I was the first student to come out in my Connecticut high school. It happened right around the time when Will & Grace first premiered and the teachers and administrators didn’t know what to do with me. They begrudgingly let me take my first boyfriend to prom, sport a rainbow sticker on my messenger bag, and use a quote from the Broadway musical Rent, which starred actor Anthony Rapp, under my photo in our senior yearbook.
I experienced bullying from students and teachers, but I looked to out celebrities and notables to envision my future adult life. Rapp is among the first out actors I remember seeing. He was visible when it wasn’t regularly acceptable for actors or people in the public eye to be open about who they were. Rapp released a solo album when I was in high school which included the song “Just Some Guy,” the first song about a same-sex relationship that I ever listened to. It opened with the lyrics: “So he’s holding me in his arms, and he’s giving me sweet little kisses.” I never heard a guy sing about another guy that way. I listened to it on repeat. Over and over. Over 17 years later, it’s still on my iPhone and I smile when it comes on my shuffle.
Just by being a confident queer man living in New York City, Rapp gave me hope about what was possible for my own life. His music, his acting, his writings, and his refusal to live in a closet, inspired me and made my own coming out easier.
It’s one of the reasons why I found Kevin Spacey’s response this weekend to Rapp’s story of unwanted sexual advances so egregious. Rapp — along with brave and talented actors like Wilson Cruz — paved the way for LGBTQ actors and people to live their truths. Spacey did the opposite.
Spacey apologized to Rapp for the unwanted sexual advances and in a bizarre and unacceptable twist, blamed being intoxicated. He also announced that he was “choosing now to live life as a gay man.” You don’t choose to be gay or bi, but you do sometimes get to choose how to come out.
After nearly a decade of running communications for the LGBTQ advocacy organization GLAAD, I know first-hand the power of coming out stories. I’ve had the privilege of working behind-the-scenes or via public press statements on the stories of NFL player Michael Sam, Ricky Martin, Jay-Z’s mom Gloria Carter, trans actor Chaz Bono, bi actress Amber Heard, country music star Cody Alan, trans model Andreja Pejic, Anderson Cooper, WNBA star Brittney Griner, and most recently trans Survivor contestant Zeke Smith.
For LGBTQ people, coming out can be a moment of pride, nervousness, and freedom. When you’re in the public eye, living out and proud doesn’t only give LGBTQ people stories to relate to, like Rapp did for me, but the act of coming out reaches countless people around the world and can better equip them to embrace their own LGBTQ children, classmates, coworkers, or family members.
For Spacey, coming out was a crisis communications tactic used to deflect away from accusations of unwanted sexual advances. His PR team no doubt hoped the LGBTQ community would welcome him and wave a rainbow flag, but they neglected to realize that the LGBTQ community has a long memory. We remember that Spacey lived in a “glass closet” — many in Hollywood knew he had relationships with men, but he refused to talk about his sexual orientation in a public way. He even had the audacity to joke about his sexual orientation when hosting the Tony Awards earlier this year.
The allegations of sexual assault against Spacey are reprehensible, and so is his desire to exploit such an important rite of passage for LGBTQ people.
Rapp, and other survivors of sexual assault who speak out, deserve our full support and backing. But Rapp also deserves our community’s gratitude for opening the door for out actors in Hollywood. He’s indeed a lot more than “Just Some Guy.”
Rich Ferraro is the Chief Communications Officer at GLAAD. Follow GLAAD’s work on twitter @GLAAD.
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