The secret is out.

The Rawhide Kid is gay.

Yep, The Kid, a longtime Marvel Comics hero, is coming out of the closet when a new storyline early next year will reveal The Kid’s “keen fashion sense,” a stylish leather outfit, in what one of the publication house’s editor calls “the first gay Western.”

This has the reactionaries up in arms. Another gay plot, they cry. Another perversion of society, they wail. The end is near.

Which is a load of crap. Like racism, homophobia is just another propaganda tool to inflame the ignorant and promote intolerance in society.

All too often, those who promote this hate do so in the name of religion and morality. It really is just hypocrisy. Your son could be banging every cheerleader on the high school squad and that would be all right as long as they are all girls, but let another boy into the mix and it becomes the work of the devil.

The right wing has long been especially hypocritical when it comes to homosexuality.

When Ronald Reagan and the conservative wing of the Republican Party came to power in Washington in 1981, the leader of the National Conservative Political Action Committee was Terry Dolan, a master fundraiser and leading spokesman for the party.

Dolan was gay. Everyone knew it and chose to look the other way as NCPAC issued press releases denouncing homosexuality and the party pursued an anti-gay agenda. Yet when Dolan died of AIDs in 1986, some had the gall to actually claim they were shocked to learn he was gay.

Homosexuals have headed the political operations of the National Republican Congressional Committee, worked on Republican campaigns and served in high posts in Republican administrations, but with few exceptions they have stayed in the closet and helped their party promote anti-gay issues.

“It’s one of those dirty little secrets of Washington politics,” says Andrew Laughlin, a gay activist who served in the Reagan White House. “I hid my sexual orientation for years. It was necessary for survival.”

So when you hear the screams of hysteria, calls for boycott of Marvel comics and predictions of doom and gloom on how homosexuals are destroying society, rest assured that some of those calls are coming from people who denounce gays in their day job and then go home at night and crawl into bed with a member of the same sex.

“This kind of self-denial is prevalent among extremists,” says behavioral psychologist Jonathan Granger. “A surprising number of members of the Nazi party in Germany were Jews or came from Jewish parentage. We often find white power advocates in this country with Jewish backgrounds or an African-American ancestor.”

Some years ago, when I was still single, I dated a woman in a non-monogamous relationship for about five months when she revealed she was bi-sexual.

The look on my face must have been something because she grinned and said “that shocks you, doesn’t it.” I admitted it surprised me because she was, among other things, a fantastic lover.

“If I were sleeping with another man would you be as surprised?”

When I thought about it, I realized she was right. We dated for another eight months,

So it doesn’t bother me that The Rawhide Kid is gay any more than it doesn’t surprise me that, given the prejudices of society, it has taken Marvel so long to bring him out of the closet (The Kid has been with us since 1955).

I’ve long been suspicious of some of our other comic book heroes, including the Western hero of heroes, the Lone Ranger.

So, apparently, has The Rawhide Kid.

“I think that mask and powder-blue outfit are fantastic,” he says of the Lone Ranger. “I can certainly see why that Indian follows him around.”

And what about that strange relationship between Bruce Wayne and his “ward,” Dick Grayson? Just what the heck is going on behind the closed doors of stately Wayne Manor?

Maybe you just can’t trust guys who run around in public in tights, even when they are keeping the world safe for truth, justice and the American Way.