Apart from a few tut tuts, Barrymore's outing by the tabloids has provoked no widespread media inquisition or denunciation of the perpetrators. How strange. Just five months ago, the same newspapers that now have so gleefully outed Barrymore were singing a very different tune. They hysterically condemned the OutRage! outing campaign calling on bishops to "tell the truth" about their homosexuality as cruel, spiteful and evil.
Yet OutRage! only named the bishops because of their hypocrisy and homophobia: they preached against homosexuality and supported anti-gay policies while leading secret gay lives. We had the public interest defence of revealing the inconsistency between the bishops' public utterances and private behaviour. We could also argue that outing was lesbian and gay self defence, whereby we were seeking to defend the homosexual community against public figures who were abusing their influence to harm other lesbians and gay men.
The tabloid exposure of Michael Barrymore has none of these defences or justifications. It has been motivated solely by sensationalism. Barrymore has not attacked the gay community. He is therefore entitled to his privacy. Coming out should have been entirely his own decision.
There is a moral imperative for all lesbian and gay people in public life eventually to take the plunge and be truthful about their sexuality. It is wrong to stay in the closet all one's life for selfish personal motives. Closet gay people contribute little or nothing to the advancement of lesbian and gay rights, but they benefit immensely from the gains won by those with the courage to be out.
By all means let gay people who cause no harm to the homosexual community come out whenever they feel it is right for them. However, postponing honesty about one's homosexuality to an appropriate moment is not what most gay public figures do. They stay in the closet,thereby contributing to the invisibility of homosexuals in high places and reinforcing the idea that it is shameful to be gay.
The fact that Michael Barrymore has now chosen to be one of the small number of public figures to declare their homosexuality is undoubtedly welcome, if something of an anticlimax. His coming out has merely confirmed what many people long knew or suspected.
As Michael Barrymore has no doubt discovered in the past couple of days, fear of coming out is usually far worse than the consequences. Like so many before him, now that Barrymore has gone public he's probably wondering why he didn't come out years ago. His post-coming out interviews project someone looking much more relaxed and at ease with himself: proof that coming out is good for you.
The writer heads OutRage! the gay campaigning group.