By Taylor Tash
In this age of over-saturation of media and constant barrages of blog and Twitter updates, it’s always surprising when a three-week-old news story comes up in conversation. I recently overheard an acquaintance refer to New Jersey teenager Jacob Rudolph as a ‘hero.’ While being awarded Class Actor of his Parsippany high school for his appearances in school productions of plays and musicals, Rudolph used his acceptance speech as an opportunity to come out as gay. His father was said to have been so proud of him that it compelled him to upload the video taken of the speech to YouTube.
Sure, Rudolph’s revelation on such a grand scale was both brave and bold, but what exactly makes him a hero for doing it? He lives in a blue state, his family is seemingly very supportive of him, and instead of being booed off the stage or having a bucket of pig’s blood dumped on his head, his announcement was met with uproarious applause. If his family is happy for him and since New Jersey isn’t one of the more bigoted states which excuses anti-gay sentiments in schools, what exactly was Rudolph risking or pioneering? Maybe he was bullied for the speech, but why should Rudolph or the rest of us care about the opinions of a few ignorant teenagers?
Instead of isolating Rudolph and calling him a hero, it’s more important to look at him as a product of the collective consciousness’s evolving acceptance of homosexuality. We’ve reached a point as a society where it’s not shocking or consequential anymore to be openly gay, and the reactions of Rudolph’s father and the audience who heard his speech are indicative of this. While homophobic sensibilities certainly still exist, such opinions have been presented in the media as unpopular and ignorant for almost two decades. By focusing on coming out stories such as Rudolph’s, who are these writers and bloggers pandering towards or fighting against? Do we as a community still need to be showboating that we’re happy with who we are and that we aren’t going away even though with each year our most outspoken and bigoted critics prove to be a rapidly shrinking minority? With that being considered, why do we still need stories like Rudolph’s to inspire us? I’d imagine that some gay teens in more conservative and bigoted states, families, and schools would instead feel resentment and jealousy towards Rudolph for living in such an ideal situation.
With marriage equality the focal right we’ve been fighting for over the past twenty years, we’re striving for normalcy and homogeneity within the rest of society. The fact that gay marriage is now legal in nine states proves that our efforts are successful. By awarding so much pomp and circumstance onto outings, same-sex relationships on television, and gay public displays of affection we’re essentially telling the rest of society that we’re somehow better than everyone else and we deserve attention for things that are ultimately mundane amongst the gay community. With such a wide acceptance of our community growing each and every day, this constant need for attention and validation just makes us seem smug.
It’s no longer national news when a woman votes or an African-American gets a seat on a bus. I’m looking forward to the day when teenagers coming out, regardless of the scale or the delivery, isn’t either.