Thursday 17 October 2019

Turning a new Page – you can come out now, Ellen

When Ellen DeGeneres came out 17 years ago she didn't work for three years. Will it be any easier for Ellen Page, who made her gay declaration this week? Deirdre Reynolds reports

Ellen Page
Ellen Page

Deirdre Reynolds

Juno star Ellen Page this week became the latest member of Team Panti – in spirit, at least. The Oscar-nominated actress made headlines across the world after coming out on Valentine's Day.

Speaking at the inaugural Human Rights Campaign Foundation's Time To THRIVE conference in Las Vegas, she revealed: "I am here today because I am gay. And because maybe I can make a difference to help others have an easier and more hopeful time."

In a stirring eight-minute speech echoing the sentiments of Miss Panti Bliss – Rory O'Neill – on the Abbey stage recently, Page spoke out against homophobia in Hollywood, and told how she was "tired of hiding".

"I feel a personal obligation and a social responsibility," the 26-year-old told the audience of LGBT [Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender] youth to a standing ovation.

"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 that pain."

Seventeen years after her namesake Ellen DeGeneres sensationally declared "Yep, I'm Gay" on the cover of Time magazine, online reaction to Page's coming out speech has run the gamut from 'Go girl!' to 'So what?'

For some fans though, much like the name of her X Men: Days of Future Past character, it's all a matter of Kitty Pryde.

"More and more celebrities are coming out nowadays," says David Carroll, executive director of BeLonG To, a national LGBT youth organisation for 14-23 year olds. "What stood out about Ellen's speech was how amazingly articulate and authentic it was. Things are rapidly changing for the better for LGBT young people in Ireland.

"But it does help towards building resilience to see that there are very successful people out there who have gone through similar struggles to themselves, and overcome them.

"[Page's speech] has had a really positive effect on LGBT young people," he adds, "young women, in particular.

"There are probably less [lesbian] role models in the public eye, so I think it was really important for the women we work with to see someone like Ellen Page, who's a very successful actress, publicly embrace her sexuality.

"It probably says as much about the cult of celebrity in our society as anything, but it does actually matter."

Canadian Page is just the latest in a cluster of stars to open up about their orientation, among them Jodie Foster, Matt Bomer and Maria Bello.

Accepting the Cecil B Demille Award at the Golden Globes last year however, after decades of media speculation, Foster's was more of an anti-coming out, coming out speech.

"I already did my coming out about a thousand years ago, back in the Stone Age," the 51 year-old, who has two children with ex-partner Cydney Bernard, announced. "Those very quaint days when a fragile young girl would open up to trusted friends and family and co-workers, and then gradually and proudly to everyone who knew her, to everyone she actually met."

Skitting about being a closeted lesbian on Saturday Night Live in 2008, and papped kissing a woman in 2011, Page hasn't exactly been doing a Rock Hudson herself: the matinee idol's homosexuality remained secret until his death from an AIDS-related illness in 1985. Currently in talks to play comic book spy Tara Chace on the big screen, the revelation seems unlikely to rock her career either.

"It's a completely different time we're living in now," says Maureen Ward, who runs the Kildare-based MVW Talent Agency.

"I remember there being this big 'shock, horror!' when Rock Hudson was found to be gay. At the end of the day, it's her business," she adds of Page's declaration.

"If she feels she wants to talk about it in public, that's totally her decision. Equally, if she felt she wanted to be private about it, it's her decision as well.

"It wouldn't, and it shouldn't, make any difference in the industry. She should be respected for her talent as an actress."

Back when the other Ellen first cracked open the Tinseltown closet, it was a different story.

"I didn't work for three years," recalled DeGeneres (56), who wed actress Portia de Rossi in 2008.

"Gay people thought I wasn't gay enough and straight people thought I was too gay.

"I remember thinking: 'There's an amount of gay I'm supposed to be?'

"Suddenly, everyone was making fun of me, or at least it seemed that way. It was paralysing."

Fellow actress-turned-chat queen Oprah Winfrey admits she has the opposite problem convincing people she's straight.

"I'm not even kind of a lesbian," the Butler star (60), who's long been linked to presenter pal Gayle King.

"And the reason why (the rumour) irritates me is because it means that somebody must think I'm lying."

Meanwhile, House of Cards star Kevin Spacey (56) continues to play his sexuality close to his chest: "You have to understand that people who choose not to discuss their personal lives are not living a lie. I don't live a lie. It's just a line I've never crossed and never will."

Star Trek actor Zachary Quinto (36) explained how he felt a "social responsibility" to acknowledge being gay after bullied teen Jamey Rodemeyer took his own life in 2011.

"It became clear to me in an instant that living a gay life without publicly acknowledging it is simply not enough to make any significant contribution to the immense work that lies ahead on the road to complete equality."

Three years on, Ellen's decision should not be underestimated, reckons Carroll: "Coming out is still a spectacularly big deal for young people, even these days when more and more people have a lesbian or gay family member or friend. People can be kind of so cool with it that they nearly bypass what an important step it is for that person to take.

"Generally it isn't a good idea to put pressure on anybody to come out when they're not ready to do it," he adds. "What was clear from Ellen's speech was that it was a really big thing for her to do this.

"It still sends a really powerful message."

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