Why Clay Aiken’s Coming Out Matters

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In and of itself, the fact that singer Clay Aiken finally came out as gay in People magazine means no more than if he had said he were right-handed or had blue eyes. In the larger sense, though, Aiken’s admission — hard on the heels of his new son’s birth — is extremely important.

While the former “American Idol” runner-up is a very talented vocalist, I can’t be classified as a Claymate. His past work with disadvantaged children around the world, however, impresses me greatly and always has. His stand for human decency and his commitment to his faith do as well. Those things don’t change because he revealed his personal truth.

That revelation will have impressive ripples in society too. Sure, there are some idiots who will reject him; perhaps a minority of his rabid fan base will repudiate him. More people will cheer him or shrug and say, “Whatever.” Either way, that’s good.

“We congratulate Clay for making this decision and for setting an example for others and his family,” Neil Giuliano, president of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation told People. “As we’re seeing, more and more gay people, including celebrities, are living openly and honestly, and this has tremendous impact in terms of creating awareness, understanding and acceptance.”

Aiken’s coming out also has the ability to bring ignorant people out of the darkness and into the light of true justice. As Family Equality Council Executive Director Jennifer Chrisler told the magazine, “Much like Rosie O’Donnell, the announcement that Clay Aiken is gay reinforces a simple reality: the American public can no longer say it does not know a gay or lesbian parent. Clay Aiken’s desire to raise a child in an open and honest manner will make his life, and his son’s, all the better.”

In my own experience, it has been amazing to see once-homophobic people blossom into tolerant, more loving individuals after they find out someone they know and care for is gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. I am so proud of my mother in so many ways and for so many things, but mostly because of her growth as a person. Mom has never been hateful toward gay people. When my best friend came out nearly 30 years ago, she embraced him when his own parents would not.

She still, however, saw “differences” between gays and heterosexuals, and being Catholic, she could not wrap her brain around the idea of gays becoming parents or marrying. But over the years, even as we both grew tired of debating with one another, she paid close attention to the work I was doing and, more importantly, to what was happening in the world.

One day a few years ago, I was at Mom’s house and the two of us were watching the news on television. A story came on about the issue of marriage equality. I paid minimal attention to the piece until my mother’s voice emerged in opposition to a right-wing pundit going nuts about “the sanctity of traditional marriage.” “What does his religion have to do with anything? Isn’t there separation of church and state? Equal is equal — if I can marry the person I want, why not the gays?”

Yeah. I was stunned. And proud — particularly because she came to that way of thinking of her own volition and because she really thought about the effects the law has on people she knows and loves.

I would wager Aiken’s mother, who has known the truth for four years, is traveling a similar path, as many Claymates will be. That is good news for anyone who really believes in equality under law for all. The truth is, acceptance can take time in a society where even decent people can be conditioned to discriminate. Look at my mom: In time, she realized the truth. Others will too.

People also presents a story printed shortly after Parker Aiken’s August 8 birth that featured former “Idol” contestants offering congratulations to their friend. Each one makes a point of mentioning that Clay is a role model doing good things for the world. Let’s hope they still feel the same way, because he is a role model, and now he’s a better one for having chosen the road of truth.

Aiken’s artfully handled coming-out also presents a family: Aiken, his friend Jaymes Foster, and their little two-month-old darling, Parker. No one can say that GLBT people can’t be devoted to faith and family if they hope to be taken at all seriously. If many conservative types fell for the delusion that they didn’t know any gay people or gays with children before, they now have a living, breathing example who comes from the Bible Belt. They’ll see the adorable picture of father and son on newsstands all over town.

natalie-davis.gifIf right-wingers disparage Aiken and Foster or cause difficulty for that beautiful boy and his family, those “family-values” conservatives will be outed before the public: Yes, they’re judgmental, anti-family, control-freak hypocrites!

by Natalie Davis

Natalie Davis is an award-winning investigative reporter and interviewer who has worked in print and broadcast journalism since 1979. She earned her stripes working for WCVT, WRKA (Louisville), WCBM, CBS-Baltimore, and Sirius Satellite Radio (New York) and as a contributing writer and editor at the Baltimore Alternative and the City Paper alternative weeklies in Baltimore and Washington. Her writings have appeared in publications (print and online) around the world, including the Baltimore Sun, the Baltimore Afro, Music Monthly, Out Magazine, Metro Weekly, Bay Windows, Business Credit, Mademoiselle, Institutional Investor, and many more. A committed pacifist, Davis is also a respected progressive-issues activist, organizer, musician, and public speaker. She co-founded and still moderates the Baltimore Activists Coalition and established the still-vital The Armchair Activist effort, which promotes citizen action for peace, GLBT equality, feminism, progressive issues, and human rights. Additonally, she operates Grateful Dread Public Radio, a community service Internet radio station. Her blog, All Facts and Opinions, resides at http://gratefuldread.net.

Published by the LA Progressive on September 26, 2008
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Comments

  1. I don’t know why I received this article so late (Jan 2010) but I am so glad I received it.

    Natalie Davis, your article is so well written. As a big Clay fan and the mother of 2 gay sons I really appreciate it.
    I will pass this article out to friends and family.

    Thank you.

  2. Patricia Glass says:

    Great piece! I agree with every word, which cannot be said often. I wonder if this will have any effect on Prop 8 voters, for good or ill.

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