Coming Out

August 20, 2012

This lesson, which requires two class periods, aims to help students understand why people come out, and the impact coming out can have on both a personal and societal level.  Students will read and discuss the statements by two celebrities who recently came out (Anderson Cooper and Frank Ocean) and consider taking action to support National Coming Out Day on October 11.

 

Introduction

This summer, two celebrities, Anderson Cooper and Frank Ocean, came out of the closet as gay men. 

The following lesson, which requires two class periods, aims to help students understand why people come out, and the impact coming out can have on both a personal and societal level.  Students will read and discuss the statements Cooper and Ocean made when they came out, and consider taking action to support National Coming Out Day on October 11.

You may want to review our guidelines for dealing with controversial issues before doing this lesson. 

Objectives

  • Students will be able to define what "coming out" means.
  • Students will better understand the impact coming out has on individuals and society.
  • Students will be able to articulate the pros and cons of coming out.
  • Students will consider why it's difficult for some people to come out - or to reveal other things about themselves.
  • Students will understand the purpose of National Coming Out Day and consider ways they might support it.
     

 

Gathering: Opinion Continuum

Read the following statements and have students put a thumbs-up if they agree, a thumbs-down if they disagree, and a thumbs to the side if they aren't sure, or have mixed feelings.  If time permits, ask a few students to explain their responses.

  • It is understandable that some people hide being gay/LGBT.
  • Gay celebrities and athletes have a responsibility to come out of the closet.
  • If you come out of the closet, it's very likely your family will disown you.
  • If everyone was out of the closet and no one had to hide their sexual orientation, homophobia would disappear.
  • People should never hide any aspect of their identity.
  • It's okay for a person to "out" someone else (expose someone's sexual orientation as LGBT without their permission).
  • You should only come out to people you know will accept you.


Introduction

In July 2012, two celebrities - Anderson Cooper and Frank Ocean - "came out of the closet." Anderson Cooper is a white 45-year-old CNN journalist and primary anchor of the news show Anderson Cooper 360. Frank Ocean is an African-American 24-year-old hip-hop/R&B singer-songwriter.  

Ask students:  "What does it mean to "come out of the closet"?  Define "coming out" as: the process in which a person first acknowledges, accepts and appreciates his or her sexual orientation or gender identity and begins to share that with others.  Why does this phrase include the "closet" metaphor? What does it mean?

Ask: Who is Anderson Cooper?  Who is Frank Ocean? Does anyone know how and why each of them came out?  Tell students that they are going to learn more about each of their coming out stories. 

Ask: Do you know any other celebrities who are "out of the closet?" Examples: 

  • Ricky Martin, (singer)
  • Clay Aiken (singer, American Idol runner-up)
  • Wanda Sykes (comedian, actress)
  • Don Lemon (CNN journalist)
  • Chris Colfer ("Glee")
  • Neil Patrick Harris "(How I Met Your Mother")
  • Jesse Tyler Ferguson ("Modern Family")
  • Ellen DeGeneres ("Ellen DeGeneres Show")
  • Melissa Etheridge (singer)
  • Jonathan Knight (New Kids on the Block singer)

Read aloud a few of these celebrities' coming out statements:

  • [Coming out] was the first decision I made as a father... I cannot raise a child to lie or to hide things. I wasn't raised that way, and I'm not going to raise a child to do that. (Clay Aiken)
     
  • Everybody who knows me personally, they know I'm gay. And that's the way people should be able to live our lives, really. We shouldn't have to be standing out here demanding something we automatically should have as citizens of this country. (Wanda Sykes)
     
  • So, rather than ignore those who choose to publish their opinions without actually talking to me, I am happy to dispel any rumors or misconceptions and am quite proud to say that I am a very content gay man living my life to the fullest and feel most fortunate to be working with wonderful people in the business I love. (Neil Patrick Harris)

 

"Coming Out" Statements by Cooper and Ocean

Explain: We are going to read Anderson Cooper's and Frank Ocean's coming out statements and then we will discuss those statements in a few ways: in pairs, in a large group discussion, and in a small group microlab activity.  Explain that some people feel the need to officially come out because they want everyone in their lives to know their sexual orientation. Celebrities want to make sure the public at large and the media  know.

Give half of the students the Anderson Cooper statement and the other half the Frank Ocean statement (see below for statements).  Give everyone 10 minutes to read the essays. Students may take notes. 

When the 10 minutes are up, pair up each student who read the Anderson Cooper statement with a student who read the Frank Ocean statement.  Have students take 5 minutes each to share/summarize their statements with each other and then respond to the following questions (1) What did you learn?  (2) Was there anything about the statement that resonated or moved you?   Alternately, you can have the students write their responses to the questions.

Group discussion.

Have the group come back together and ask: 

  • How did you feel reading the statements? 
  • Why did each of these men decide to "come out?"
  • What do the two have in common?
  • What's different about their stories?  
  • What's different about the way they chose to come out?
  • What did their sexual orientation have to do (or not) with their work? 
  • How did they express themselves? 
  • Did you like one statement more than the other, and if so why?

Ask: Can you think of other examples of how people can be "in the closet" and eventually feel the need to "come out?"  Examples include: socioeconomic status (being poor or rich), being in foster care, being adopted, having a parent in jail, being undocumented, having a LGBT parent, being homeless, struggling with mental illness or addiction, being a Muslim, being an atheist...  Ask: What do these identity issues have in common with being LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender)?  Why would people feel the need to be in the closet and why might they also want to come out?
 

Microlab

Tell the students they will be doing a "microlab" to discuss the topic further.  Explain that in a microlab, people gain increased understanding through speaking and listening. It is not a time for discussion or dialogue; rather each person has a short time to speak in response to a question. When a person is speaking, the others in the group should listen only and not interrupt.  More information on microlabs.

Microlab Process:

1. Divide the class into groups by counting off. Have students arrange themselves in their small groups so that each person can easily see and hear everyone else in the group.

2. Before you begin, explain the guidelines for a microlab:

  • It's okay to pass if you need more time to think or would rather not respond for any reason.
  • This is a timed activity. I will let you know when it is time to move on to the next speaker. You will each have 2 minutes to speak.
  • Speak from your own point of view.
  • Share as much as you feel comfortable sharing.
  • Confidentiality is important, especially when we come back together as a large group. We need to agree that what we share among ourselves in the small group will stay private.

3. Introduce your first microlab question. (See below).  Remind students that everyone gets two minutes to answer the question and no interrupting. You will let them know when time is up.

Questions:

  • Which statement did you read and how did you feel while reading it?
  • Have you ever had anyone come out to you? What was that like?
  • Have you ever had to tell someone something difficult about yourself? What was that like?


The Pros and Cons Of Coming Out

Have the whole class come back together.  Write PROS and CONS on the board or large paper.  Ask students: What is positive about coming out?  What is negative about coming out?  You can give examples to get the conversation started such as: "You can be more honest and real about who you are" (pro) and "Family members won't be able to deal with it and may not talk to you anymore" (con).  Record the pros and cons students come  up with. 

Ask:  What do you notice about the list?  Are there more pros or cons?  Why do you think that is?  Does it depend on who you are coming out to (family, friends, extended family, doctor, fans—in the case of celebrities)?  What impact can coming out have on the person as an individual? What impact might it have on society as a whole?


Coming Out Day

October 11, 2012 is National Coming Out Day.  Ask: What do you think is the purpose of Coming Out Day? 

Give students background information:  On Oct. 11, 1987, half a million people participated in the March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. It was the second such demonstration in our nation's capital and resulted in the founding of a number of LGBT organizations.  Four months after the march,  more than 100 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender activists from around the country came together to discuss their movement, including how the LGBT community often reacted defensively to anti-gay actions. They came up with the idea of a national day to celebrate coming out and chose the anniversary of that second march on Washington to mark it.

Have students consider supporting Coming Out Day at their school.  Would this be a positive contribution to the school community?  If so, how?

If students are interested, guide them in creating Coming Out Day materials to get the message out to their school.  Brainstorm different ways these materials could be made:

  • Make posters using images and/or photography
  • Create a Facebook page
  • Create a short PSA (public service announcement) video
  • Create and distribute buttons/t-shirts 

Divide students into groups of 4 or 5 and have them create an advertisement for National Coming Out Day using one of these or other strategies. Have students decide together: (1) what their main message about coming out is going to be, (2) how they are going to convey their message, (3) what medium/strategy they are going to use, and (4) what each person's role in the group will be.  After completion, share with the class and school and display on October 11.
 



ANDERSON COOPER STATEMENT

Andrew Sullivan, a journalist and friend of Anderson Cooper, asked for his feedback on a story in Entertainment Weekly about gay people in public life who come out in a much more restrained and matter-of-fact way than in the past.  Below is Anderson Cooper's email response  to him,  which he gave permission to share  publicly.

Andrew, as you know, the issue you raise is one that I've thought about for years. Even though my job puts me in the public eye, I have tried to maintain some level of privacy in my life. Part of that has been for purely personal reasons. I think most people want some privacy for themselves and the people they are close to.

But I've also wanted to retain some privacy for professional reasons. Since I started as a reporter in war zones 20 years ago, I've often found myself in some very dangerous places. For my safety and the safety of those I work with, I try to blend in as much as possible, and prefer to stick to my job of telling other people's stories, and not my own. I have found that sometimes the less an interview subject knows about me, the better I can safely and effectively do my job as a journalist.

I've always believed that who a reporter votes for, what religion they are, who they love, should not be something they have to discuss publicly. As long as a journalist shows fairness and honesty in his or her work, their private life shouldn't matter. I've stuck to those principles for my entire professional career, even when I've been directly asked "the gay question," which happens occasionally. I did not address my sexual orientation in the memoir I wrote several years ago because it was a book focused on war, disasters, loss and survival. I didn't set out to write about other aspects of my life.

Recently, however, 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.

I've also been reminded recently that while as a society we are moving toward greater inclusion and equality for all people, the tide of history only advances when people make themselves fully visible. There continue to be far too many incidences of bullying of young people, as well as discrimination and violence against people of all ages, based on their sexual orientation, and I believe there is value in making clear where I stand.

The fact is, I'm gay, always have been, always will be, and I couldn't be any more happy, comfortable with myself, and proud.

I have always been very open and honest about this part of my life with my friends, my family, and my colleagues. In a perfect world, I don't think it's anyone else's business, but I do think there is value in standing up and being counted. I'm not an activist, but I am a human being and I don't give that up by being a journalist.

Since my early days as a reporter, I have worked hard to accurately and fairly portray gay and lesbian people in the media - and to fairly and accurately portray those who for whatever reason disapprove of them. It is not part of my job to push an agenda, but rather to be relentlessly honest in everything I see, say and do. I've never wanted to be any kind of reporter other than a good one, and I do not desire to promote any cause other than the truth.

Being a journalist, traveling to remote places, trying to understand people from all walks of life, telling their stories, has been the greatest joy of my professional career, and I hope to continue doing it for a long time to come. But while I feel very blessed to have had so many opportunities as a journalist, I am also blessed far beyond having a great career.

I love, and I am loved.

In my opinion, the ability to love another person is one of God's greatest gifts, and I thank God every day for enabling me to give and share love with the people in my life. I appreciate your asking me to weigh in on this, and I would be happy for you to share my thoughts with your readers. I still consider myself a reserved person and I hope this doesn't mean an end to a small amount of personal space. But I do think visibility is important, more important than preserving my reporter's shield of privacy.

 



FRANK OCEAN STATEMENT

Frank Urban first came out on his Tumblr blog in early July, detailing a relationship he had with another man.  He said he did it to relieve his own stress.  This is his Tumblr blog statement:

"Whoever you are, wherever you are... I'm starting to think we are a lot alike. Human beings spinning on blackness. All wanting to be seen, touched, heard, paid attention to. My loved ones are everything to me here. In the last year or 3, I've screamed at my creator. Screamed at clouds in the sky. For some explanation. Mercy maybe.  For peace of mind to rain like manna somehow. 4 Summers ago, I met somebody.  I was 19 years old. He was too.  We spent that Summer and the Summer after, together.  Everyday almost.  And on the days we were together, time would glide.  Most of the day I'd see him, and his smile.  I'd hear his conversation and his silence.. Until it was time to sleep.  Sleep I would often share with him.  By the time I realized I was in love, it was malignant. It was hopeless. There was no escaping.  No negotiating with the feeling. No choice. It was my first love.  It changed my life.  Back then, my mind would wander to the women I had been with.  The ones I cared for and thought I was in love with.   I reminisced about the sentimental songs I enjoyed when I was a teenager.  The ones I played when I experienced a girl too quickly.  Imagine being thrown from a plane.  I wasn't in a plane though.  I was in a Nissan Maxima.  The same car I packed up with bags and drove to Los Angeles in.  I sat there and told my friend how I felt.  I wept as the words left my mouth.  I grieved for them, know I could never take them back for myself.  He patted my back.  He said kind things.  He did his best, but he wouldn't admit the same.  He had to go back inside soon. I was late and his girlfriend was waiting for him upstairs.  He wouldn't tell me the truth about his feelings for me for another 3 years.  I felt like I'd only imagined reciprocity for years.  Now imagine being thrown from a cliff.  No. I wasn't on a cliff. I was still in my car telling myself it was gonna be fine and to take deep breaths.  I took the breaths and carried on.  I kept up a peculiar friendship with him because I couldn't imagine keeping up my life without him.  I struggled to master myself and my emotions.  I wasn't always successful.

The dance went on... I kept the rhythm for several Summers after.  It's Winter now.  I'm typing this on a plane back to Los Angeles from New Orleans.  I flew home for another marred Christmas.  I have a windowseat.  It's December 27, 2011.  By now, I've written two albums.  This being the second.  I wrote to keep myself busy and sane.  I wanted to create worlds that were rosier than mine. I tried to channel overwhelming emotions.  I'm surprised at how far all of it has taken me.  Before writing this, I'd told some people my story. I'm sure these people kept me alive.  Kept me safe... sincerely.  These are the folks I wanna thank from the floor of my heart.  Everyone of you knows who you are. Great humans.  Probably angels.  I don't know what happens now, and that's alright.  I don't have any secrets I need kept anymore.  There's probably some small shit still, but you know what I mean.  I was never alone, as much as I felt like it..As much as I still do sometimes.  I never was. I don't think I ever could be.  Thanks.  To my first love, I'm grateful for you.  Grateful that even though it wasn't what I had hoped for and even though it was never enough, it was.  Some things never are...And we were.  I won't forget you.  I won't forget the Summer...I'll remember who I was when I met you.  I'll remember who you were and how we both changed and stayed the same.  I've never had more respect for life and living than I have right now.  Maybe it takes a near death experience to feel alive.  Thanks.  To my mother, you raised me strong.  I know I'm only brave because you were first...So thank you.  All of you.  For everything good.  I feel like a free man.  If I listen closely, I can hear the sky falling too."

A few weeks later, Frank Ocean said this about his coming out:

Coming out was "about my own sanity and my ability to feel like I'm living a life where ... I'm happy when I wake up in the morning, and not with this freakin' boulder on my chest," Ocean said.

"I wished at 13 there was somebody I looked up to who would have said something like that, who would have been transparent in that way."

"People are just afraid of things too much. ... Sure, evil exists, extremism exists. Somebody could commit a hate crime and hurt me. But they could do the same just because I'm black," he said. "They could do the same just because I'm American."