He publicly came out in '98, but he wanted to publicly come out right at the start but the record company kept advising him not to.
But yeah, people are a hell of a lot more accepting these days. It's not perfect, but it is safer.
From personal experience if I had come out as a "girl in a boy's body" (the closest description I had at the time) back in the 80's, I probably wouldn't be alive now. Whereas in the two and a bit years I been out, the worst that's happened to me is I got assaulted twice by dimwits, and a couple of times whilst using the ladies bathroom at the local shopping centre, I've had security turn up whilst I'm washing my hands, look me up and down before making a show of washing their hands. Then when I leave the bathroom there'll be someone (usually a guy) glaring at me.