Ellen Page and Why We Should Care

By now, most people have heard about Ellen Page's Valentine's Day announcement. With a quavering voice and a strangely active right hand, she announced reminiscent of a different Ellen from years past that Yup, she's gay. But the question that seems to be on the tip of everyone's tweet is "Why should we care?"

Indeed, there has been a growing gay presence in the media. From Glee to Ugly Betty to Orange is the New Black, there really has been more homosexual characters cropping up on our screens over the last decade.  Additionally, gay marriage is currently legal in 17 states in the U.S., and it appears that America is heading in the direction of adding more states to that list. So with all this progress, and with so many celebrities already out of the closet, why should Ellen Page's announcement even be noticed? Why does being gay have to be a statement that is made, put in the news, and applauded?

Like it or not, the gay movement has not yet been won. 17 states is a great victory for gay rights, but we have to remember that the U.S. is comprised of 50 states. That's 33 states where people are refused the right to enter marriage with the person they love, and there are still so many states where a person can lose their job, not stand by a hospital bed, or get kicked out of their house just for being who they are. Many college-aged people seem to think that people coming out in the media is no longer a big deal because being gay is no longer a big deal. However, there are many people--many kids, that live in a place where being gay is a big deal. They don't get the privilege of residing in a college town where most people tend towards liberalism and acceptance. It is for these people that Ellen Page's public coming out matters.

Let's take a Page break for a moment. I remember exactly where I was when I first watched Ellen Page's Juno. I was 14, and my parents had gone out that night leaving me all alone to do whatever I want. And what I wanted was to sip stolen peach brandy from the liquor cabinet and watch Juno. After laughing at the eclectic sentences and peculiar items that decorated Juno's life and crying at the heartbreak she experienced, I finished my brandy with the closing credits.... only to press play and watch it a second time, back-to-back with the first. Needless to say, Juno had a big impact on my young mind. I even asked the bewildered hairdresser if she could give me Juno bangs, which were awkwardly short, center parted bangs on either side of my face. When you start to idolize a movie character, you form a connection, not only to the movie, but to the actor whose face carries all the emotions the character did.

When I started questioning my sexuality, I did what most people my age now do with their questions-- scoured the internet for other people's ideas, experiences, and opinions on the matter. I watched Ellen DeGeneres come out on national television. I read about suicides, conversion camps, and even about homosexual treatment in history. I watched documentaries on Netflix and started paying attention to the HRC and the news relating to gay rights. The internet made my terrifying thoughts seem more sane. Through research, I was able to see that other people feel the way I do and are able to live their lives happily and authentically.  Celebrities were and remain an important example of this idea. Celebrities like Ellen DeGeneres, and now Ellen Page, are the definition of success. They are living the American Dream with popularity, fortune, and public careers. So when you see someone who is openly gay maintain celebrity status and continue to be successful while being authentic, it inspires hope.

To kids living in homes where being gay is unacceptable, either to themselves or to others, openly gay celebrities will continue to act as examples that being gay is OK and that they are not alone in their feelings or their struggles. I applaud Ellen Page for adding herself to a growing list of openly gay celebrities and hope that her strength continues to help make it easier for others to live authentically, until the day that coming out actually doesn't have to be a big deal, because no one lives in self-loathing or fear from being who they are.

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