It’s time to jettison the backhanded merit badge “openly.”

Much of the deservedly fawning coverage of the Biden administration’s rainbow wave of appointments used this well-meaning but inappropriate term. The New York Times touted Pete Buttigieg’s successful appointment as “the first openly gay Cabinet Secretary to have been approved by the Senate.” The Washington Post also wrote Buttigieg “is the first openly gay person to be confirmed by the Senate for a Cabinet position.” Even the Human Rights Campaign tossed off the label in their press release heralding “Secretary Pete Buttigieg Makes History As First Openly LGBTQ, Senate-Confirmed Person to Lead a Department.”

Dr. Rachel Levine, nominated for assistant secretary of Health, got similar treatment by The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Human Rights Campaign, and many others as she was reported to be the first openly transgender federal official put forth for Senate confirmation. Even this publication chose to signify Levine’s appointment with the loaded term.

“Openly” is a noxious designation that is not as accepting or as enlightened as it seems. “Openly” is in fact the reaction to disapproval. It expresses surprise, shock, that someone LGBTQ+ is actually, officially, not hiding in plain sight.


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  • Richie Jackson is the author of the book Gay Like Me published by HarperCollins, an opinion columnist for The Advocate, and an award-winning Broadway, television, and film producer who produced the Tony Award-nominated Harvey Fierstein’s Torch Song on Broadway and executive produced Showtime’s Nurse Jackie (Emmy and Golden Globe nominee for “Best Comedy Series”) for seven seasons. As an alumnus of NYU, he endows a program at his alma mater to train the next generation of LGBTQ+ activists called the Richie Jackson LGBTQ+ Service Fellows. He and his husband, Jordan Roth, were honored with The Trevor Project’s Trevor Hero Award. They are the proud parents of two extraordinary sons.