MEDIA STORM

Did Howard Bragman Do More Damage To Gay Celebrities Than Good?

Openly gay PR man Howard Bragman is the mastermind orchestrating the buzz around May 5’s short-lived mystery celeb coming out. We know now that the gay celeb is country singer Chely Wright — and all the build-up made her more famous than a new album and book could. But the guessing game had America speculating about other gay-ish celebrities like Queen Latifah, Shelby Lynne, Ryan Seacrest, and Anderson Cooper, none of whom were ready to come out themselves, nor answer questions about when they might. So while Bragman’s ultimate goal was to ease one client out of the closet, did he actually hurt the larger group of still-closeted gay celebs?

Bragman has helped other gay public figures come out. There’s WNBA player Cheryl Swoopes, Cher‘s daughter-cum-son Chaz Bono, and Family Ties‘ Meredith Baxter. Thanks to Bragman, Chely Wright this week becomes free to embrace lesbianism in her life. Her new memoir Like Me and album Lifted Off The Ground will undoubtedly sell big(ger) because of the buzz. That’s great for both of them, but what about the other closeted celebs who have had to fend off their own outings in the wake of Wright’s media storm? Is it OK that Wright and Bragman’s press ploy may have placed unnecessary pressure on closeted celebs? Do they have no obligation to these other gay celebrities whatsoever?

Bragman is a veteran cog of the celebrity PR machine. He’s worked in Hollywood long enough to know what effect his campaign could have on celebrities who, like Wright until this week, choose to keep their sexuality private. While he’s not morally or legally responsible for protecting the images of celebs who are neither his clients nor his friends, he knows that a surprise outing can prove devastating to an unprepared star. Bragman’s own client Isaiah Washington pushed TR Knight out the closet after reports surfaced of him screaming “faggot” on the Grey’s Anatomy set. For some, deflecting gay rumors is already a part-time job; see: Oprah, Tom Cruise, Ryan Seacrest. But by encouraging everyone to play Guess The Gay, it suggests Bragman’s only interest in coming out is about his retainer fee, not about who else suffers in the process. The entire tailored plan of his pre-announcement announcement was to encourage speculation about who it could be. It left many victims in its wake.

Then again, celebrities like Latifah, Lynne, Seacrest, and Cooper have to field gay rumors all the time. Every day they go out with or publicly kiss their partners, they risk a paparazzi shot and a tabloid dish; see: John Travolta. They’re used to that sort of pressure, have made the personal decision not to come out, and must deal with the consequences.

It may be an unkind hassle of stardom, but withstanding public pressure like this is part of the game. But must Bragman take some responsibility for turning the lives of closeted gay celebs into witch hunts?