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  • Nic F. Anderson

(OPINION) The Call is Coming From Inside of the House: Outing Celebrities Is Not Journalism

Photo of Rebel Wilson and her partner Ramona Agruma | Via Instagram

Editor’s note: Nic F. Anderson rarely writes opinion pieces as they prefer to leave their opinion out of stories nor do they really keep up with celebrities as they rather focus on the lives of the people they know and love. However, they could not sit idly about this controversy. Anderson believes that the only way for journalism to thrive is through transparent reporting while maintaining integrity and accountability.

Last week, the Australian movie star, Rebel Wilson, posted a photo of her and her partner on Instagram and said she had found her “Disney Princess.” The public update of Wilson’s life shocked some people as it was an unexpected surprise. However, the Sydney Morning Herald is being accused of attempting to “out” Wilson’s sexuality. The reporters must have been looking for an excuse to ignore reporting on real news such as Australia's racism, xenophobia and legislators.

Less than one day later, a gay columnist at the Sydney Morning Herald, Andrew Hornery, wrote a less than savory column criticizing Wilson and complained about how she “ruined” the publication’s “exclusive” story. Giving someone a deadline to come out with their sexuality is incomprehensible and pretty disgusting, especially when it’s coming from someone in the community. When did these people lose their moral compass and basic human decency?

“This is understood to be Wilson’s first same-sex relationship, at age 42 and in an era when same-sex marriage is legal in many parts of the world and – thanks to decades of battling for equality – sexual orientation is no longer something to be hidden, even in Hollywood,” Hornery wrote

Hornery’s statement is condescending. Rebel Wilson is a celebrity, yes, but that does not mean the public is entitled to every detail about her life. The column droned on, touching on some of his biphobic ideas.

He wrote: “Up to now, Wilson had identified publicly as a heterosexual woman. It is unlikely she would have experienced the sort of discrimination let alone homophobia – subconscious or overt – that sadly still affects so many gay, lesbian and non-hetero people.”

Once again, this is condescending and presumptuous, especially coming from a gay man. This is not the take he thinks it is.

Despite straight cisgender people believing we live in a world that is all “peace and love” towards the LGBTQIA+ community does not make it true. These are the same people who are the community's biggest oppressors. In the United States alone, there has been a dramatic increase in anti-LGBTQIA+ legislation being proposed and passed within the last two years.

Supposedly, people outside of the U.S. are watching what is happening here in “horror” but obviously not watching hard enough. In addition to this legislation, the increase of anti-LGBTQ+ hate crimes have been increasing across the United States. In New York City alone, the anti-LGBTQ+ hate crimes have increased 5% from 2020 to 2021.

Coming “out” has a history rooted in whiteness. In 2017, writer Asiel Adan Sanchez wrote “The Whiteness Of ‘coming Out’: Culture And Identity In The Disclosure Narrative” for Archer Magazine which goes into depth how problematic coming out is, especially for non-white queer people.

Sanchez wrote: “In its archetypal form, coming out is believed to be synonymous with living a free and authentic life. It’s the moment we supposedly purge our shame, self-hatred and repression, and demand for our queerness to be acknowledged. However, when so much of queer visibility is grounded in white history, white bodies and white gatekeepers, we have to question who benefits from coming out.”

Sanchez cites a 2016 study conducted by Adrian J. Villicana, a social psychologist at the University of Kansas in the US which compared gay white men and gay Latino men’s coming-out experiences. This study found that gay white men usually benefitted from verbally coming out but their gay Latino counterparts often did not.

Sanchez wrote:

“The study by Villicana and his colleagues highlights how a gay identity has been constructed from a white, cisgender framework, to the exclusion of queer people of colour. For the gay Latino men in Villicana’s study, and for myself, our sense of identity and wellbeing relies on our culture and our family as much as it does on our sexuality… Mainstream narratives of coming out imply a white subjectivity, one that forgets the influence of culture, family and heritage. For many queer people of colour, coming out is a much more nuanced process than a single moment of verbal disclosure. We come out in silence, between the refusal of mainstream queer narratives to acknowledge our culture, and the refusal of our culture to acknowledge our sexuality and gender. We come out in actions rather than words, because we have to navigate our gender and sexuality in terms of a very different cultural profile. Terms like ‘gay’, ‘trans’ and ‘non-binary’ aren’t universal. They have radically different meanings in different cultural contexts.”

To bring it back to what Hornery said about Wilson, she does have some privileges that others do not. She is a white woman of a higher socioeconomic status and “passes'' as a straight person. Yes, these are privileges that many queer people do not have but it is also not his place as a human or a columnist -- gay or not -- to use as reasons as to why she “came out” on her (forced upon) terms.

Hornery has since apologized, albeit in a condescending way, about his column.

“I genuinely regret that Rebel has found this hard. That was never my intention. But I see she has handled it all with extraordinary grace. As a gay man I’m well aware of how deeply discrimination hurts. The last thing I would ever want to do is inflict that pain on someone else,” he wrote in his newest apology letter.

He went on to write, “But we mishandled steps in our approach.”

Yes, yes, you did.

“My email was never intended to be a threat but to make it clear I was sufficiently confident with my information and to open a conversation. It is not the Herald’s business to “out” people and that is not what we set out to do. But I understand why my email has been seen as a threat. The framing of it was a mistake. The Herald and I will approach things differently from now on to make sure we always take into consideration the extra layer of complexities people face when it comes to their sexuality,” Hornery added.

Another excuse he added for his initial snarky column was that he was on a deadline. That's unacceptable; deadlines can be pushed and have been pushed since the inception of journalism.

Journalists are not doctors and therefore, do not take an oath to “do no harm;” however, we did take an oath to minimize harm. Exposing a politician for siphoning hundreds of thousands dollars? Yes, it hurts the politician’s reputation and future, while more than likely making their family experience some backlash, but stealing money hurts countless citizens.

Exposing a celebrity for being queer in a society that it still homophobic? First of all, that’s not real news. Second of all, it’s dangerous. People with less clout receive death threats just for existing. Average people with no clout are being beaten and murdered just for existing.

Hornery, your column was tactless and quite frankly, very embarrassing. The Sydney Herald pulled the original article but it’s too late. The damage has been done. If you and the Sydney Herald wanted to actually take accountability, the original story would have been left up.

You are allegedly taking the blame, which is a great start. But I urge you to do some soul searching, reading and listening.

As a queer person myself, I was disgusted to read Hornery’s column. It wasn’t until his newest piece that I learned he is gay; however, it just makes it even worse. If he wants to talk about privilege, he needs to take a look in the mirror.

Anyone who knows me on a personal level knows that I am one of the first people to defend journalists and media outlets, but not on “stories” like this. Within the last six or more years or so, people have become increasingly distrusting of news outlets. It is stories and articles like these that contribute to the distrust and animosity towards journalists.

Do better. Check yourselves.

Editor's note: Queer on the Street prides itself in transparent journalism. Read more about it here.

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