Rick Mercer, the comedian, is wrong, terribly wrong, about the moral obligation he would put on gay people in public life.
“I know gay cops, soldiers, athletes, cabinet ministers,” the 42-year-old Mr. Mercer, who is gay, said on his CBC-TV show this week. Gay teenagers need them as role models, he said, because gay teens are being bullied, and some take their own lives – Jamie Hubley, just 15, of Ottawa, did so this month. “If you’re gay and you’re in public life. . . you can’t be invisible any more.”
With the best of intentions, Mr. Mercer would impose a burden on gay people that is on no one else in our society. And anyone who did not bear up under that burden would be, by implication, a moral failure – a coward. That is a very big burden, indeed.
How different (and yet not so different) it is from the burden of recent times in which gay people felt they had to keep their orientation secret, even from family members. One of the signal victories of the past few decades has been to free gay people from the burden of secrecy. Should they now be placed under an obligation of openness?
That would not be fair. There are many reasons why some gay cops, soldiers, athletes and politicians might wish not to be open about their orientation. They may consider it a private matter. They have entered these professions for the same reason anyone else has and wish to pursue them in the same way, without differentiating themselves in a way that may feel, to them, irrelevant. They may even be “out” to the people who know them well. Would every gay person now need to hold a news conference?
And yet Mr. Mercer may be right that if all gay athletes, soldiers, etc., were somehow able to make their orientation known far and wide, it would reduce the power of stereotype and spread tolerance. It might weaken the position of the bullies, or at least give comfort to vulnerable gay teens.
What Mr. Mercer is saying amounts to this: it falls to successful gay adults to protect vulnerable gay teens from the problems associated with being different.
He’s wrong. The job of protecting gay teens or anyone else from bullying falls to everyone.
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