Vanessa Vitiello pays homage to the closeted public figures who used their positions to advance gay rights from within the halls of power:
This is not meant to suggest that traditional activism was unimportant to the struggle for gay and lesbian equality. Quite the contrary: Before the Stonewall riots begat the modern gay rights movement, it seemed unlikely that the status quo of hiding—and of meekly submitting to occasional acts of harassment and violence by law enforcement—would ever change. An activist front in the battle for acceptance was a necessary precondition for subsequent developments. But activists on the outside looking in could never have brought about change so quickly on their own; they needed closet cases embedded in the existing power structure to serve as catalysts.
In 2014, even Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has gay friends. But without the closet it’s hard to imagine how that could have come to pass. In order to get from there to here, we needed people like Vaughn Walker. You may remember Walker as the federal judge who ruled California’s Prop 8 unconstitutional. He was first nominated to the federal judiciary by no less a conservative than Ronald Regan, was then blocked by Democrats (due, in part, to his perceived anti-gay stances), only to be re-nominated by George H. W. Bush and eventually confirmed. Walker didn’t come out of the closet until 2011, after he’d retired from the judiciary.