The number of famous people who have acknowledged their homosexuality continues to grow. Celebrity coming out stories, like those of Ellen Page and Michael Sam, are reflective of the changes in American’s thinking when it comes to homosexuality. Even the Justice Department recently has weighed in on the matter, as more and more states legalize gay marriage. What is the impact on society of celebrity coming out stories?
Football star—Michael Sam
On February 9, 2014, Michael Sam made football history by coming out as gay. The NFL-prospect will be the first openly gay player in the National Football League after he is picked in the upcoming draft. The University of Missouri player has racked up the accolades, helping his team win the Cotton Bowl this past year and being named first-team all-American and defensive player of the year in the Southeastern Conference by the Associated Press.
Before his announcement, Michael Sam was expected to go early in the NFL draft. But as relayed in J. Bryan Lowder’s blog post, “Dale Hansen Dismantles the “Discomfort” Argument About Gay Football Players” on February 12, 2014, for Slate.com, “Sam’s gayness, the worry goes, might make other fellows in the locker room uncomfortable, his romantic life might prove too distracting for his highly paid ‘professional’ teammates to ignore.” Lowder also cites a commentary by Dale Hansen of Dallas-Fort Worth ABC affiliate WFAA, which chastised those who are saying Michael Sam’s coming out will hurt him in the draft.
Indie darling—Ellen Page
Ellen Page joined the ranks of celebrity coming out stories on February 14, 2014, at a Human Rights Campaign event. The 26-year-old actress known for her starring role in Juno told the audience she was tired of lying about her sexuality. Other actors and celebrities who have recently announced they were gay include Victor Garber and Zachery Quinto.
Dorothy Pomerantz answered the question, “Why Ellen Page Coming Out Matters In Hollywood,” in her February 16, 2014, article for Forbes. “Page coming out is important because it’s one more actor who is telling the truth. The more prominent people in film, sports and music who are open about their sexuality, the less stigma there will be for young people who are struggling with their sexual identity. And the harder it will get for Hollywood to discriminate against gay actors.”
Legal rights for same-sex couples
While celebrity coming out stories may certainly help gay teens and young adults come to grips with their sexuality, there are still many legal hurdles they face after they come out of the closet. Even though there are now 17 U.S. states and the District of Columbia that recognize gay marriage as legal, basic rights in the remaining 33 states are denied to committed same-sex couples. But Attorney General Eric Holder recently announced that discrimination soon will change, as explained by Sam Frizell in his February 8, 2014, article, “Holder: Same-sex Couples To Get Equal Legal Rights,” for Time.
Frizell writes that the change ensures “that gay Americans have the same rights as heterosexual couples when filing bankruptcy, testifying in court or visiting partners in prison.” The federal rules will not change any state laws.
Holder explained that this change reflected an expansion of civil rights. He said the Department of Justice’s policy change “will strive to ensure that same-sex marriages receive the same privileges, protections and rights as opposite-sex marriages.” Frizell adds, “The Justice Department memorandum follows a Supreme Court decision last year that declared it unconstitutional to refuse federal benefits to same-sex couples.”
Do celebrity coming out stories like those of Ellen Page and Michael Sam matter? And how will same-sex rights continue to evolve in the coming years? Share your thoughts in the comments below.