Outward Bound: Celebs Struggle To Keep Sexuality Secret(ish), But Media Make Mischief

“It does bother me when I see some of these closeted actors deny that they’re gay or lesbian and I see them out at the bars and the clubs,” said Dustin Lance Black, the openly gay screenwriter of Milk and J. Edgar. “And they’re taking advantage of the bravery of men and women so we can have bars. When I see these people who vocally deny their sexuality, who they are, and then take full advantage of the hard work of others …” But he acknowledged that outing is not always a net good. “For those who are leading a private life because that’s their preference … well, we have a right to privacy.”

But he added, “When I have these conversations with actors who are closeted, they’re yearning to be a part of this movement that’s experiencing such progress.”

Lance Bass, whose coming out in 2006 was occasioned by a number of tabloids threatening to run a story on his relationship with openly gay reality-TV star Reichen Lehmkuhl, told The Observer that it never occurred to him to come out in public before his hand was forced. “I had a boyfriend. My friends knew, my family knew, I didn’t think it was a big deal.

“I thought I would just casually reveal it—get married or something.”

That performers like Mr. Quinto and Mr. Bomer have been able to “casually reveal it” in recent years indicates just how far public acceptance of homosexuality has come, even since 2006. However, major stars like Mr. Cooper, Mr. Travolta and Ms. Latifah—all of whom are at the forefront of their fields—have much more to lose than Mr. Bomer, an actor on a cable TV series, or Mr. Quinto, a still-emerging talent. The ridicule they and others face—”It comes to a point of silliness,” said Mr. Bragman of various glass-closeted celebrities—is nothing compared to the definite loss of a fan base partially kept in the dark. (For every Neil Patrick Harris, who’s only gained credibility since coming out, there’s a Clay Aiken, whose female fan base was shocked and disappointed.)

Coming out is a potentially traumatic experience for anyone. Mr. Bass, for instance, recalled the two-day period between agreeing to People’s interview request and seeing the “I’M GAY” cover on newsstands: “It was 48 hours to tell the world your deepest, darkest secret.”

Seemingly out of some remaining respect for the difficulty of making such an announcement, outing is still a delicate subject among the media community.

Cyd Zeigler, Jr., co-founder of the gay sports news site Outsports, said that he is sitting on knowledge of several famous athletes who are gay, but he did not expect them to come out anytime soon. “There’s a difference between breaking the news and getting the story. There are people I could write about but I don’t—because I want to know what their life is like, how they live. I want the story behind the news. People who just look at the news miss the story. There’s a lot of bad reporters out there who give us all a bad name.”

Even Outsports’s policy is subject to subtle shading, though: Mr. Zeigler noted that the site has written frequently about rumors that Troy Aikman is gay. “Outing is knowing that they are gay and talking about the fact that they are gay against their wishes and explaining how you know they’re gay.”

There’s also the simple matter of defusing the knowing laughter of a public that maybe just doesn’t care that much anymore. “If you’re in the closet,” said Mr. Bass, “you get made fun of more than if you just come out!”

If he’s in fact gay, that’s a lesson Chace Crawford—the dashing, engrossed young man at the premiere—may do well to heed.

Additional reporting by Sarah Douglas