Last week Ellen Page publicly came out at a Human Rights Campaign conference in a moving speech that brought tears to my eyes. Harriet Williamson explains why this matters, especially to young people struggling with their identity and subject to bullying and harassment.
Her strength and bravery in coming out is not, for me at least, in question. It’s inspiring to have high profile actors, musicians, sports stars and entrepreneurs come out as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered. It makes being part of the LGBTQ community feel less lonely, and not something that should be hidden because you’re afraid of mockery, of not being selected for jobs or of losing friends, contacts and status. The normalization of homosexuality by famous names even makes it harder for young people to bully their LGBTQ peers. I wish Ellen Page had been out when I was a scared twelve-year-old who knew she had to get a boyfriend to fit in and stop the taunts of ‘ugly lesbian bitch’.
Jane Czyzselska writing for the Guardian yesterday is of the opinion that Page’s disclosure “shouldn’t really be news”. I fear that commentators who wish to deny the importance of Page’s speech are rather missing the point. Page’s coming out should be news, as long as we live in a world where homophobia still exists. It should be news because she is giving hope to all of those who are still in the closet, still “lying by omission” and still too afraid to embrace who they are. If we skip over Page’s speech as unimportant, as an irrelevant disclosure, we are downgrading her bravery and failing to recognise how valuable it is for the LGBTQ community when high profile persons decide to be publicly out.
I think celebrities coming out is a huge part of changing public opinion. I don’t think Ellen Degeneres has gotten nearly enough credit for the enormous effect her coming out had. Most bigotry is caused by ignorance rather than malice and the mere fact of knowing someone who is gay often destroys negative stereotypes and breaks down biases. Tens of millions of Americans “know” both Ellens, they like them and admire them. So when they come out of the closet, the effect is enormous.