Malcolm Forbes outed March 1990: a cover story in Outweek edited by Gabriel Rotello, launches the outing debate

Malcolm Forbes outed March 1990: a cover story in Outweek edited by Gabriel Rotello, launches the outing debate – Changing perceptions

Gabriel Rotello

In March 1990, I edited an OutWeek cover story titled “The Secret Gay Life of Malcolm Forbes.” It launched one of the most fractious debates in modern gay history.

The focus of Michelangelo Signorile’s article was how the media had colluded in maintaining the “secret” of the late media mogul Malcolm Forbes’s gay life. But the larger purpose was to initiate a debate over a media double standard in which virtually all aspects of public figures’ private lives were open for scrutiny–except homosexually. This made homosexuality seem inherently worse than commonly reported things, such as adultery and abuse. It also rendered many successful gays invisible.

People argued over outing’s historic, strategic, and ethical aspects; its implications for privacy; and its impact on those outed. To some, it seemed cruel; to others, a revolutionary redefinition of homosexual identity. It was a rare moment when the gay and straight worlds were fully engaged in the same discussion.

I’ve always considered the debate’s unofficial end to be 1995, when the The Wall Street Journal revealed that another media mogul, Jann Wenner, had left his wife for his boyfriend. That was precisely what we at OutWeek had advocated: that the media report the truth about public figures when that truth is relevant.

Rotello is now a director and producer at World of Wonder.

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