Ellen Page seems to have moved the world, or at the very least, a good sized part of North America, with her admission that she is gay. NFL prospect Michael Sam did much the same thing, though he may face harsher attitudes from some of his fellow ball players. Some pundits have expressed a certain degree of disdain for these recent admissions, but it’s because Page and Sam have put a public face on the process of admitting their sexual orientation that coming out still matters.
When Sam came out, he wanted to do so on his own terms because there were rumors flying about his sexual orientation, and so, with the chance of now not being picked for the NFL draft, he faced down reporters and said he was an American footballer who happened to be gay. In making this historic admission – and make no mistake, Sam’s admission going into the NFL draft is a history-maker – Sam demonstrated incredible bravery. He knows that he’s stepping into uncharted waters by coming out before he’s been drafted, and he’s got a great chance of being drafted early in the process. While the NFL has said that they applaud Sam’s courage and honesty, they offered what is effectively a blanket and generalized statement that they could offer virtually anyone looking to break into the football: “Any player with ability and determination can succeed in the NFL.”
Ellen Page has shown no less bravery. She came out, with all microphones on her, with a message about tolerance and acceptance. Page, at 26, showed more grace and poise in her decision to come out publicly than many others her age, and was quite eloquent in doing so. Her admission that she was, in fact, gay was very nearly incidental to the speech she gave, but it was in many ways key to her message.
It is the bravery shown by athletes like Sam and actresses like Page that remains the reason why coming out does matter. Society salutes those who come out, and justifiably so. There are so many risks that come with the entire coming out process, regardless of whether you are famous or not. Ostracism, harassment, estrangement, and potential violence are among some of the risks every person who chooses to come out takes.
It does not matter whether you are famous or a regular person. When someone chooses to come out, it is a significant issue and should be applauded. Our society is not so enlightened at this point that acceptance of diversity in the form of embracing those who acknowledge their LGBTQ status comes easily. Page’s situation and Sam’s are somewhat unique, simply because they are celebrities, but that does not mean those around them in their celebrity world will openly embrace them. They lived the same fear and worries that so many who are not famous have before making the decision to come out.
That is why coming out matters, particularly when those in the public eye do it. Those who are celebrities, such as Page and Sam, are very much role models to many throughout North American society. When those who are famous come out and publicly acknowledge they are gay, the response society gives them takes on a trickle-down effect. As a result, every person who acknowledges that they are gay somehow makes it more societally acceptable for those who are not famous. One day, it may be that those who choose to come out will be truly embraced at all levels of society, but until that happens, coming out will certainly continue to be a big deal.
By Christina St-Jean