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'I was told my career would collapse if I came out'

He has sold more than 60 million records worldwide, topped the charts in 60 countries and has been named one of the most beautiful people in the world.

Now the Puerto Rican pop star Ricky Martin, best known for the 1999 single Livin' La Vida Loca, has made headlines for a different reason: he has admitted that he is gay.

"I am proud to say that I am a fortunate homosexual man. I am very blessed to be who I am," he wrote in a lengthy open letter to fans on his website.

He explained it was the process of writing his autobiography that prompted him to make the announcement.

"Writing this account of my life, I got very close to my truth. And this is something worth celebrating... Many people told me 'Ricky it's not important', 'It's not worth it. All the things you've worked and everything you've built will collapse'. Because all this advice came from people who I love dearly, I decided to move on with my life not sharing with the world my entire truth."

Martin's statement will hardly come as a shock. His sexuality has been one of the worst-kept secrets in the music industry for years.

But there is more to this than the simple tale of a man finally coming out of the closet. The message is that homosexuality is a career-killer when it comes to pop music -- that it is more acceptable in the 21st century to be like Amy Winehouse or Pete Doherty than it is to be gay.

So should we be surprised?

Not according to Matthew Todd, editor of the gay lifestyle magazine Attitude. "The record industry itself is pretty pro-gay, but the outlets that support it, particularly radio and TV, are not," he said.

"Ricky Martin's main market is America, and there the radio and TV stations wield a huge amount of power. Just look at what happened to [American-Idol winner] Adam Lambert after he kissed a man on stage at the American Music Awards. He was kicked off all the TV shows he was due to appear on, and was replaced by Chris Brown, the man that famously beat up Rihanna."


In the realms of chart-friendly pop, homosexuality has proved a particular thorn in the side for music executives. Artists such as Ricky Martin are primed for their sex appeal to a generation of teenage girls -- tell them their idol is gay and the myth is ruined. That's the thinking anyway.

But how does that explain the success of Rufus Wainwright, or kd lang, Will Young, The Pet Shop Boys, Scissor Sisters or the countless other artists who enjoy great sales and critical kudos and make no bones about being attracted to people of the same sex? That they are not all sex symbols, and therefore not tailored purely for teenagers, is without doubt their saving grace.

When the late Stephen Gately of Boyzone announced he was gay in 1999, fans were expected to throw their hands up in horror. In fact, they rallied round in support.

The same went for Will Young, who came out to fans shortly after winning Pop Idol.

Eight years later, Young has had nine top 10 singles and has been nominated for 10 Brit Awards -- hardly the achievements of a man who is loathed for his lifestyle choices.

More recently, when Mark Feehily from Westlife came out of the closet, few even noticed.

So does anyone care whether their icons are gay or straight?

And is it any of our business anyway?

The truth is that, as consumers, we care about an artists' sexuality just as much as we care how big their house is, who they're dating and what they buy in supermarkets.

In the era of celebrity magazines, we are interested in every facet of a musician's or actor's or reality star's existence. Sexuality is just a part of the picture.