Monday, March 22, 2010

James Randi comes out

James "The Amazing" Randi is a skeptical hero.  He is best known for exposing frauds like Uri Geller the psychic and Peter Popoff the faith healer back in the 70's and 80's.  He also founded the James Randi Educational Foundation and its One Million Dollar Challenge, which offers $1,000,000 to anyone who can prove a paranormal claim.

At age 81, James Randi has publicly come out as gay, both in an interview and in the JREF newsletter.

Some readers are confused.  Is this a big deal, a tribute to social progress and to the diversity in the skeptical movement?  Or is it something to be shrugged off, the same way we would shrug off the revelation that Phil Plait is straight, and happily married too?  It's okay to be confused, because it's sort of both.

I, for one, am very happy about the announcement.  As regular readers know, I recently came out myself, and that was a huge deal to me.  So of course I think it's a big deal someone as awesome as Randi comes out, and in his 80s too.  Being gay 60 years ago could not have been easy.  James Randi is now the most prominent skeptical celebrity who is not heterosexual.  Before this announcement... let's just say I wasn't aware of any well-known ones.

But it's not a big deal, because James Randi is still the same skeptical hero he was before.  Heterosexual privilege #38: You can be open about your sexual orientation without it being the focus of any public career you may have.  I'm happy that we're at a point where non-heterosexuals can do the same.

And the reason we now have this privilege, and others, is thanks to many public figures who came out, just like James Randi.  James Randi was previously only out to close friends and colleagues, but he was inspired by the film Milk to state it as publicly as possible.  Good for him!