By now, everyone has heard about the speech actress Ellen Page gave at the Time to Thrive conference presented by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation. Showing incredible emotion throughout the speech, Page thanked the organization for the work they had done and will continue to do. In the midst of her speech, Page declared “I am gay,” a statement that received a standing ovation from the audience. Some, however, find it unfortunate that it seems to be all anyone remembers from that speech. Ellen Page showed courage in making that declaration, but her message of tolerance and peace seems to have been lost in the process.
Page started the speech, seen above, with a little self-reflection. She admitted that it was weird for her to be behind that podium to give a speech to an organization that she deeply admired. She said that because she is an actress, she represents, at least in some sense, an industry that was counter-intuitive to the goals of the organization. Hollywood has high standards for beauty and success that actors and actresses, knowingly or unknowingly, project to the general public. Those standards run counter to the organization’s belief of acceptance based on an individual’s merits apart from cosmetic considerations . She said she tries to follow those beliefs in her life, but that, “it can be hard.”
She continued by saying that the reason she was standing before the audience that day was because she was encouraged by the thought that people can do more together than an individual person can do alone. That thought bolstered her and she hoped it did the same to the audience, as they prepared for organizational workshops over the following week. She said she drew courage from that thought, courage that exists in every person.
Ellen Page then spoke of the struggles that faced many in the audience. She spoke of anxiety, of bullying, of hiding the truth about oneself in order to prevent being ostracized by friends and family. Voice cracking at parts, she spoke about how creating this false image about oneself can crush a person’s spirit, how it is “toxic and painful and deeply unfair.”
She drew from her own experiences. She spoke of an instance when a gossip article attempted to tear Page down by commenting on the clothing she was wearing on her way to the gym. The magazine asked its readers why Page “insisted like dressing like a massive man.” She used this experience to discuss stereotypes and the “norms” of society and the harm they do to society as a whole. The magazine, after Page’s speech, has since removed the article from their website. Again, Ellen Page appears to have gotten that declaration through to the magazine, but the general message of the declaration may have been lost on the larger audience in the emotion of her other revelations.
That message of peace and tolerance was emphasized as she continued the speech. She said that the audience was in that room for the same reason, that they’ve accepted the simple fact that “this world would be a whole lot better if we made an effort to be just a little less horrible to one another.” She said the focus should be on the similarities that we, as the human race, share with one another, rather than the differences that keep us apart. She sais that she knows that it will be hard to do, since loving one another begins with loving oneself.
It was then that Page told the audience the reason she was speaking before them. She felt a social obligation and personal responsibility to help those who need help finding the courage to love oneself. She began this part of the speech by declaring “I am gay.” It was a simple statement, and one that she may even have glossed over without any ceremony, if not for the audience’s reaction to the declaration. It was meant to given credence to Page, to show that she has dealt and is dealing with many of the struggles that face many in the audience that day.
That statement became the main takeaway from a powerful, emotional speech about tolerance and acceptance. She showed courage by coming out in the way she did, and no doubt, the venue to do so could not have been more appropriate. Some in the audience, however, felt that as a society, in order to take the real meaning of the speech to heart, the newsworthy aspect should not be that Ellen Page is gay, but rather the points made in the rest of the speech itself. Ellen Page had an inspiring message to give that day, but for many, that message was lost in one simple declaration: “I am gay.”
By Jonathan Gardner