There’s no time like the present, it’s often said. And if you’re a gay man in the United States, the proverb may very well be your truth. But it took some time to get here.
It might sound like far-fetched, dystopian fiction to Millennials, but gay Baby Boomers certainly remember that the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 prohibited homosexuals from freely entering or leaving America—a law that wasn’t overturned until 1991. In 1972, the dawn of the disco era, the Supreme Court ruled that homosexuality was immoral and grounds for termination. That doesn’t even count the thousands of brutal hate crimes committed against gay Americans, or the cutting words and casual, bigoted epithets, the flamboyant stereotypes in pop culture, and the commonly-played schoolyard games like “Smear the Queer.”
In the last decade, though, a sea change of progress has been made on the gay rights front, including the recent ruling by 19 states, plus Washington, D.C., that same-sex couples can marry. However difficult to believe, it’s only in the previous 10 years that sexual activity between same-sex, consenting adults was finally ruled legal; that discrimination based on sexual orientation was finally outlawed (in 21 states); that hate crimes based on sexual orientation were made outlaw (4 years ago); and that job discrimination against gays violates the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Perhaps just as significantly, public acceptance of same-sex couples is finally expanding to the majority of Americans. For all the winds of change that have moved through a country that often boasts of being “the land of the free,” there is still much work to do before genuine, lasting equality exists for the gay man in America. At least, that’s what Men’s Health heard from our panel of experts: To commemorate Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Month, we asked openly gay actors, athletes, writers, musicians, and movers and shakers to share their thoughts and stories about the state of equal rights in America. It’s never been better than it is right now, they say—but there’s still a whole lot of work to do.
Photo credit: Kurt Iswarienko
Robbie Rogers, MLS Player
The 27-year old Rogers, an NCAA champion, MLS Cup winner, and Olympic veteran, became the first openly gay professional sports player in North America when he came out in February 2013, then signed with the Los Angeles Galaxy a few months later. His autobiography, Coming Out to Play, will be released in November.
“For me, coming out was about realizing I was created this way for a reason, and that I have a purpose. But I thought obsessively about it for a long time, and I didn’t really have anyone I could talk to about it. I didn’t have any gay role models, which is one of the reasons I work today with groups like GLSEN and BEYOND ‘it’, which connects me to younger adults and kids who are struggling with similar things as I did. Organizations like this are a huge change from when I was a kid.
I realized for sure that I was gay when I was around 16, but I knew I was ‘different’ from an early age, maybe 5 or 6. Words like ‘gay’ or ‘faggot’ really affected me; they made me cringe. I don’t think I coped well, and at times, I just went into a shell where I wouldn’t share my feelings with anyone. I definitely think 2014 is a better time to be a gay man or woman in America, but there is still so much to be done.
Sure, a gay person can be married in 19 states. But 19 states? That’s not even half of them. And have you ever read some of the horrible comments [about gay people] on Yahoo? Some people are still very ignorant, and at times very hateful. I think our world, in general, is changing, but in certain countries you can still be killed for being gay. Until we are first-class citizens everywhere, we must continue to push for equality.”
Photo courtesy of Wade Davis
Wade Davis, Former NFL Cornerback and Executive Director, You Can Play Project
The 36-year old football player anxiously kept his sexual orientation a closely held secret through all of his locker room years. After enduring abuse in his early childhood, Davis was “hyper-vigilant” about his sexuality in the NFL, pouring over post-game film to make he wasn’t “running too gay or standing too gay or walking too gay.” Leading You Can Play since September 2013, Davis endeavors to eradicate homophobia in professional sports, routinely providing sensitivity and diversity training and life skills to management, coaches, and players alike.
“My last year playing in the NFL, I still wasn’t being open about who I was, and the coach was talking about wasted motion on the field—specifically in my back pedal as I was coming out of my break. That’s a really important thing. The wasted motion prevents you from being your most efficient. So I’m watching the film with the coach and I’m thinking, ‘Wow, I’m working so hard to make sure nobody knows who I really am, and that is an immense amount of wasted motion.’
I can’t think of a worse kind of wasted motion—as much as you’re trying to move forward, you’re moving backwards at the same time. Secrets and shame, that’s wasted real estate in your mind. When you live your life openly, when you invite people in, you can finally start breathing. There’s a lot less wasted motion in your life. Athletes start playing better because they’re living better.
There’s also this huge problem in football: Once you announce to the world that you’re gay, you’re no longer an NFL player. You’re a gay NFL player. There are so many athletes who grow up just wanting to play in the NFL, but now there’s this modifier in front of their name. That’s problematic for a lot of guys. It’s like when you call a quarterback a black quarterback; you’re only using that modifier to express that it’s unusual or to impact the word that’s coming after it.
Tom Brady is never called a white quarterback, but Michael Vick is often referred to as a black quarterback. [Recently signed St. Louis Rams defensive end] Michael Sam doesn’t want to be known as a gay football player; he wants to be known as a football player. So there’s a big loss of identity for a lot of players once they actually come out. They’re no longer a football player, the thing they’ve been their entire lives—now they’re the gay football player.
That said, the Michael Sam story gives me a very beautiful outlook on our country. He comes from Missouri, where there are a lot of stereotypes about the people who live there and how intolerant they can be. But they embraced the hell out of Michael Sam. They actually created a human barrier around him when Westboro Baptist Church showed up to protest against him. So maybe we’ve got the Midwest wrong. Then you look at the team he’s on, right? So many people say, ‘Sports are homophobic.’ Not one player on his team said they had any problem with his coming out, and the team actually played better after he did.
Michael Sam played better. Most of his teammates are black, too, and there’s another stereotype that a lot of blacks are homophobic. His team pretty much embraced him. A lot of people who weren’t ‘supposed’ to love a guy like Michael Sam showed him a lot of love. So in 2014, our country is moving to a space of acceptance. There are pockets of idiots everywhere, of course, but I think those people are becoming the minority.”
Photo credit: MJT/AdMedia/AdMedia/Corbis
Lance Bass, Pop Star and Filmmaker
Since coming out in 2006, the 35-year old erstwhile NSYNC pop star has produced two films, the autobiographical Mississippi: I AM (available on iTunes) and Kidnapped for Christ, a Slamdance Festival award-winner airing on Showtime July 10. Earlier this summer, Bass released his first new music in 12 years, the buoyant single, “Walking on Air.” But it took years of living in fear of being “found out” before Bass was finally able to live his life in sync.
“When I was in NSYNC, I was known as the shy guy, the quiet one. That’s so not me. I don’t stop talking! But that whole time, the one thing that was on my mind is, ‘I hope no one finds out who I really am.’ So I rarely spoke. I didn’t want anyone to hear a ‘gay lisp’ or hear me say ‘so’ too much because, of course, that means you’re gay. You second-guess every single thing about your life when you’re in that place, and it turns you into a different person. It’s a prison.
By the time I came out, I was very comfortable with who I was in my private life, but the media started coming around more often, wanting to break the ‘news’ about me being gay, so I figured that was the time to do it. Just get it out. The only reason I hadn’t come out sooner, really, was I thought NSYNC was going to be making another record, and I didn’t want to hurt the band. You’ve got to understand, in 2000 and 2001, the whole world was a different ballgame. If anyone was thought to be gay back then, the public really hated them, and we already had tons of people making fun of us because we were a boy band.
I just didn’t feel like being gay would work [with the public] back then. I knew the guys in the band would be fine with who I was—they’re some of my best friends in the world—but I was worried our audience wouldn’t accept it, and I was also worried that a kid in a boy band coming out would harm the gay community in some way, too. I felt like everyone and everything I cared about would become an easy target, so I hid.
In 2014, it would be great for someone in a band to come out. Most of the fans would embrace and support it, and it might even bring in a new fan base. So I’m very happy it’s 2014. Things are so much better—even just in the last year, the way the whole sports world is catching up with all of this. Most of the players don’t care. Most of the fans don’t care. They just want to know, ‘Can you catch the ball’ or ‘can you sing the song?’
There are still some people who get really creeped out by a gay couple holding hands, walking down the street, but they’re the same people who stare at a black and white couple holding hands and that civil rights movement is more than 50 years old. There are still people who haven’t come around after all that time. So there’s still work to do, but this is definitely a good year, and I’m trying to do my part with these films I’m making. I feel like I’ve been blessed to have a voice in this world, and I’m doing my best to use it for good.”
Photo courtesy of WWE
Darren Young, WWE Superstar
One of his signature moves in the pro-wrestling ring is the “corner clothesline,” and 30-year old Darren Young—a.k.a. Mr. No Days Off—feared the public revelation of his sexual orientation might deliver a blow even more debilitating than that to his career. When Young came out to a TMZ reporter at LAX’s baggage claim last August, he didn’t know what would happen next. Would WWE, for whom he’s been a star attraction since 2010, drop him? Would his fans bail? And what about his family?
“In the moment I was talking to the guy from TMZ, I felt like I’d done the right thing—I’d just finally been honest out loud about who I am. But by the time I got back to my hotel room, I was nervous, I was sick, I was throwing up. It was a fear of the unknown to me. I was fearful of losing friends. I was fearful of losing my job. I was just afraid. I called my buddy, Trouble (that’s his nickname), and asked him what I should do. He told me to call WWE and let them know what happened, and the organization didn’t even hesitate. They said, ‘It’s going to be ok.’
The next day, I was booked to do an anti-bullying rally for WWE, this ‘Be A Star’ event. The news had already broken big about me being gay. I didn’t think I could do the appearance. But [WWE part owner and Chief Brand Officer] Stephanie McMahon said, ‘Just do it. It’s going to be fine.’ And it was.
A day after I came out, I was there at that event, talking to kids who were being bullied and struggling with a lot of the same things I was dealing with, and that’s turned into something I do a lot now. I travel the world talking to kids who are having a hard time, which is just incredible to me. I mean, being a kid was tough for me in a lot of ways. I was an overweight kid, very heavy, and on top of that, I had a speech impediment, a stuttering problem. And I was gay.
When I came out, I was really worried what my grandfather was going to think. He’s really old school. But when my mom told him I was gay, my grandfather said, ‘I don’t care if he’s black, blue, or green; he’s my grandson.’ That meant a lot to me.
I just feel so lucky to be able to share all of that now and what I’m seeing is that being open and honest about who I am is helping other people become open and honest about who they are. I see great strides being made in 2014 in regards to equality and stopping bullying. It’s a work in progress, for sure, but acceptance is so important and it’s getting better. I just want to live my life now as an example to men, women, and children all over the world.”
Image courtesy of The Weather Channel
Sam Champion, managing editor/meteorologist of The Weather Channel and its morning show, America’s Morning Headquarters
After more than two decades as the self-described “only gay news man in New York”—his sexual orientation was known to most colleagues, but not the public—Champion came out in October 2012 and married his longtime partner, Rubem Robierb, in December of that year.
“I’d never really talked about my private life because I’m kind of from a different era or generation. As a journalist, I always felt my stories were more important than my personal life. That’s how it was in the news business when I was young and coming up in the industry. You don’t tell your story; you tell the story. But time changes these things, and generations change these things. Coming out hasn’t changed the way I do my job at all—it’s always been who I am—but it has changed a little bit the way the audience relates or connects to me.
With social media, I get immediate feedback from my viewers. People understand who I am and then they choose to get information from me because I’m honest about who I am, or they choose not to. The way I see it is: we all want peace, we all want happiness, we all want someone to love us, and we all want prosperity for ourselves and our loved ones.
Focusing on our similarities is so much more positive and effective, I think, than focusing on the differences, and I’m very encouraged by the shift to that focus I’m seeing in the younger generation. To them, there are many, many important things about your character—are you good and loyal and trusting and generous?—but who you love or have sex with isn’t part of that.
Personally, I’ve never, ever been remotely interested in who a political leader or a Hollywood celebrity is having sex with. I have been, however, interested in who I was having sex with. Sex, for me, is really only ever a thought or a conversation I was going to have with someone I was potentially going to have sex with! One of the great shifts I’ve seen recently, and certainly in 2014, is that more and more people are talking about these things openly. That’s important, not just because it allows a person to be honest and open and proud of who they are, but because, a generation ago and further back, when we held all of these things secret, some people would use that information, those secrets, against you. So the more we talk about these things, the more accepting we can become as a society and the freer we can be as individuals.”
Photo credit: Jeff Burton
Bret Easton Ellis, bestselling author and screenwriter
Now 50, the former boy wonder who published Less Than Zero when he was only 21, has always been a provocateur—a contrarian voice that occasionally ruffles feathers in the press. Early in his career, Ellis remained closeted, at least publicly, to avoid his work being ghettoized as “gay literature,” which he says was very common in the 1980s and ’90s. Ellis eventually came out in 2012, and has with frequent op-ed pieces and tweets cultivated “an almost completely negative relationship” with “the gay establishment.” Ellis’ argument? Being gay is simply a single piece of who he is, not a political platform.
“The only thing separating gay and straight is one thing: sex. It’s like, basically, the difference between someone with blue eyes and green eyes, or black hair and blonde hair. I’ve always looked at it that way, and I think younger generations are becoming increasingly bored with the definitions that supposedly separate us all, so the change is here or it’s coming quickly. It’s inevitable, anyway. The next generation will wipe out all of the intolerance.
It’s completely understandable to me the things that have happened in the gay community in recent years and the different kinds of outreach and connection and attempts at empowerment, and I’m sure some of that has done some good for some gay men. That’s cool. But that extremely well meaning, attitude-spouting, often self-victimizing, sanctimonious gay man who’s trying to heal the world or whatever, for some of us who are gay, that’s a fairly intolerable thing.
It’s kind of, like, ‘you’re gay, dude. Man up. Get on with it. Move through this and enjoy your life.’ A lot of us would just like there to be a chill, cool gay representative, you know. A lot of us just recoil every time a celebrity puts that fucking duct tape over their mouth and that dumb NoH8 tattoo on their face.
A lot of us don’t agree that ‘it gets better.’ I’m not sure that it does; what happens is, you get stronger. I know a lot of this is so well-meaning, but I really do believe that there is this giant, silent majority in the gay community that just doesn’t believe getting political about this stuff is the way to go. They’re just guys living their lives. They don’t want to make any statements. They’re just dudes—who happen to have sex with other dudes. That’s it.
I think part of the tension around this subject is that so many people feel like they have to make statements, instead of just living their lives. I’ve always felt that being gay was just something about me that is of no consequence. I don’t care if society says that it is—I know it’s not. I just want to live my life. I don’t want to march in a parade with a rainbow T-shirt on with go-go boys on a float. It puts quotation marks around being gay, and that’s very problematic for a lot of us. It doesn’t mean that we don’t believe in gay rights and gay marriage—I believe in every gay right—but one of those rights is to step aside and not be anybody’s teacher, to not be an example of anything, and to just live my life.
I don’t think there’s some ‘gay world’ that needs to be defended or explained. To me, there’s just the world, and I think in 2014 people, especially younger people, are really living like that. Look at the year between Jason Collins and Michael Sam coming out: Our attitude, collectively, has become sort of, ‘so what?’ That’s a good thing. Maybe that’s being a little too positive, but I think if you talk to people of a certain age, the prevalence of homophobia is definitely diminishing. For those of us who have always believed that’s how the world should be, I think 2014 is bringing us closer to that reality.”
Photo courtesy of Google
Raymond Braun, Social Marketing Manager, YouTube
The 24-year old Braun has a job title at Google that couldn’t have existed anywhere in the universe a few short years ago. He currently spearheads the tech behemoth’s social media campaigns, reaching more than 120 million followers by celebrating and encouraging equality, acceptance, and inclusivity.
“One of the primary reasons why I love my job is that I am continually inspired and amazed by the ways that people use YouTube and social media to broadcast their message, build communities, and catalyze social change. It’s incredible to think that projects like It Gets Better were made possible entirely through YouTube and social media. That’s a huge change for 2014 and in the very recent years. I think this is an incredible case study illustrating the power of social media: how one person, with one YouTube video, could spark a global movement that encompassed celebrities, world leaders, and everyday heroes—all unified to save lives, literally.
I am very passionate about LGBT topics and part of my job is to amplify the conversations happening within the LGBT community on YouTube. Last year, YouTube celebrated global LGBT Pride Month and the Supreme Court’s historic ruling on same sex marriage by launching an online social movement called ‘#ProudToLove.’ This year in celebration of Pride Month and World Cup, the #ProudToPlay campaign is shining a light on the conversations that are happening on YouTube around equality and inclusivity in sports.
I am from a small town in Northwest Ohio. I knew I was gay from a very young age. While public opinion is evolving in the United States every month toward equality, when I was a kid, the majority of Americans did not believe LGBT Americans should have equal rights, particularly in states like Ohio. I didn’t see out, successful LGBT role models in my community. There were very few LGBT characters in television and movies. YouTube didn’t exist, nor did social media in the form we see it today.
In many ways, the message being communicated to me by the media was that LGBT people hardly exist, and if they do, they either conform to very narrow stereotypes or live on the fringe of culture. I found myself feeling isolated and struggling to connect with other LGBT people and understand my own identity—I just didn’t have a good sense of what my future could look like.
I think now about how much it would have meant for me to go to YouTube and watch all sorts of videos made by and for the LGBT community—and every day I think about how youth around the world are still living in communities where they are being told that being LGBT is wrong. YouTube can offer comfort, support, and inspiration to people living in isolation, so it’s incredibly important to highlight the breadth and diversity of our LGBT content and the impact it makes in people’s lives.
Photo courtesy of Thomas Hitzlsperger
Thomas Hitzlsperger, German soccer player
The 32-year old midfielder has 52 caps to his name, as well as stints at the 2006 World Cup and Euro 2008. He’s currently a pundit for German TV (ZDF) and publicly revealed his sexual orientation in January.
“This year has certainly been a great one for me, personally, as a gay man. Same-sex marriage is legal in 19 of the United States and in 11 European countries, so progress is definitely being made. There are still plenty of places around the world, in the U.S. and in Europe, where life for a gay man is very difficult. For me, though, it felt like the right time to come out, and it felt like it would be easier than ever before.
In the world of sports, huge progress has been made, thanks to guys like Michael Sam and Jason Collins. Because they play at the highest level, they’ve changed the perception of how various people in society look at LGBT athletes in professional sports.
There are a lot of other athletes who have also been brave enough to speak up and come out as gay. I’d like to see teams and national federations lay the groundwork for closeted athletes to feel comfortable speaking openly about who they are and eventually come out. Everyone in sports, from management to coaches to players, should know: Sexual orientation just doesn’t matter.
I’ve had so much love and support from family and friends since coming out that’s bolstered me in dealing with any criticisms or hatred from strangers. So for other athletes or men and women still living in the closet, its important to know: there is love and support for you and its okay to be who you are. I’ve taken so much inspiration from every single athlete who’s come out before me, and also from the It Gets Better Project, which has some really encouraging and amazing videos. It does get better.”
Photo credit: Greg Allen
Dave Koz, Grammy-nominated Musician
The 51-year old jazz saxophonist, with several platinum albums and numerous hit singles to his credit, hits the road this summer with his “Summer Horns” tour, featuring pals Gerald Albright, Richard Elliot, and Mindi Abair. It was 10 years ago that the affable sax man hit the first high note of his life, making his sexual orientation public.
“Coming out brought a sea change of positivity into my world—starting with the fact that, for the first time in my life, I was a whole person, playing with a full deck, really putting my feet in my shoes and walking. Since then, in just 10 years, the LGBT community has made unbelievable strides. What’s happening in the young generation today—what’s happening in the movies and on TV, in politics, in the general acceptance that was never there before—is really a beautiful thing. The more visible all of this is, the less ‘different’ it becomes. So 2014 would have to be considered the best year yet to be LGBT—until 2015.
Hopefully, it’ll get better next year. There’s still a long way to go. The idea that you can be married on Monday in California, then travel to Nevada on Tuesday and not be married there, is a gaping hole in the equality process that I think needs to be addressed. Marriage needs to be a federal issue. If you’re an American married in one state, how can you be an American and not married in another state? I think there are more opportunities today, too, for young people in the LGBT community to connect and talk and feel less alone, and that’s an amazing thing.
I mean, I know why I’m here today, and that’s the saxophone. It was my salvation. I didn’t have anyone to talk to back then. It was a different era. I first picked up the saxophone at what is the most awkward time of life for most people: I was 13 years old. Your body’s exploding, but I was also dealing with ‘what the hell is this?’ I was feeling this, and every single thing in the world was telling me that what I was feeling was not only inappropriate, but made me a terrible person. My way of dealing with that was to sink it all into that saxophone.
Why did I become an artist? It has a lot to do with the fact that the saxophone was there for me, the recipient of all of my pain—which is ironic because most of the music I make is pretty upbeat, joyful stuff. Inside of the sound, though, is me, working out a lot of very emotional issues that people hear and recognize from their own lives, whether they’re gay or not.”
Photo courtesy of Bill Horn and Scout Masterson
Bill Horn and Scout Masterson, “The Guncles” (Gay Uncles)
Costars of Tori Spelling’s long-running Oxygen series, Tori & Dean: Home Sweet Hollywood, longtime couple Horn and Masterson, 42 and 39, respectively, are the first gay couple with an adopted child on an American reality TV show. In 2009, they headed to the altar to be united legally, but that effort became a commitment ceremony instead after legislation suddenly banned same-sex marriage. Last July, just days after the U.S. Supreme Court declared The Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional, Horn and Masterson were finally married “for real” at a courthouse in California.
“In 2009, we were planning our wedding in Palm Springs with our friend and wedding planner, Tori Spelling. We were so excited that the legal right finally existed for same-sex couples to marry, and we wanted to share our love in that form—especially since we were planning to start a family. (The whole journey of adopting our daughter Simone, who just turned 4, is another amazing story!) We had invited 60 guests, many of whom flew in from all over the United States.
One day, the right was ours, legally, and the next, it wasn’t, thanks to Proposition 8. We were pretty devastated. Shame on us in wanting to be ‘traditional,’ too! We still had the wedding, in the form of a commitment ceremony, and it was lovely—although we remained feeling ‘less than’ by the fact we were told we weren’t allowed to be legally married.
We have many celebrity friends who rallied for the legalization of gay marriage, who really and truly supported us and other same-sex couples. They’re all such incredible people. To feel that love firsthand was amazing. When the news came last year of the Supreme Court ruling against Proposition 8, we ran to the courthouse. Literally. We refused to let the opportunity pass by us again—just in case the court changed its mind—and we were married.
Still to this day, in 2014, many folks find it hard to believe that our family is just like theirs. That’s our main motivation for sharing our lives on TV and social media: We know we are, in some respect, role models for gay families. That is not something we take lightly. We are honest, caring dads who just live our normal lives and go about our day.
We don’t think of it much, until we get a tear-jerking letter from someone who follows us on social media saying that because of the way we share our lives with them, we’ve changed the way they view gay families in general. That reminds us why it’s so important to share our lives. If we can show someone that our family is just like theirs, then it’s all worth it. So for us, 2014 is definitely the best time to be a gay couple in America—so far.”
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