Ricky Martin shattered a thick-layered glass ceiling Monday in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) justice movement by ending decades of speculation regarding his sexual orientation. In a bilingual blog posted on his website, the Puerto Rican entertainer wrote in English, “I am proud to say that I am a fortunate homosexual man. I am very blessed to be who I am.” He explained that his unexpected announcement was motivated by the ongoing work on his memoirs which has liberated him from “things that were too heavy…to keep inside.”
The news quickly prompted questions on timing, many again finding themselves asking “when is the best time to ‘come out’?” For me, a proud gay Latino of Mexican immigrant parents, the thought of coming out haunted me for years even though the act itself was less strenuous than living a lie; I ended up having a three–hour long conversation with my mom while driving back home from San Diego one cool April evening. The fear of rejection from our friends and family daunts us all, but for some the stakes are higher. In Ricky Martin’s case, with a global audience and a following of millions of faithful fans, his coming out day was not limited to the confines of a Ford and the intimacy of a two-person conversation with a loving Latina mother in the passenger seat.
Citing rampant homophobia and fear of rejection from his audience, Ricky says that for years people close to him begged him not to come out, saying “it’s not important… many people in the world are not ready to accept your truth, your reality, your nature.”
His truth, being a gay man, is one many pop icons have struggled with, including Elton John, George Michael, Adam Lambert and Christian Chavez. Having to choose between living a lie and potentially losing their core audience, gay male pop icons are subjected to a double standard, scrutinized when appearing too effeminate, hyper-sexual or even worse, thought to be immoral deviants because of hateful and erroneous religious convictions.
Acknowledging this machismo, the rigid, hyper-masculinity by which men are often measured, fellow Puerto Rican singer Residente of the reggaeton group Calle 13 said “being a man has nothing to do with your sexual preference, but instead on the integrity of your words…. Ricky Martin is more of a man than many men who claim to be men.”
While the world today might be more welcoming and safer than the days before the Latino- led Stonewall riots, even in Ricky’s home, la Isla del Encanto, we continue fighting violent homophobia, as witnessed in the slaying of the young Puerto Rican Jorge Steven Lopez Mercado last year. While the work of LGBT leaders and organizations worldwide, as well as our work as openly LGBT individuals, helps to diminish stereotypes and alleviate hostile environments where they once existed, there is still a lot of work to be done.
It seems that Ricky Martin will now serve as an indispensable role model and inspiration to the LGBT community worldwide, especially to LGBT youth struggling to find acceptance at home and in school. We celebrate Ricky’s coming out not only as an opportunity for non-gay individuals to reevaluate their prejudice against LGBT people but also the possibility of him becoming a spokesperson on LGBT rights. His success with his humanitarian work, most recently the effort around the Haiti earthquake relief, could help propel the fight for LGBT rights and the freedom to marry.
In California, where voters have become more supportive of the right for same-sex couples to marry, a climb from 48 to 50 percent since March 2009 according to a recent Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) poll, Ricky could help increase awareness of LGBT rights. Yet most importantly, the Latino community would benefit the most from his work, as many still struggle with the issue of civil marriage for same-sex couples. Because we’ve learned that sharing our personal stories as openly LGBT people with our friends, family, coworkers and neighbors is the most effective way to end homophobia and change hearts and minds, we gladly make an open invitation for Ricky Martin to join us in our effort: www.eqca.org/volunteer. We hope that you, the reader, can join us too.