Publicist Howard Bragman, who has helped celebrities such as Chely Wright, Meredith Baxter and Chaz Bono come out on their own terms, is reportedly developing a series with JUMA Entertainment and A&E in which high profiled figures will document their experiences as they publicly announce their LGBT identity. The project is tentatively titled Coming Out.
First reported by Deadline Hollywood, the show’s concept will feature “multiple public figures coming out of the closet.” Confirming this, Bragman told The Advocate “There is no more important political act than coming out and I hope this show will enable people to do it with great dignity, empathy, and class.”
Who is Howard Bragman?
Bragman, openly gay and married to Chuck O’Donnell who had a decade long stint as USC’s Tommy Trojan, runs the Los Angeles-based PR firm Fifteen Minutes. He is considered by many in Hollywood as the coming out expert. As mentioned above, he recently helped Chaz Bono to go public about his trans status and has helped a diverse list of stars to come out including John Amaechi and Dick Sargent whom he helped come out on National Coming Out Day in October, 1991.
At a recent appearance at Outfest, Bragman labeled the fact that many celebrities feel the need to live their public lives closeted in order to protect their careers as “sad”.
From On Top Magazine:
“If there are superstar male actors who are in the closet and they are worth $100 million and they have this whole fake life, there’s just nothing sadder,” he told the crowd.
Coming Out: A Step Too Far for Reality TV, or a Worthwhile Show for LGBT Kids and Families?
Knowing Bragman’s reputation, I would like to think that the show would be everything he has promised, “dignity, empathy and class” burning at the heart of this project.
In this regard, the show could be a valuable platform in helping young LGBTs as they come out, not necessarily pushing them to make that step, but as a way to feel that they are not alone in doing so. Also, depending on the format of the show and if it includes the families of those participating, it could help those about to come out and parents and relatives of children who have come out already, to see how other families have dealt with the situation and that one’s initial reaction does not necessarily have to be a final word – that reconciliation and acceptance is possible if things start off negatively.
Also, I am reminded of the positive impact that celebrities can have when they come out. Most recently, you may remember how True Blood star Anna Paquin chose to come out as bisexual when she appeared in a PSA for the advocacy group Give a Damn earlier this year and therein helped to spread the organization’s message in a meaningful and empowering way. If this was to be the defining spirit of Howard Bragman’s show, it could be a powerful and perhaps even inspiring vehicle, especially if it were to incorporate trans issues and trans coming out stories which are vitally important today.
Yet I have some concerns. As much as Bragman may want to forge a dignified television program, I find myself somewhat skeptical of that outcome due to the fact that the so-called celebrities I fear this show might attract may in fact be waining stars hoping to relaunch their careers, while all of the working, high profiled celebrities – whose coming out might actually mean something – will stay clear so as not to risk a backlash.
There’s also the problem of how fundamentally different the experiences of high profiled celebrities are to those of the young people who may watch the program. While the fear of coming out translates almost universally, it is likely that the celebrities in question will have built up a team around them, people who already know about their sexuality and who will be there to support them.
Needless to say this might be very different from the experiences of many young people who currently lead fully closeted lives. They must deal with the terrifying notion of announcing their sexuality not knowing whether anyone will be around to pick them up should their nearest and dearest react negatively.
Both situations are undeniably difficult, but they are not equatable experiences. A recognition of that fact and an emphasis on trying to provide a variety of different stories within the show could serve to remedy this if handled properly, so this is not a criticism of the concept so much as it is an issue that the show’s creators will likely have to address.
All that said, I do think there could be a genuine interest in this kind of a series and, if handled correctly, it does have the potential to be an illuminating and worthwhile show. I just hope that the charms of commercialism do not override the “great dignity, empathy, and class” that Bragman seeks to put at the heart of this project.