Last week, Brendan Burke — 20-year-old son of Brian Burke, the general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs — told the world he’s gay. He’d come out to his family, he’d come out to the hockey team he helps manage, and now he’s come out to the world.
Obviously, this is major. First of all, nobody has ever done this, not in a major sport, not in such a stereotypically “manly” sport, not someone so high-profile. But secondly, it’s good to have someone do it, because a lot of people don’t want to do it.
See, here’s the thing. A lot of gay celebrities, for instance many of those who are outed against their will, say that they don’t want to discuss their sexuality, that they’re personal lives are just that — personal. It’s none of the public’s business, so it shouldn’t matter if they want to conceal their homosexuality.
And to be quite frank, they’re right. It’s their lives, they can do what they want. I can’t blame them for not wanting to come out of the closet publicly. It’s there choice.
But, and this is a major but, I respect so much more those celebrities that do come out. Because they don’t have to. But they do anyway, and because they do, the rest of us have someone to look to.
Even these days, growing up, I didn’t have many gay people I could look up to, take guidance from. The idea of someone being gay was present, sure — characters in movies perhaps — but there weren’t many people in real life, in my life that stood up and said, I’m gay, it’s ok to be gay. I was never introduced to that idea. Ellen was perhaps the first one that really landed in my radar — but though she may be queer, she’s also a woman, so the connection wasn’t the same as a gay man would be for me.
So when someone does come out of the closet and present themselves to the public — Neil Patrick Harris, John Barrowman, Sir Ian McKellen — it’s like a beacon, a lighthouse to guide others, to say Here we are, here’s who we are. It tells people that yes, there are gay people out there, there are important and famous gay people out there. Gay boys can be anything straight boys can.
Except athletes. Except hockey players. And that’s why Brendan Burke’s move is so noble. It’s only a start, but it’s a great start. It’s the first move that had to be made before anyone else could make a move. It will open the conversation.
Furthermore, he’s young, and that’s also huge. For a teenager struggling with his sexuality, older gay guys aren’t going to be the ones that inspire. It sounds bad, but it’s true.
There needs to be more visibility for young people. There needs to be information, there needs to be support. A Gay-Straight Alliance at school, or a counsellor saying “I’m here to talk if you need it,” aren’t going to do it. Kids struggling with their sexuality can’t be expected to seek out information in a public space — you might as well be coming out right then and there. There need to be public speakers, there needs to be education.
I can’t blame celebrities who want to stay private. But I truly admire those who stand up, take on the opposition, and hold out their hand to help anyone who needs it. Cheers, Brendan.