There’s Rosie O’Donnell, Melissa Etheridge, Ellen and Elton. This list of A-list entertainers and other celebrities coming out of closet continues to grow. More recently, Lance Bass of N’Sync and the dreamy doctor, Doogie Howser (Neil Patrick Harris) came out to family, friends and fans.
Once a seemingly taboo on-screen subject and a private sexual preference, homosexuality has hit Hollywood, both on and off-screen. Gay characters have all genres of television, even casting gay characters on popular reality shows.
Many think of Three’s Company and the innuendo with John Ritter’s Jack Tripper character pretending to be gay as the first mention of homosexuality on television. However, in 1973 Billy Crystal played a gay man on Soap. As the years went on, more and more gay characters were introduced-and over time, their depiction evolved. Scott Preisel, board member of NEPA Pride, says that Hollywood has humanized “those we do not understand.”
“Portrayal of gay characters has changed. It used to be that the gay character was for comic relief; we’d laugh at him, not with him. Or, he was tragic. Today, it’s much more realistically portrayed. They are complex characters, neither comic nor tragic-just human,” said Preisel.
Today, shows like Will & Grace and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy have won the affection of fans, no matter what their sexual preference. Even shows like the Sopranos and various soap operas flirted with GLBT storylines. In fact, All My Children has introduced a transsexual character to the cast.
As an HIV educator, Preisel is frequently in high schools. He notes a change in the climate in the classroom-it’s more open.
“Teens are rejecting labels. They don’t want to label their sexuality. Even a few years ago, (being openly gay) would have led to harassment. But schools are taking it seriously. I definitely see a change. I think pop culture both reflects the changes we are seeing, as well as sets standards,” he said.
The Hollywood hard-hitters who have came out are using their star power to build awareness for the GLBT community, just like other stars do for causes close to their heart. Rosie O’Donnell, who has been with her wife since 1998, publicly came out in 2002 to “show American what a gay parent looks like.” Since, she has become on of the most vocal advocates for gay marriage and adoption.
George Michael, Elton John and Melissa Etheridge also use their musical talent and fame to start foundations, draw crowds to fundraising concerts and more.
As Preisel noted, the more people are around the GLBT community, the more they see it on television and in movies the more accepting they will be of a lifestyle different than their own-just like learning about any new culture.