, wow. That's progress, whether we like it or not."

With more than 2.5 million hits a day on the site, Hilton wields tremendous power. "I don't want to sound full of myself, but if I had not been talking about Lance Bass as much as I was before he came out, there is no way he would have gotten the cover of People magazine. He would have gone about it the traditional way, coming out on the cover of the Advocate, which is read by 70,000 people instead of the 3.4 million who read People every week. So I offered him this silver platter, you could say."

Still, in the arena of true breakthroughs, said Gross, the gay world is still waiting for its Jackie Robinson equivalent, an A-lister who would make it OK for others to come out. In that regard, he said, Hilton's efforts are "salutary, because we are still living in a double-standard world ... where there is something shameful about sexuality. The fact that someone is gay only will become neutral information when it's treated that way, not as a bombshell revelation or a dirty story."

Hilton already operates as though that is the case. He wishes that gay celebrities who don't want to talk about their private lives could just say, "Yes, I am gay and I don't want to talk about my private life."

He does not own a TV or read books and has no Internet at home. He is a voracious consumer of magazines, though, and has a network of trusted friends and tipsters who, he said, have yet to lead him astray.

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