Skepticism

James Randi Comes Out Of The Closet at 81

On Swift and on DJ Grothe’s new podcast For Good Reason, Randi at last says publicly what until now only close friends and loved ones have known: that he is gay.

“I wasn’t hiding in the closet. I just found the closet door.”

Randi also mentions in the interview with DJ that the beard wasn’t an attempt to look more manly. It’s just his awesome magical style, okay?

I was thrilled when DJ was hired as president of the JREF, not only because he’s a talented, intelligent person but also because he’s openly gay. Just as I want to see more interaction between skeptics and feminists, I also love to see overlap between the gay and other civil rights groups with the skeptical community.

Though in the middle of his interview Randi makes clear that the JREF isn’t a “gay organization” now that the top two guys there are out homosexuals, I sincerely hope that this helps highlight the fact that the skeptical community is a diverse one. I also hope this helps a higher profile (than Skepchick, fer instance) organization tackle more gay/skeptic issues, which happily DJ goes into at the end of the interview. Randi agrees that the JREF will take on gay rights issues as they call for it. Awesome.

Congrats, Randi.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

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66 Comments

  1. I guess that most of us are quite surprised by his coming out – not because it’s really that shocking that he’s gay, but because it’s always surprising when someone comes out at his age.

    Rebecca, like you, I think it’s great that there is more diversity in the skeptic sphere, and agree it would be great if skeptic organizations would start addressing these issues more than they already do.

  2. Skepticism is about seeing the world as it really is, and not accepting anything without good reason. Right?

    Well, there are a lot of people who want us to accept that homosexuality is wrong without good reason. They use moral arguments that don’t hold up (there is nothing immoral about homosexuality on its face), and when those fail they try to appeal to rationality by claiming that not only do children turn out to be gay because they were damaged by their parents, but that gay parents damage their children. Neither of which are true– in fact, a lot of gay parents in America became parents in the first place because they weren’t allowed to adopt, but were allowed to become the foster parents of kids that straight parents messed up raising in the first place. Exhibit A: Florida.

    So I think that homosexuality is highly relevant to skepticism and to JREF specifically. Since Randi is the highly visible head of that organization, his coming out reminds us that any person we respect and admire for their thoughts and accomplishments may be as well. Sinful? I don’t think so. Mental disability? Not hardly. It’s just the way people such as Randi quietly go about their lives, as equal and deserving of dignity as everyone else.

  3. Hey cool! I mean, I wish it wasn’t such a big deal for someone to come out as gay — to me, it almost sounds mundane, like “coming out as Irish” or something. But given the status quo, it still takes some guts, especially for someone in the public eye. So, good on ya, Randi.

    More importantly, it’s good to hear the chemo went relatively smoothly and here’s hoping it’s been effective.

  4. I have a hard time imagining the world Randi grew up in, things were so much different then. Being openly gay was unthinkable and dangerous. That anyone who grew up in that sort of environment is comfortable coming out at any age is amazing but then he is the Amazing Randi.

  5. You’re right about that, Noadi. My boyfriend’s father is gay and in his 70’s. He married a woman and had two kids because he thought that was his only choice. Not surprisingly, things fell apart and they divorced while the kids were still pretty young. Every time someone like Randi comes out, that’s a reminder that it’s not the only choice, and not something that has to be hidden.

  6. Hi there!

    When I was in my early days of skepticism, I remember looking up information on James Randi and finding some outrageous, poorly-done website that accused Randi of being a gay pedophile NAMBLA-card owning Atheist. Even though I didn’t know a whole lot about Randi, I could tell that this site was made by someone with an axe to grind and a whole lot of anger. I guess my first real shot at skepticism was being skeptical of this person’s web site.

    Once I got my facts straight, I realized that it didn’t matter if he gay, straight, or asexual. But of all the various libels and accusations on that bad web-page, the only scandalous “facts” that even held water were that he was definitely an atheist. Oooh, scandal!) and gay? Hrmmmmm …

    @opcnup – Who’s Winston Wu? He might have been the guy who made the web-page I saw.

    So I guess it doesn’t surprise me to find out that he is gay. I did think it was odd that he was 81 and never been married, but again, Some people just don’t like marriage.

    So now that he’s out, good for him! It’s a shame that he didn’t come out sooner than this, but congrats to DJ on helping him to find the closet door. :)

  7. I am literally floored, gobsmacked, speechless.

    I’m gay and have been a skeptic for about 10 years, since my late teens. Throughout this time James Randi has always been a personal hero for me. This is a very proud day. Mr. Randi’s courage and ceaseless, uncompromising intellectual honesty are a great inspiration.

    I’m practically on the verge of tears right now. And no, not just because ‘he’s one of us’ or some such, but because things are REALLY actually changing in this country and gay people can finally be themselves for once. We don’t have to hide anymore. This means so much to me. I’m so happy for him.

    *blubbers all over*

  8. I am always happy to hear of someone from an historically under-represented subset of the population being a skeptic. Hearing that a (and for a many many years the only) prominent public skeptic is gay I think is to the benefit of both the gay community and the skeptic community. It addresses in a forthright manner at least 25% the “old straight white guy” stereotype of skepticism and it can serve as an inspiration to other gay people.

    I don’t view Randi any differently than I did 5 minutes before I read this, I still think he’s just the same amount of awesome that I did. But I do think he is even more important as a public face of skepticism in reaching out to people who may feel like they’re going to face the same problems in the skeptical community that they do in the larger culture.

  9. I read about this on my iPhone during brunch today thru DJ Grothe’s status update, as I was chomping on some bacon. I was deeply excited, and finished listening to the podcast a few minutes ago. I had wondered about Randi, as his bios online mention nothing about marriage or children, usually a good clue. I’ve been involved with NYC Skeptics for a couple of years and attended a TAM, and have wondered about the presence of other GLBT folks in these orgs and at these events, and it’s getting increasingly obvious to me that we are numerous, and even in the vanguard. Yippee, Randi!

  10. Dear Skeptics around the internet,

    When an 81 year old man comes out of the closet as gay, discussing what a difficult struggle it has been to be a gay man before being homosexual was okay even in the most progressive communities, the proper response is, “Congratualtions” and words of support and encouragement. Because the act is brave. Randi has little to personally gain by publicly announcing something so private, and already being an object of so much public ire, he’s opening himself up to more personal attacks. Imagine being forced to live a lie for 81 years, then admitting to the world that yes, you are that thing that you were raised to think was a shameful abomination and a pox upon human beings.

    The incorrect response is to turn it around and make it about you by saying, “ZOMG I so toats knew it! ZOMG! I was right! KNEW IT! KNEW IT! KNEW IT! He’s so gay! How did no one else see it when I totally saw it? For real, I actually picked 2005 for Randi’s coming out in our local skeptigay pool. I can’t believe I lost $20. What a sad day for me.”

    Kudos, Randi. Congratulations. And now that you’re ready to fight, this army stands behind you and in front of you.

  11. I guess all the psychics failed to predict this one.

    But really, I’m very happy to hear when anyone, regardless who they are, act in a way that a way that is more open. I know that this is never a simple decision for people in this world, but every time someone is open about an issue of social oppression it helps the next generation.

    Randi, you are a hero to many. You have been since before I was alive. What you do has given both strength and voice to so many. I hope your actions today will help give more people strength and greater voice.

    I’m getting really mushy now, so I’ll stop…. Ah what the hell. Randi I’m sure I speak for many when I say I LOVE YOU JAMES RANDI!

  12. @Advocatus Diaboli: Agreed, it was a good comment. And COTW is fine anytime and I’ll second yours.

    @Magnus H.: Well said and thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings.

    I think that Rebbecca’s comments are exactly right in that if the skeptical community also claims to be rational, then accepting people for who they are and being unaffected by someone else sexuality should be a hallmark of who we are.

  13. Well, that explains why I’ve never heard from him or anyone else about a wife or kids or anything. I love Randi and his organization, but I really don’t care that he’s decided to come out. He’s going to be James Randi to me either way.

  14. “…in the middle of his interview Randi makes clear that the JREF isn’t a “gay organization” now that the top two guys there are out homosexuals…”

    But, it still can be a bright, carefree, and joyous organization, right?

    :)

  15. I was introduced to James Randi’s work close to two decades ago. I was fortunate enough to be able to get into a college class about skeptical thinking, and “The Hundredth Monkey” was one of the textbooks for the class. The joke about “proving” the reindeer completely shattered my viewpoints on the world.

    So, like many people here, I’m finding myself tearing up over the announcement that Randi has finally been able to admit that he’s gay. But, I have to confess, it’s probably for the wrong reason.

    James Randi is a crusader for truth and justice, who has thrown himself headlong into the path of stupidity and crankery. And now, at 81, recovering from chemotherapy… he’s able to admit to a minor but undeniable aspect of who he is.

    The announcement itself really doesn’t mean much; it’s hard for Randi to be much more of a hero to me. It just seems so unfair that he’s had to wait until now to publicly enjoy this aspect of who he is.

    I strongly urge Mr. Randi to please go ahead and live healthily for another 60 years.

  16. I am so glad he came out. I know everyone wishes that people didn’t have to come out, but right now it’s important that people know that gay people exist. Gay people from all walks of life. It is helpful to those who aren’t gay, and to those who ARE gay. For those who aren’t, it helps them to realize that gay people are just like them; for those who are, it helps to know they aren’t alone.

    It seems older “celebs” are coming out more and more now, which is awesome, and I think goes to show how much the anti-gay movement is losing.

  17. Eight decades. I’m glad he came out so publicly, but I still get a little teary-eyed thinking he kept this so close to the chest for EIGHT decades. Nobody should have to put up with bigotry for that long.

  18. @Magnus H.: Your happiness makes me grin from here to ear. I’m just loving this. It makes my activism, even in Arizona where we still have SO MUCH TO DO, seem worthwhile. Stuff like this reminds me why I do what I do, even when it feels like I’m fighting uphill constantly.

  19. Also, everyone saying, “I don’t care” or “whatever” or, “why is this important?!”… it’s important, it really is. I’ve been wishing that the Skeptic movement would take on gay issues more fully, and now I think is our chance.

    To be honest, those who say “it doesn’t matter” or “I don’t care” or “I don’t understand why people care” are coming from a very privileged place — you don’t care, because gay issues don’t affect you. You’re not gay. Or you live in a place where gay rights are a given.

    His coming out is a huge deal, for the reasons I highlight in comment #44, among many others.

  20. Randi, congrats on your coming-out.

    This is a message of hope I think. From the perspective of ‘far away’ Europe, sometimes the USA seems on a decline in accepting homosexuality.

    For me someone’s sexuality is just like the colour of hairs or eyes. But I’ve been raised in a thoroughly skeptic family with scienfic and terrific parents :-)

  21. @marilove: A very good point. But I do hope that one day (probably not within our lifetime) that a person’s sexual preferences will be as unimportant as a person’s preference in pizza toppings. Does that make sense?
    (A crappy comparison, but I’m eating pizza right now.)

  22. This is my first post ever here on Skepchick. Be kind to me, as english is a second language for me! =)

    As my nick suggests I am gay, and proud to be so, bur today I am a lot prouder to learn that one of my personal heroes is also a “comadre” as we say here in Mexico. Congratulatios Randi and now more than ever you have us watching your back.

    Proud day indeed!!

  23. @Skept-artist: It makes perfect sense. But right now we need to follow in Harvey Milk’s footsteps. I think it’s fitting that it was Milk that inspired Randi to come out. Milk was right about people needing to come out.

    (I wouldn’t force anyone to come out, nor would I tell anyone they should; but it is a good thing when they do.)

  24. James Randi has always been a hero to me, and he continues to inspire me anew even into his latest years. At the age that most people are content to sink into silent obscurity, he continues bravely forward. He is a courageous and good man, and we’re all lucky to have him among us.

    Congratulations, James.

  25. Actually, this has got me wondering if my realizing I was gay wasn’t my first introduction to skepticism. Cause I remember the world turning completely upside down at that moment and everything suddenly looked different. I remember consciously thinking, “Well…if everything I’ve been told about love and sex are wrong…what else could authorities in my world be wrong about? What else am I missing?”
    And the questions just kept coming after that.

    Oh, and – Hi Skeptartist!

  26. This absolutely made my day, I literally can’t stop grinning. It goes without saying, but Randi is an enormous hero of mine, probably more so than any other living person.

    Without decending into any social or political commentary, I’ll just say that the place I live in isn’t very progressive. The two things in life I fear the most are people finding out I’m gay and people finding out I’m an atheist. It’s not a matter of being ashamed of either, far from it… it’s just that it would be social and career suicide for me. I can’t quite explain why, but every time I find out someone I look up to is ‘out of the closet’ in regards to either subject, I feel more… included. I dunno. Reading this news today just makes me feel… lighter.

    Congrats, Amazing One.

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