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Yes, It Does Matter If Jonathan Bennett Is Gay And Out of the Closet or Not, And Here's Why

This has nothing to do with privacy. I'm so tired of people blabbering on about how we need to respect people's privacy. Sexuality shouldn't be a private matter. It certainly isn't for straight people.
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Earlier this week, "Dancing With The Stars" judge Julianne Hough was discussing "Mean Girls" star and DWTS contestant Jonathan Bennett on "Extra" with host Mario Lopez.

"[Bennett] tweeted me last year and said, like, I had a nice butt, but he also tagged my trainer," she said. "And so I was like, 'Oh, he's hitting on me. I should try to go on a date with him.'"

"What happened?" Lopez asked.

"He's gay," Hough responded. "So, I was like, that's not gonna work."

The only problem? Bennett has never said that he's gay. Any insider knowledge Hough may have aside, it isn't hard to understand why she might be under the assumption that he is and that he's out. Numerous publications have said as much and until this morning, even his Wikipedia page claimed he's gay. But if someone never says it himself -- and even his publicist declines to comment on whether or not he is or if he's out of the closet -- is he really?

After we ran a story about Hough's gaffe, I was inundated with responses (both from Gay Voices readers and my own friends and acquaintances) that mostly fell into two categories: 1. people telling me that he was gay and out ("I did shots with him at a gay bar in WeHo last year!" "My friend had sex with him!" etc) and 2. people questioning why it mattered if he publicly came out and asking why we couldn't just let him live his life.

There are many different levels of being out. You can be out to yourself, you can be out to your family, you can be out to your friends, you can be out at work, you can be out publicly and you can be out in some combination of all of the above. But when you're a public figure like Bennett, if you've never said the words "I'm gay" or, as many stars have done in recent years, have never publicly discussed or referenced a partner or date of the same sex, you're not out.

And yes, that distinction matters and yes, being out publicly matters. Here's why:

Coming out is a radical act capable of upending deep-seated assumptions about who someone is and challenging our fundamental beliefs about what that ultimately means for how we understand and treat them. In a world where you can still go to prison for being queer and hate crimes are still happening, it's a powerful weapon that disarms people and changes minds. It makes it harder and harder for people to say "I don't know anyone who is gay" or "All gay people are like this." And when minds change, so does our culture. Case in point: Republican Senator Rob Portman, who embraced marriage equality after his own son came out as gay.

What's more, not coming out continues to feed the lie that there is something shameful about being gay. And there isn't. By not coming out -- or remaining in that gray area where people know you're gay but you won't say the words -- you are, as Ellen Page put it earlier this year in her stunning coming out speech, lying by omission. By not saying you're gay, you're letting others believe you are straight, because straight is still the default -- and preferred and privileged -- orientation in our society.

And this has nothing to do with privacy. I'm so tired of people blabbering on about how we need to respect people's privacy. Sexuality shouldn't be a private matter. My being gay is a part of who I am -- just like I'm 5'8" and left handed and allergic to morphine. And sexuality certainly isn't a private matter for straight people, is it? How many straight people do you know who refuse to say that they're straight? If Bennett isn't gay, I'd love for him to say that, too. Contrary to what some people believe, being straight isn't something to be ashamed of either.

That's part of the reason I'm grateful for James Franco, a man who has made no secret of his heterosexuality. And still -- he's one of the queerest men I know. He's helped to challenge stereotypes about what it means to be straight or gay and by doing so, he's providing another kind of example -- another possibility -- for who and how we can be.

Bottom line: our sexuality isn't something we should be afraid of or afraid of sharing.

Yes, some people have very good reasons for not coming out -- they could be thrown out on the street, they could be fired from their job, their physical or mental safety could be compromised. But if that's not the case, I believe we have a responsibility to come out -- especially if you are in the public eye and your being out will have a positive impact. And today, thanks to people like Ellen DeGeneres and Ellen Page and Neil Patrick Harris and Zachary Quinto, coming out in Hollywood does not equal career suicide.

Coming out is scary. And it's not something you do once and then are done with. We have to come out every day. And even I hesitate sometimes. Just a few weeks ago when I was on a flight to Chicago, someone asked me what I did for a living and I paused for a second and thought, Do I really want to get into this? And then I took a breath and told him. Because it matters. Because that's how things change. We start speaking up and telling our truths and each time it gets a little less terrifying until one day we wake up and the world has changed. And on that day, our sexualities will still matter -- just in a different way. Gay, straight, bi, and everything in between -- we will no longer be afraid to say we love who we want to love or say we fuck who we want to fuck. But we've got some work to do before we get there and we are all on the clock, and that includes Jonathan Bennett and James Franco and you and me.

Here. Let me go first: My name is Noah Michelson and I'm a homosexual.

Now, who's next?

Note: An earlier version of this story stated that Bennett's Wikipedia page noted that he is gay. After the publication of this piece, the reference was deleted from his page.

Also on The Huffington Post:

Celebrities Who Have Come Out As LGBT