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Celebrities Coming Out in the Internet Age

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The experience of coming out as gay to fans can be very different depending on who those fans are.

Sam Tsui

Trey Pearson

 

Two celebrity musicians–a Christian rocker and a YouTube phenom–recently acknowledged their homosexuality publicly. The musicians create very different kinds of music that appeal to quite distinct audiences. Those differences, in addition to their radically different personal experiences, helped shape the contrasting ways they outed themselves. Whereas one had to come out to a deeply homophobic audience, the other had the luxury of being able to assume that his fan-base would be mostly supportive.

Christian rocker Trey Pearson came out last week via an interview with (614) Magazine, followed by a series of tweets and Facebook posts. His coming out story–“a sad narrative of struggle and shame and denial”–is reminiscent of an earlier era, though one that remains all too common among certain demographics even now.

Pearson, who is 35 years old, is the lead singer of the Christian rock band Everyday Sunday. His song “Wake Up! Wake Up!” was the most-played Christian rock song of 2007, and he has sold around 250,000 albums. He is not a household name nationally, but is well-known within the insular world of Christian rock.

Pearson is not the first Christian rock star to come out. As Jonathan Merritt, who interviewed Pearson soon after his announcement, pointed out in Religious News Service, Pearson is now “in the center of a growing movement of popular Christian musicians who are coming out as gay and are advocating for a more open and accepting posture in the church.”

However, Merritt observes, these pioneers have paid a heavy price for their openness: “Since Christian music fans tend to be conservative and believe that homosexual acts are sinful, you won’t hear these artists’ music played in most churches or on Christian radio these days.”

Pearson’s knowledge that the revelation of his homosexuality will likely end his career not only makes his decision to come out a brave one, and a measure of the misery he faced living in the closet, but it also no doubt shaped the terms of his coming out story.

For example, the letter he posted on Facebook, informing his fans of his homosexuality is less an affirmation of his sexuality than it is a confession that he has been unable to live according to the dictates of his religion. It is more apologetic than celebratory.

“I never wanted to be gay,” he tells his fans, and adds: “I was scared of what God would think and what all of these people I loved would think about me; so it was never was an option for me. I have been suppressing these attractions and feelings since adolescence. I’ve tried my whole life to be straight. I married a girl, and I even have two beautiful little kids.”

After struggling against his attractions toward men and desperately attempting to develop heterosexual feelings, Pearson finally reached the conclusion that he has irrevocably failed in his quest. “I am never going to be able to change how I am . . . [or] what I know deep down: that I am gay.”

Despite casting his acquiescence in the reality that he is gay as an epic failure, Pearson nevertheless acknowledges that his honesty–”his escape from the prison of the closet”–has brought him peace.

“I know I have a long way to go,” Pearson writes. “But if this honesty with myself about who I am, and who I was made by God to be, doesn’t constitute the peace that passes all understanding, then I don’t know what does. It is like this weight I have been carrying my whole life has been lifted from me, and I have never felt such freedom.”

He ends his letter with a plaintive appeal to his fans not to reject him. “I hope people will hear my heart, and that I will still be loved. I’m still the same guy, with the same heart, who wants to love God and love people with everything I have. This is a part of me I have come to be able to accept, and now it is a part of me that you know as well.”

Pearson subsequently appeared on ABC’s The View to explain his experience and his need to come out.

The other musician who recently came out is YouTube star Sam Tsui, who is most famous for his covers of popular music. On April 15, Tsui came out in a vlog posted on his YouTube channel, and used the occasion to announce his imminent wedding to fellow musician and collaborator Casey Breves, which occurred the following day.

Tsui, who is 27, came to prominence while an undergraduate at Yale, where he majored in ancient Greek. The videos he made with his friend from boyhood, Kurt Hugo Schneider, took YouTube by storm, some of them garnering more than 30,000,000 views each and well over 500,000,000 in total. The YouTube covers also launched Tsui on a live performance career, as well as creating an audience for his original singles and albums.

While Tsui’s sexuality had been the subject of some speculation, he had not come out publicly until the April 15 vlog despite an unusual level of engagement with his YouTube subscribers, who are known collectively as “The Samily.” In the vlog, he addresses the possibility that some of his fans might find his previous reticence about his personal life dishonest or evasive, claiming that he initially thought his relationships were not relevant to his music.

He pointedly denies that his reticence stemmed from any shame or ambivalence about his homosexuality or his relationship with Breves: “Given this is a coming out video of a sort, I want to say very clearly that waiting to tell you guys about this does not mean I am or was ashamed about anything. I am proud of who I am and very proud of my relationship with Casey, because he is amazing.”

He adds, “I never felt the need to do a big tear-y coming out video because honestly, in my daily life it’s such a non-issue.”

The vlog does betray anxiety that some members of the “samily” might be offended by the news that Tsui is gay, perhaps because a considerable number of his fans are teenage girls who may indulge romantic fantasies about him. But clearly Tsui does not have to worry about the kind of wholesale rejection by his fans that Pearson must fear.

Indeed, Tsui says, “I really do hope and trust that this new information or my sexuality doesn’t change your opinion of me or my music. I assume we are all 2016-enough to know that it shouldn’t.”

The wedding between Tsui and Breves, which was announced in the vlog, was also the subject of an extraordinary gay wedding video, featuring their song “This Promise,” which may be found here.

The contrast between the two coming out modes is apparent. One is tortured and dramatic, the other is confident and casual. Whereas Pearson feels the need to explain in great detail the painful struggle that led him to decide that he could no longer live in the closet, Tsui simply declares that he is about to marry his boyfriend, whom he has dated for some time. He feels no need to explain or justify his sexuality, though he is self-conscious about the fact that he has not previously revealed the information to his fans.

Tsui’s casual coming out is similar to that of other closeted celebrities who have come out by simply stating a fact about themselves. These are usually people who have long been out in their private lives, including among professional colleagues, but have not taken the final step of announcing their sexuality publicly.

Good Morning America host Robin Roberts, for example, came out on December 29, 2013 in a year-end Facebook message in which she casually included her longtime partner Amber Laign among those who helped her through a trying year during which she recovered from chemotherapy and a blood marrow transplant. In her first public acknowledgment of her ten-year relationship with Laign, Roberts expressed gratitude to all who supported her in her battle against MDS, the blood disorder that threatened her life.

Similarly, weatherman Sam Champion and longtime partner photographer Rubem Robierb outed themselves in a 2012 New York Times article by Jacob Bernstein about the wedding of MSNBC News anchor Thomas Roberts and Patrick Abner. Bernstein noted the presence of the two at the Roberts-Patrick reception. Caught up in the spirit of the moment, Champion told the reporter, “We’re getting married New Year’s Eve in Miami.” Robierb corrected him: “We’ll do it here officially, and then have a party in Miami.” Champion, who had been widely rumored to be gay and who frequently attended gay events in New York, seemed eager to seize an opportunity to come out publicly without having to make a “big tear-y coming out video.”

If Tsui’s coming out vlog partakes of the matter-of-factness of the announcements of Robin Roberts and Sam Champion, Pearson’s public coming out is reminiscent of an earlier era when homosexuality was widely stigmatized and most celebrities who came out were typically outed by others.

However, Pearson’s story does bear a resemblance to that of country singer Ty Herndon, who in November 2014, at the age of 52, confirmed long-standing rumors about his sexuality, telling Entertainment Tonight reporter Sophie Schillaci that “I have an awesome relationship that I’ve been in for a good number of years. [I] love him very much and he loves me.”

Ty Herndon

Herndon, who produced his biggest hits in the 1990s, including “What Mattered Most” (1995), “Living in a Moment” (1996), and “It Must Be Love” (1998), revealed that he had convinced himself that he could not be gay and have a career in country music. Hence, although he knew that he was gay when he was ten years old, and told close family members when he was 20, he went to great lengths to pass as straight so that he could be a country music singer.

Married to women twice before coming to terms with his sexuality, Herndon told ET, “I have made a lot of mistakes in my life. They’ve been my mistakes, and I own them.” He added, “I’ve done a lot of work around forgiveness with people that I’ve hurt and people I’ve not been honest with because of my sexuality.”

He said that recent indications that country music has become more supportive of the lgbt community encouraged him. “Traditionally in country music, we don’t see a lot of support . . . , but that’s changing so much.” As evidence, he cited the fact that “Kacey Musgraves won [CMA] Song of the Year for ‘Follow Your Arrow, Wherever It Points,’ and two amazing songwriters that happened to be gay wrote that song.”

Pearson’s public coming out is also reminiscent of the 2014 coming out of Australian swimmer Ian Thorpe, which also involved a long history of struggle and denial.

Ian Thorpe

Thorpe, one of the greatest swimmers in history, and an icon of Australian sport, came out in a highly touted interview on Australian television.  After years of adamantly denying rumors that he was gay, in the interview he discussed the pain he experienced in coming to terms with his sexuality while also battling depression.

He explained that he had been trapped by his evasion and deception. “What happened was I felt the lie had become so big that I didn’t want people to question my integrity. . . . I didn’t want people to question that . . . have I lied about everything?”

He added, “I’ve wanted to [come out] for some time. I didn’t feel I could. Part of me didn’t know if Australia wanted its champion to be gay.”

Thorpe’s questioning of whether Australia would accept a gay sports hero is equivalent to Pearson’s worry as to whether Christian rock fans can accept a gay Christian rocker.

Just as Pearson expresses hope that the revelation of his suffering in the closet might lead to a kinder and more accepting posture by Evangelical Christians, so Thorpe expressed the hope that his coming out might help others. Having reached a point where “I’m comfortable saying I’m a gay man,” Thorpe wants young people to realize “You can grow up, you can be comfortable and you can be gay.”

An outpouring of support for Thorpe indicated that Australia was ready to accept a gay sports hero. Whether there will be a similar flood of support from Evangelical Christians for Pearson is, alas, doubtful.

 

Images of Trey Pearson and Sam Tsui via Twitter

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Virginia School Districts Furious After Youngkin Flip Flops on Promise to Allow Local Boards to Decide Mask Mandates

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For months Virginia’s incoming Republican governor has been promising he would neither mandate masks in schools nor ban school districts from requiring them.

“Virginia Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin (R) will not outlaw local COVID-19 mandates when he takes office in January,” reported the far right wing website Daily Wire back in November.

Local ABC affiliate 8 News, also in November reported, “Youngkin won’t try to block local mask, vaccine mandates like other Republican governors.”

Glenn Youngkin was sworn into office on Saturday, January 15, 2022.

Business Insider reports that on Saturday, after Youngkin was sworn into office, he “signed an executive action that banned schools from requiring that students wear masks to stem the spread of COVID-19, instead allowing parents to decide when their children wear masks during the school day.”

Youngkin’s first act as governor was to sign eleven executive orders. Among them: effectively banning any mask mandates in schools across the state, by allowing parents to opt-out for any reason or no reason.

In other words: flip-flopping on his promise.

Youngkin is using his Lt. Governor to threaten angry school districts. Fox News’ John Roberts:

Pundit and political analyst Bill Scher:

Youngkin made a big deal over the weekend claiming schools have to “listen to parents” and if they oppose his mask ban they aren’t listening to parents.

Gov. Youngkin is the one not listening.

In poll after poll after poll after poll Virginia parents make clear they support mask mandates in schools, and Virginians overall support mask mandates, period.

 

 

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Top Democrats Renew Call to End Anti-Gay Blood Ban as Red Cross Announces First-Ever National Shortage Crisis

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Last week the Red Cross issued its first-ever warning of a blood shortage so dire it is calling it a “national crisis.” In response 22 top Democratic Senators signed a letter urging the FDA to once and for all end the ban on men who have sex with men donating blood.

The nearly four-decade old ban was instituted during the early days of the HIV/AIDS crisis. In 2015 the FDA reduced the complete and total ban to one where gay and bisexual men and men who have sex with men could donate blood if they had abstained from sexual activity for one year. In 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic raged, threatening blood shortages, the FDA moved to a three-month prohibition.

“If the nation’s blood supply does not stabilize soon, life-saving blood may not be available for some patients when it is needed,” warns the Red Cross, citing a 34 percent drop in supply, CBS News reports.

“Any policy that continues to categorically single out the LGBTQ+ community is discriminatory and wrong,” the group of 22 top Democrats, led by Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), say in their letter. “Given advances in blood screening and safety technology, a time-based policy for gay and bisexual men is not scientifically sound, continues to effectively exclude an entire group of people, and does not meet the urgent demands of the moment.”

Blood Shortage MSM Donor Deferral Letter FDA HHS Jan 2022 Final by David Badash on Scribd

 

Image by ec-jpr via Flickr and a CC license

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Watch: Fox News’ Peter Doocy Admits There Are Republicans ‘That Don’t Agree With Voting Rights’

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White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki ended the week with yet another smack down of Peter Doocy, as the Fox News reporter admitted there are Republicans who “don’t agree with voting rights.”

“As you talked about a year ago and working with Republicans, now [President Biden] is talking about Republicans that don’t agree with voting rights,” Doocy complained, “he’s describing them as George Wallace, Bull Connor, and Jefferson Davis. What happened to the guy who, when he was elected said: ‘To make progress me must stop treating our opponents as our enemy’?”

Doocy was referring to President Joe Biden’s widely praised speech in support of voting rights earlier this week, referencing civil rights icons and their infamous white supremacist and segregationist opponents.

“Do you want to be on the side of Dr. King or George Wallace?” Biden asked, to the anger of many conservatives. “Do you want to be on the side of John Lewis or Bull Connor?  Do you want to be on the side of Abraham Lincoln or Jefferson Davis? This is the moment to decide to defend our elections, to defend our democracy.”

Psaki as usual was prepared to respond – suggesting Doocy was not “speaking on the level.”

“I think everybody listening to that speech, who’s speaking on the level, as my mother would say, would note that he was not comparing them as humans. He was comparing the choice to those figures in history and where they’re going to position themselves, if they as it – as they determine whether they’re going to support the fundamental right to vote or not.”

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