“Being born gay is one of the great blessings of my life,” Anderson Cooper proclaimed to a crowd of nearly 6,000 at University of Texas at Arlington Monday evening.
As part of the university's Maverick Speakers Series, Cooper discussed his 25-year career in journalism as well as his personal life, including his father's death when Cooper was 10 years old and his brother's suicide in front of their mother, Gloria Vanderbilt, while Cooper was a student at Yale, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports.
But it was the journalist's candid observations on homosexuality that had particular salience Monday night, in light of NFL prospect Michael Sam's coming-out announcement Sunday, which made Sam one of the first openly gay college football players.
Cooper bristled at a question about whether it was strange in 2014 that the athlete's coming-out was such a major news story. "It's not strange to me at all," he replied, before citing hangings in Iran and floggings in Nigeria as examples of the oppression many LGBT people face around the world.
Focusing on the situation here in the U.S., Cooper remarked, "We're getting to a time in the United States where nobody can say they don't know somebody who's gay, whether it's a family member or somebody in the public eye ... and I think that has a certain power and a certain impact."
But Cooper emphasized that it was "particularly brave" for Sam to come out before the NFL draft. Based on his review of Sports Illustrated earlier in the day, Cooper said of Sam, "He's definitely going to drop down in the draft because of this — there's going to be a lot of teams that absolutely will not have him, a lot of players who absolutely will not allow this in the locker room."
Cooper reframed the debate for the audience, saying he "kept taking out the word 'gay,' and inserting the word 'black' or inserting the word 'Christian' or inserting the word 'Jewish.' And thinking, if any one of these people said ... 'There's no way any NFL team is ready to have a Jewish player,' you would think, What are you talking about?"
As Cooper noted, many years ago sports teams had racial barriers, and they have been lifted. So too should any barrier based on sexual orientation, he said. "I do think this is part of the arc of history and part of the civil rights movement," he added.
The CNN anchor expressed his own comfort with his sexuality, particularly since coming out publicly in July 2012, joking that some "very determined young ladies" continue to ask him out on dates.
In his now-famous coming-out letter to Andrew Sullivan in 2012, Cooper wrote, "The fact is, I’m gay, always have been, always will be, and I couldn’t be any more happy, comfortable with myself, and proud." He went on to say, "I have always been very open and honest about this part of my life with my friends, my family, and my colleagues. In a perfect world, I don’t think it’s anyone else’s business, but I do think there is value in standing up and being counted. I’m not an activist, but I am a human being and I don’t give that up by being a journalist."
Watch Cooper share his views on Sam below.