My friend Anderson Cooper is the scion of one of America’s great shipping and railroad families, the Vanderbilts. He’s covered the military coup and eventual unseating of the democratically elected (albeit bat-shit crazy) Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. He’s covered the small wars in Africa that use children as slave soldiers. He knows more about the women of The Real Housewives than perhaps even I do. He’s covered the seemingly endless large wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And by “covered,” I mean he’s really gone and covered them—with a security detail and without; embedded with troops and unilaterally—not from the relative safety of the Green Zone in Baghdad or the international zone in Kabul. He’s sat down with despots in countries like Somalia, covered the atrocities in the Balkans and Burma. And he also happens to be gay.
Funny thing, that …
Kicking around for as many years as I have, I’ve done countless interviews pushing Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List, stand-up comedy specials, live comedy dates, the Kathy show, and everything in between. I’ve talked to everyone from a local gay blogger to Time magazine. I’m not really sure at what point it changed, but the press—or at least the press who covered my little carnival—became fixated on Anderson’s orientation. And for years, I talked around it.
Believe it or not, I don’t “out” people. It is neither my business nor my desire. Remember, folks, I am a comedian, not a journalist. These weren’t questions where I could make a joke about Ryan Seacrest getting a mani/pedi. This isn’t a joke I make about whether Oprah and Gayle are gay lovers. I have no idea if Oprah and Gayle are gay lovers. I doubt they are, but as a comedian, I find some comedy in picturing those two girls running the world as a power couple. Anderson is someone who has led a very specific kind of professional life, who never talked and simultaneously exhibited social contradictions. And quite frankly, he never gave me permission to speak about something that represented the one part of his life he was not comfortable having confirmed in the media. But in my dealings with a certain sector of the press, that simply was never good enough.
So while I’ve tried to protect my friend and represent him the way he would most prefer, I was never exactly clear on just how to do it, how to say it. One year, while in the middle of doing several interviews to promote New Year’s Eve Live on CNN, I had a discussion with Anderson about it. “For Christ’s sake, Anderson, I’ve been getting asked as much about your sexuality as I have about my own show!” I said.
He said: “Kathy, I don’t get asked as much about my sexuality as you get asked about my sexuality. But here’s my standard party line: ‘I want to report the news. I don’t want to be the news.’”
I recently read an article that quoted a gay Army officer friend of mine saying how freeing on so many levels the repeal of the "don’t ask, don’t tell" policy has been, that he and his now legally married husband might someday finally adopt and begin a family. The “ethical nonstarter” of having to teach a child to lie so that she might protect her fathers was no longer even a glancing consideration. Well, there is an unspoken kind of DADT among the press, and Anderson’s party line only revealed part of it.
The reality is that despite the very real, the very necessary, and the very life-changing progress we have made in this country in treating people across the sexual orientation spectrum with dignity and respect, America—the world—is not fully represented by Chelsea in New York City. It’s not fully represented by DuPont Circle in Washington, D.C.; the Castro; or West Hollywood. Hell, it’s not even Ft. Lauderdale and its Wilton Manors or Denver’s Capital Hill neighborhood. America is, in large part, small towns like Oxnard, Calif. It’s Sevierville, Tenn. It’s Laramie, Wyo. And it’s Wichita, Kan., where I was eating recently at a local diner and a patron asked me, “Kathy, how do you deal with so many goddamned fags?”
Many of my young gays don’t know about Uganda’s “Kill the Gays” initiative, which was developed with the help of some extremist American evangelicals. Many don’t know about Stonewall or, more recently, the importance of Lawrence v. Texas. They don’t know about Cuba’s jailing of HIV patients or even that Iran has sentenced gay teenagers to death by hanging. They don’t know that in large portions of Baghdad, honest LGBT folks are hunted and summarily executed by roving bands of so-called morality police, who kill with impunity both the “out” and those simply perceived to be gay. What many young people do know is what they read in short bursts on celebrity Twitter posts or on TMZ. And what they read and see is how freeing being honest can be. What they don’t see is that it remains, in many places, very dangerous to do just that. And that dichotomy is deeply troubling to me.
Look, I’m a comedian. Anderson reports on the world’s toughest stories. He speaks truth to power. I, on the other hand, make fun of the spectacularly silly world of reality television and Hollywood’s fame whores (and those who love them). I don’t pretend to understand the complexities of the worlds Anderson moves in. But I do know that I don’t want my friend to face that part of the world, where he might die a very different kind of death than someone who isn’t quite so honest.
Anderson writes: “I’ve begun to consider whether the unintended outcomes of maintaining my privacy outweigh personal and professional principle. It’s become clear to me that by remaining silent on certain aspects of my personal life for so long, I have given some the mistaken impression that I am trying to hide something—something that makes me uncomfortable, ashamed, or even afraid. This is distressing because it is simply not true.”
Here’s the thing: I love my friend Anderson and remain immensely proud of him. And I’m honored, truly, that he considers me a friend. But I just want him to be careful. Of course he wouldn’t be doing his job if he really were being careful. And he wouldn’t be who he is.