Why don't more black celebrities come out of the closet?

OPINION - Yes, attitudes are changing rapidly, but any major star that comes out runs the risk of being saddled with the symbolism for the rest of their career...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

In a 2010 interview with Upscale magazine, Queen Latifah made her thoughts on speculation about her sexuality in the media clear: “I don’t feel like I need to explain things to a perfect stranger,” she said. “The people who matter know. And they love me for Dana. I don’t have to tell Joe Blow. Joe, you worry about who you sleeping with.”

She has yet to offer the full explanation many have pleaded with her to provide, though during a performance at a gay pride event in Long Beach, California, the multi-hyphenated entertainer told a crowd, “I’ve been waiting to do this for a long time,” and added, “Y’all my peeps, I love you!”

Some sites have tried to stretch this into a confirmation that she is a lesbian, but it’s more like another nod to a suspicion without offering any real specification. Regardless of how many feel about it, such actions are within Latifah’s rights. She doesn’t owe us anything. She never did.

Still, I understand writers like Tracy Garraud hoping someone of Latifah’s stature would opt for a more socially responsible openness about her sexuality and offer black lesbians the kind of visibility currently missing from the media. Another missed opportunity came recently with Raven-Symoné, who took to Twitter to respond to a National Enquirer story that she is currently dating America’s Next Top Model contestant AzMarie Livingston.

She tweeted: “I’m living my personal life the way I’m happiest. I’m not one, in my 25 year career to disclose who I’m dating. and I shall not start now. My sexual orientation is mine, and the person I’m datings to know. I’m not one for a public display of my life.”

Many forget that Raven used to be roommates with Lindsay Lohan. If anyone knows the dangers of spilling your teapot for press, it’s her. She, too, is within her right to keep her private affairs just that, but people are looking for a symbol. Understandably so.

Though Garraud didn’t make this mistake, many others do look at the dearth of openly gay African-Americans stars and wonder, “Where are the gay black celebrities?” Yes, there are some — Wanda Sykes and CNN anchor Don Lemon come to mind — but where is someone of Ellen DeGeneres’ stature? It’s assumed that there is a discrepancy between openly gay white stars and black ones, which then points to the premise that it is much harder to escape the closet if you’re black.

To quote the wrongly vilified Rev. Jeremiah Wright, “Different does not mean deficient.” Different doesn’t always mean disproportionate either. While I can say that there is uniqueness to the kind of homophobia within the black community, I do not buy into the idea that we are more homophobic than anyone else. Look at the laws of the land in many states: the spotlight might be on us, but we are not the stars of homophobia.

I feel as though many of us who have led lives in Sodom or Gomorrah (that’s New York and Los Angeles to y’all) sometimes forget how many — regardless of color — continue to view homosexuality unfavorably. Yes, attitudes are changing rapidly, but any major star that comes out runs the risk of being saddled with the symbolism for the rest of their career. While many observers like myself would perceive this as heroic, it’s a lot to ask of a person to accept.

That’s why many celebrities, black and white, refuse to come out. And for the record, there are not that many white celebrities who are openly gay in the media either. If there were, we wouldn’t be making non-events like the New York Times‘ “outing” of The Big Bang Theory’s Jim Parsons a headline.

Parsons doesn’t address the subject at all in his profile, but the writer did — noting “ Mr. Parsons is gay and in a 10-year relationship, and working with an ensemble again onstage was like nourishment.” Parsons was never “in the closet” as many have suggested, but like many, he didn’t feel as though he needed to volunteer his privacy for the rest of us to consume.

The reasons why people want those who look and love like them to come out are valid. We have a ways to go in terms of full acceptance, and anyone who can help, ideally, should. But if they choose not to, I can’t blame them. I just remain hopeful that eventually more people who look like me will take the challenge.

Follow Michael Arceneaux on Twitter @youngsinick.