Why It’s Still a Big Deal When Ellen Page Comes Out

ellen-page
Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic

We’ve seen stars of TV shows come out of the closet, morning and evening news anchors announce they are gay, and actors of all different ages reveal their sexual orientation.

But when Ellen Page announced that she is a lesbian, in a speech in Las Vegas at an event sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign on Friday, it still was a big deal, no matter how fast public opinion has shifted on LGBT rights, or how cynical the tendency is to just say, ho-hum.

Hollywood has in many ways led the country in public acceptance, featuring gay and lesbian characters in prime time when animosity toward LGBT Americans was still very much an effective cudgel in a political campaign. Yet it has only been in the last few years where show biz’s household names have started to come out in any significant numbers, casting off notions that it would bring certain harm to their careers.

The fears have been just that. Ellen DeGeneres, after all, is a daytime talk show star (and host of this year’s Oscars) and Neil Patrick Harris stars as a womanizer on a hit network sitcom.

Page reflects the next step in the evolution of coming out: At 26, she is young, an Academy Award-nominated actress, undeniably on the upswing in public popularity and facing enormous pressure with a lot riding on her career. As she said in her speech, the industry can place “crushing standards on all of us”: “how you have to act, how you have to dress and who you have to be.”

What has shifted is the perception of risk. A message of Page’s speech was that the risks of staying in the closet, particularly among public figures, are greater than the perils of just saying, “Yep, I’m gay.” Coverage of celebrities, and all aspects of their lives, hasn’t exactly abated in recent years, which only makes it all the more awkward and difficult to stay in the closet.

Page said she came out “because I am tired of hiding and I am tired of lying by omission.

“I suffered for years because I was scared to be out,” she said in her speech. “My spirit suffered, my mental health suffered and my relationships suffered. And I’m standing here today, with all of you, on the other side of all that pain.”

P.R. veteran Howard Bragman, vice chairman of Reputation.com, notes that her coming out resonates in particular with her generation.

“These are kids who grew up with other gay people,” he says. “It is not scary. It is not frightening. They are the generation of ‘Will & Grace.'”

Bragman has assisted 15 public figures in coming out, starting with “Bewitched” star Dick Sargent in 1991. He consulted college football star Michael Sam, a top NFL draft pick, in his coming out publicly earlier this week. Bragman sees parallels between Sam’s and Page’s announcements, particularly in their age group and with the length of their careers ahead of them.

“I think we are going to see this more and more and more,” he says. “I just think this is the new normal. People are going to be out, and we are just going to be used to it. The only kind of thing we don’t have in Hollywood is the male action star, but that is more nuanced.”

Don’t rule that out, either, as he points to the currency of Hollywood: demographics. The coveted 18-34 age group is “85% positive toward gay rights and gay marriage and gay inclusion.”

“They just don’t care,” he says. “I promise you, when they are looking at a young star, no one is saying ‘He is gay.’ They are saying, ‘He is cute.’ They are saying that whether it is a male or female. That is just the kind of way society is wired today.”

Nevertheless, he says that the “single most important thing a person can do to advance gay rights is to come out of the closet.”

So by that measure, Page’s and Sam’s announcements were big deals, in part because it signals a time when coming out publicly really won’t be. It just isn’t there yet, as is shown by a glance at some social media commentary.

Jason Stuart, national co-chair of the SAG AFTRA LGBT Committee, also says that Page’s announcement shouldn’t have an impact on what types of roles she plays.

“Now she has taken her power back. She can be who she is and she can show people what a powerful actress she is,” he says. More than anything, he thinks it is the press that makes a bigger deal of whether coming out can limit a performer’s choice of roles, when “most people don’t care.”

But it wasn’t always like that. He came out 20 years ago, “when people said I was crazy. But it was eating and gnawing and me, and I felt like a victim,” says Stuart, who is appearing in the upcoming movie “Love Is Strange.” He notes that he isn’t just offered parts playing gay roles. He recently shot a part in another project, “Dirty,” where he plays a straight New York guy who runs a bar and who is “an asshole.”

Nevertheless, he recognizes the pressure on Page, even if it’s become much easier to come out now than a decade ago.

“When you are a big star, it is not just one person,” he says. “You are supporting a community of people. The more people who do what she did, the less it will matter.”

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  1. Derek says:

    your so right being happy is a big deal… I hope tabloids make her happy??? Goof ball

  2. Yawn says:

    Furthermore, wouldn’t Hugh Jackman have been a more obvious choice to “come out” and try to drum up business for the new movie? I mean, what with the musicals, and the fact that he’s ten times more popular than Page.

  3. Howard Spence says:

    I think that it is great that society is progressing to include every aspect of human existence. People should not have to hide who they are or who they love. They should not have to live in fear that someone who harbors hatred for them would try to hurt them, their children and other loved ones. There is still very real fear, violence and pain associated with coming out. It is up to all of us no matter how we label or identify ourselves to value human rights and liberties and stand up against all things unjust. Moving Forward Together…

  4. Howard Spence says:

    I think that it is great that society is progressing to include every aspect of human existence. People should not have to hide you they are or who they love. They should not have to live in fear that someone who harbors hatred for them would try to hurt them, their children and other loved ones. There is still very real fear, violence and pain associated with coming out. It is up to all of us no matter how we label or identify ourselves to value human rights and liberties and stand up for all things unjust. Moving Forward Together…

  5. Pierre Edelman says:

    After reading ZA comment from Kansas, I calmed down. Rather than pointing at the coming outs coming from the Hollywood community, I would rather have that Community commenting on laws of States like Kansas. It would be more enlightening. On the humorous side, I’d love LARRY DAVID making his coming out in an episode of “Curb your Enthusiasm”. Humor is more effective than anything else when tackling such serious issue i.e. Changing the Society. Pierre Edelman.

  6. ZA says:

    You know why this is a big deal? Because right now, in Kansas, there is a bill that basically brings back the Jim Crow laws–except this time, it is gay people who will be denied service in restaurants and hotels. They will not be allowed to marry or adopt kids, and they may be denied basic rights that are given to everyone by the federal government. Discrimination IS alive and well in the USA, and a celebrity coming out is a big deal because it resonates with the younger generation, who are far, far more tolerant than the generation currently running the government. Look up the bill that just passed the Kansas House of Representatives, and then applaud Ellen Page for standing up and being out and proud in the face of a world that still tries to deny her rights. It is difficult for almost anyone to come out; I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to be “different” in Hollywood, which is the land of stereotypes. I applaud Ellen endlessly for her bravery. The only people who don’t think it’s a big deal are the people who are unaware of how much discrimination and hate still remains in this country. Look up the Kansas bill. You won’t believe how far backwards our country has fallen.

  7. Suzanne says:

    Whether or not you’re a fan of any age, who has yet to come out or is in the process of coming out, this matters. If you don’t know what it’s like to come out, or if you’re long past this stage in your life, then of course, “who cares?” Not everything is about you. Coming out while in the public eye isn’t about publicity – no one in their right mind would want to subject themselves to criticism when it comes to their sexual orientation. I speculate that public people come out to (a) feel authentic, and (b) become role models. For this reason, I care.

  8. Warner Bros Employee says:

    My thoughts exactly.

  9. D. G. Speirs says:

    News item: “Ellen Page comes out as gay – “I’m tired of hiding.”

    Nobody thought Ellen Page was hiding. Nobody. Ellen, we already knew. At this point, if you’re in Hollywood, everybody assumes that you are gay, unless you come out as straight. And even then, we’re still not quite sure you really are.

    • spassky says:

      i’m not sure what your comment contributes to the conversation. you come off as homophobic — though, please realize, i’m not assuming you are.

      • Robert Fuller says:

        Nobody is making it your business. THAT’S why you sound homophobic. “I don’t care” has become code for “keep it in the closet.”

  10. ludi66 says:

    Who cares. Mike says there will come a time..well it is here. Not only does no one care but we are not even interested…. I agree about the career boost. When was her last big film?

  11. Mike says:

    “There will come a time when no one will care…” That time is now. No one cares except the press and B list stars who need a career boost.

  12. A “civil rights claim” has nothing to do with “special” treatment. It has everything to do with treating everyone the same, regardless of their differences. There is not a claim to have a “special” marriage license. Just the normal one will do.

  13. dee dee says:

    I don’t get why it’s a big deal… it really makes no sense that anyone in Hollywood stays in the closet. Hollywood doesn’t make movies where audience must believe the lead actress or actor has to be straight. What movies has Ellen been denied doing because she has had to be thought of as straight. If she is denied roles it may be because she simply was NOT right for the part or what the producers were looking for. In no other industry does it matter your sexual preference. Does anyone care if their waiter is gay? Or the salesperson in your office? So it is not news. It’s crazy that she even thought to hide when she has seen other entertainers older than her who have been out have peace of mind and flourishing careers…
    …does it helps a teenager who is struggling with their sexuality….is the only reason that this makes news..but the circumstance for a teen coming out is still not the same as an independent adult woman who has a great career in Hollywood. And are teens really following her career?

  14. Nanny Mo says:

    I’m sorry but it’s no longer a big deal. It’s nice that you say so, but you’re a journalist and the world is slowing starting to not care what journalists think. I read the article. It was a yawner. If Ellen makes entertainment I care about I’ll watch her, if I can’t relate or she bores me, I’ll change the channel. Enough said.

  15. James Thompson III says:

    Why is it that when an intelligent comment is made about the industry and race, someone always tries to turn it to hate. We were talking business, not hate. It just shows that hate is in your heart that you cannot discuss race and business without trying to turn the subject to hate. Perhaps it you who should grow up, if that is possible for someone who admits to turning a business topic into one of hate.

  16. I don’t really care about this either but there is no need for all the hate. If you get angry over something like this I can only imagine how miserable you are in real life. Grow up.

  17. James Thompson III says:

    She’ll still get more roles than a black female of equal talent. The industry still believes that a white woman or a white man will still sell more tickets than a black woman or a black male of equal or greater talent. It’s really the industry that should come out of the closet when it comes to racism, ageism and bigotry of all kinds. I do wish Ellen Page had not made her announcement under the protective umbrella of the football player’s announcement. His announcement really was courageous. Now when it goes down in history, Ellen Page will be an unwarrented foot note detracting from his story.

    • CitizenTM says:

      It’s indeed a sad state for African American actors. However, blame the audience. Those statistics don’t lie. The studios are just business people following the money.

  18. Early Brown says:

    Seriously? You think anyone really cares?
    It seems the celebrity crowd worries much more about such tripe than the rest of us.

  19. Chicago860 says:

    Though I’m outside the x-34 demo, I’d like to add, “Who cares?”

  20. Bill says:

    Popularity on the upswing?

    Has she been in anything of note since “Inception?”

  21. Glenn C. says:

    And no body cares what the GOD says about this. Oh well. Maybe when they die then they will care. Then it’s too late. Whatever….

    • Alexis says:

      Maybe when you meet God, he will tell you were wrong for being so discriminatory. No one chooses to be gay. No one certainly choose to receive the kind of hate that you write about

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