Why Clay Aiken’s Coming Out Matters

In and of itself, the fact that singer Clay Aiken finally came out as gay in People Magazine means no more than if he had said he were right-handed or had blue eyes. In the larger sense, though, Aiken’s admission — hard on the heels of his new son’s birth — is extremely important. 

While the former “American Idol” runner-up is a very talented vocalist, I can’t be classified as a Claymate. His past work with disadvantaged children around the world, however, impresses me greatly and always has. His stand for human decency and his commitment to his faith do as well. (A born-again Christian, Aiken is quoted as saying that he remains faithful and is confident in his salvation.) Those things don’t change because he revealed his personal truth. 

That revelation will have impressive ripples in society too. Sure, there are some idiots who will reject him; perhaps a minority of his rabid fan base will repudiate him. More people will cheer him or shrug and say, “Whatever.” Either way, that’s good.

“We congratulate Clay for making this decision and for setting an example for others and his family,” Neil Giuliano, president of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation told People. “As we’re seeing, more and more gay people, including celebrities, are living openly and honestly, and this has tremendous impact in terms of creating awareness, understanding and acceptance.”

Aiken’s coming out also has the ability to bring ignorant people out of the darkness and into the light of true justice. As Family Equality Council Executive Director Jennifer Chrisler told the magazine, “Much like Rosie O’Donnell, the announcement that Clay Aiken is gay reinforces a simple reality: the American public can no longer say it does not know a gay or lesbian parent. Clay Aiken’s desire to raise a child in an open and honest manner will make his life, and his son’s, all the better.” 

In my own experience, it has been amazing to see once-homophobic people blossom into tolerant, more loving individuals after they find out someone they know and care for is gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. I am so proud of my mother in so many ways and for so many things, but mostly because of her growth as a person. Mom has never been hateful toward gay people. When my best friend came out nearly 30 years ago, she embraced him when his own parents would not. She still, however, saw “differences” between gays and heterosexuals, and being Catholic, she could not wrap her brain around the idea of gays becoming parents or marrying. But over the years, even as we both grew tired of debating with one another, she paid close attention to the work I was doing and, more importantly, to what was happening in the world. 

One day a few years ago, I was at Mom’s house and the two of us were watching the news on television. A story came on about the issue of marriage equality. I paid minimal attention to the piece until my mother’s voice emerged in opposition to a right-wing pundit going nuts about “the sanctity of traditional marriage.” “What does his religion have to do with anything? Isn’t there separation of church and state? Equal is equal — if I can marry the person I want, why not the gays?”

Yeah. I was stunned. And proud — particularly because she came to that way of thinking of her own volition and because she really thought about the effects the law as is has on people she knows and loves.

I would wager Aiken’s mother, who has known the truth for four years, is traveling a similar path, as many Claymates will be.  That is good news for anyone who really believes in equality under law for all. The truth is, acceptance can take time in a society where even decent people can be conditioned to discriminate. Look at my mom: In time, she realized the truth. Others will too. 

People also presents a story printed shortly after Parker Aiken’s August 8 birth that featured former “Idol” contestants offering congratulations to their friend. Each one makes a point of mentioning that Clay is a role model doing good things for the world. Let’s hope they still feel the same way, because he is a role model, and now he’s a better one for finally having chosen the road of truth.

Aiken’s artfully handled coming-out also presents a family: Aiken, his friend Jaymes Foster, and their little two-month-old darling, Parker. No one can say that GLBT people can’t be devoted to faith and family if they hope to be taken at all seriously. If many conservative types fell for the delusion that they didn’t know any gay people or gays with children before, they now have a living, breathing example who comes from the Bible Belt. They’ll see the adorable picture of father and son on newsstands all over town. 

If right-wingers disaparage Aiken and Foster or cause difficulty for that beautiful boy and his family, those “family-values” conservatives will be outed before the public: Yes, they’re judgmental, anti-family, control-freak hypocrites!

Newsweek offers a different take on the news, taking aim at Aiken, not for coming out or for being gay, but — justifiably, I believe — for lying about it blatantly for years.

Reporter Ramin Setoodeh writes that when he interviewed Aiken in January 2008, the singer was rude to him, compared Newsweek to the National Enquirer, and threatened to end the meeting when asked questions regarding his sexuality and controversies that have popped up in his career.

Setoodeh offers a question that went through my mind after I first heard the not-surprising news:

[W]hy should Aiken deserve to be praised for coming out at the age of 29? You could say that a person’s sexuality is nobody’s business. But unlike other gay celebrities who have come out recently, like Neil Patrick Harris or Lance Bass, Aiken denied that he was gay long beyond the point of ridiculousness, and he did it in a way that bordered on homophobic. 

… The denials only made Aiken a bigger target in interviews, and it was mostly his own fault. He told New York magazine that he’d never had a relationship, prompting ABC News to run a story called: “Could Clay Aiken Be Asexual?” When I brought up his sexuality, his face turned into a mask of scorn, but I could tell it was a performance he’d given before. … The next week, my interview went viral, landing on a number of blogs, including Perez Hilton. The Associated Press and “Entertainment Tonight” even picked it up. When Aiken himself appeared on the show, he alleged that he’d been misquoted in Newsweek, though misquoted over what he didn’t exactly say.

This week, Aiken told People he hoped he didn’t let his fans down—the conservative, panty-tossing Claymates who scooped up his albums by the millions. … [His] announcement almost overshadowed the other gay news of the week. Lindsay Lohan confirmed she’s been dating a 31-year-old woman named Samantha Ronson for “a very long time.” She’s never seemed happier or more normal in her post-rehab days, and honestly, her career will probably benefit from the stability in her life. Which just goes to show that Aiken shouldn’t have been scared of letting his Claymates down. He was probably more scared of letting Clay Aiken down—a shame, because when he tries to teach his son about honesty, he’ll have to come up with a reason for why he lied for so long.


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