Over the past 20 years, we have seen a real shift in public perception regarding gay people. While I do not ignore the fact that the gay community continues to fight a number of very large and important battles, it is undeniable that over my lifetime I have seen a (well-documented) shift in the way we think about gay people. It is undeniable, to the point where we now have many more openly gay men who can be seen as role models than we ever did when I was growing up.
Not only do we have more openly gay role models now than when I was a kid, but those men appeal to a broad audience, one that transcends the gay community and reaches straight people as well.
In fact, it is probably incorrect to call these men “gay role models” and more accurate to simply call them role models who happen to be gay.
And these days we have many of them, including the following:
1. Neil Patrick Harris.
If you need proof that mainstream culture is embracing gay role models like never before, take a look at Neil Patrick Harris, an openly gay man who plays one of television’s most aggressive straight men, Barney Stinson on the hit show “How I Met Your Mother.”
Harris’ open sexuality is not only “not a problem” for his many, many fans. I would argue that his sexuality adds a nod to the part that helped solidify his impact on the culture, just like his ridiculously over-the-top turns playing a parody of himself in the “Harold and Kumar” films.
Off-screen, there are many things to like about NPH, as he is smart, funny, talented, well-dressed and committed to his fiancé (of eight years) and their two children.
2. Anderson Cooper.
If you need more proof that times have changed, consider Anderson Cooper, who never once denied his sexuality, but simply kept his life private, well, private.
Cooper was in the public eye for years, largely ignoring speculation all the while before explaining that he was gay and in a committed relationship with New York bar owner Benjamin Maisani. However, at the time, he never denied who he was or pretended otherwise.
Cooper is one of America’s finest and most accomplished journalists, showing courage and conviction every time he goes to the front lines of conflict and anguish to offer an honest look at what is happening in an increasingly media-managed world.
Despite the progress we make, there are some corners within our culture that cling to outdated and ignorant views, one of which is professional sports.
Yes, even as an ultra-male organization like the military made great strides in the last two years to ensure greater equality among all sexual orientations, sports like basketball and baseball almost forced some of their players into the closet.
Wade Davis may not have had the most venerable NFL career ever (he had to retire early due to injuries), but he does have the distinction of being one of the few figures in professional sports to come out as openly gay, which points to a time in the not-too-distant future where more and more high-profile players can live their true lives openly.
Say what you will, RuPaul broke as many gender and sexuality barriers as anyone in the 1990s and has built a media empire of sorts centered around his incredibly popular show “Drag Race.”
Rather than trying to blend into the culture, RuPaul has always been more interested in making the culture more like him, a simple distinction whose importance anyone can appreciate.