But was this even outing? I don’t think so. Though Koch avoided talking about his sexual orientation and once, in a 1989 radio interview, even said he was heterosexual, there is enormous evidence that he was gay (Humm goes through it step by step). And speculation about his homosexuality has been floating around in the public consciousness at least since 1977, during his mayoral primary against Mario Cuomo (New York’s future governor and father of the one currently serving) when, the Daily Beast notes, “posters of mysterious origin appeared saying, ‘Vote for Cuomo, Not the Homo.”

Important public figures like Koch, who affected the lives of millions of people, deserve to have their impact and legacy evaluated carefully, and that’s what these gay writers did. In the end, we should have sympathy for such a complex man, Richard Socarides writes in The New Yorker, though he says that he, too, wishes that Koch had come out. It would have made the mayor a light to young gays and lesbians, like Socarides, who had needed one. Even so, he says, “How difficult it must have been, to maintain that kind of secret for so long and in the context of such a public life.”

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Jennifer Vanasco is a is a news editor at WNYC and the former editor in chief of MTV Network's LGBT news site 365gay.com. She writes about social minorities, national politics, and culture. Her award-winning newspaper column on gay and women's issues ran for 15 years.