Calling somebody 'openly gay' is a distraction
OPINION: The first openly gay Power Ranger. The first openly gay Disney character. The first openly gay MP. The first openly gay Orthodox rabbi.
Whenever an LGBT+ person who isn't hiding their sexuality reaches a position of power or fame, whether in real life or on screen, we like to label them as "open".
As if they immediately become a gay rights activist purely for not hiding who they are.
Now, minority representation, both on screen and off, is extremely important.
But by making such a song-and-dance of it (as we've seen recently with the live action Beauty and the Beast, and also with the upcoming Power Rangers film) we continue to make a spectacle of not being heterosexual.
What it insinuates is that one's sexuality is otherwise "closed". It's off limits, or something to keep hush-hush. Unless they take a stand and make a big deal of coming out publicly.
* LGBTQIA: Who do sexuality and gender labels matter to?
* How LBGT teens gave me faith that everything is going to be OK
* Parents still struggle accepting LGBT kids, but often come around
Also – and this is particularly relevant when it comes to real life people – being classed as "openly gay" overshadows someone's achievements, skills, and the job they do or value they add.
It becomes a distraction for the mainstream public.
Former NFL player Michael Sam is a great example here. He came out publicly in 2014 and it made world headlines for months. Nobody cared about his abilities as an athlete; he was famous for being gay.
This is the reason no New Zealand All Black has ever come out. Even though it would be highly beneficial for young gay kids everywhere to have a role model like that, the player's own personal achievements up until (and likely beyond) the moment they come out would be replaced with a label concerning their sexuality. "First gay All Black". He would never be known as anything else, no matter how many tries he scored or trophies he helped win.
It's a contentious area that could easily turn into an argument to stay closeted. But that's not what this is. Rather, the sexuality of those with a public profile shouldn't be assumed as straight. It shouldn't be a shock, or make the news, when somebody comes out. They shouldn't have to make a press conference of it.
The same goes for fictional characters. How many backward parents (and, er, countries... I'm looking at you Malaysia) around the world are now afraid of letting their kids see Beauty and the Beast because of the palaver that's been made about the film featuring a minor gay character?
The fact of the matter is, normalised integration of non-traditional sexualities is far more beneficial for society than making a big deal out of it.
Personally, I'd find it far more progressive (and cooler) if the "exclusively gay moment" in Disney's new big-budget flick came as a surprise – e.g. you casually saw two men dancing together in the ballroom scene – rather than over-hyping it (and then getting disappointed, this big "moment" in Beauty and the Beast lasts mere seconds).
The same goes for this new Power Rangers movie. We've just learned this week that the yellow ranger is a lesbian. It's excellent to have a gay protagonist, but it would be far more natural for audiences to notice (or not notice, as it were) that there was a gay character when they saw the film. This was the case in 2012 animated film ParaNorman where the only hint that a supporting character is gay is a single sentence late in the film.
Because that's what happens in real life, or what should be happening at least. Coming out doesn't define you. It's part of who you are, but it's irrelevant to your job, your position, and how people treat or consider you.
It's excellent to have role models. They're vital in an inclusive, multi-faceted society.
But if you want to be an activist, you should be allowed the choice. You shouldn't be relegated the task simply for telling others about who you are.
If you've achieved a certain level of excellence, nothing should be able to overshadow you from that. Using "openly gay" as an enforced label only leads LGBT+ people into a honeypot-like trap they'll never be able to get out of.