activism / Awareness / Equal Rights / Media criticism

Ellen Page: Coming Out of the Closet and Into Focus

imgresEllen Page (the actress best known for her role in Juno), recently came out as a lesbian on February 14th in the middle of a speech given at an Human Rights Campaigns conference promoting the well-being of LGBTQ youth. Her coming out has caused quite a stir in the media and thankfully, a great deal of it has been positive, and many have called her “brave” and other endearing terms. Some might be left asking, “why is the coming out of a well-to-do actress such a big deal in a generation that appears to be growing more and more accepting?”

Here’s why:

Ellen Degeneres and her wife Portia de Rossi via people.com

Ellen Degeneres and her wife Portia de Rossi via people.com

Ellen Page is not the first person in the media to come out as gay. Of course, the sexual preferences of those such as Anderson Cooper and  Ellen DeGenres are widely known and generally accepted. Most would not question it, and would in fact, most likely find it strange to see Ellen walk the Red Carpet with a man. As well, Anderson Cooper is not expected to be seen kissing a woman. Actors, on the other hand, are different from other celebrities.

Actors often disappear into their characters and are typically viewed as synonymous  with that character and personality. Take Neil Patrick Harris’s character Barney Stinson in How I Met Your Mother – Stinson is a womanizing, ultra-masculine, sex-hungry heterosexual. Or Zachary Quinto’s character in the Star Trek film is written and developed to partake in heteronormative relations, much like Jim Parson’s character in The Big Bang Theory. Unless they make a statement, these actors become associated with their character in every day life.

Page’s coming out is important because it is one more actor being truthful. The more honesty and openness we see in the media about sexuality, the less stigma will form about and towards the LGBTQ community. It will become even more difficult for Hollywood to deny an actor a job for being gay.  Page knows very well the industry that she’s up against:

It’s weird because here I am, an actress, representing – at least in some sense – an industry that places crushing standards on all of us, not just young people, but everyone. Standards of beauty. Of a good life. Of success. Standards that, I hate to admit, have affected me.”

She is challenging the status quo for actors in her industry, where in spite of progress, most roles are reserved for straight, white women. As she said, she is “tired of lying by omission” and speaks of a day when someone’s coming out is no longer deemed newsworthy.

The fact of the matter is that we do live in a generation where one’s sexuality is still newsworthy. Just two weeks ago,

Via abcnews.com

Michael Sam via abcnews.com

NFL up-and-comer Michael Sam identified himself as gay. This announcement drew a great deal of attention to how we view entertainers, including both athletes or actors. Deviating from heteronormativity is not confined to any race, age, profession, etc. It is a big deal because there is still a great deal of cultural bias and prejudice against the LGBTQ community. Read any Internet comments section on the matter, if you can stand it. If this had been ten years ago or earlier, actors and athletes alike could have been fired or released from their contracts if they were to ever come out. While this might not be the case for those who are not in the media, the struggle is very real nonetheless. Sexuality is not something that someone should have to hide, nor should it be a newsworthy statement, but for the time being Ellen Page is acting as an influential figure aiding in the destigmatization of the LGBTQ community.

“I am tired of hiding, and I am tired of lying by omission. I suffered for years because I was scared to be out. 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.”

In the past year, there has been a great deal of progress made for the platform of gay rights. We have so far seen gay marriage legalized in multiple states across the nation, the strike-down of DOMA, and even big-name companies like Google stand up to Vladimir Putin’s anti-gay laws at the Winter Olympics in Sochi. There is still a great deal to be done to complete the bigger picture, but progress is progress and if people continue to stand up, I am certain that we will start to see even more progress made in the coming future.

Check out Ellen Page’s speech here

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