26 Mar 2014

Why it’s finally ok to be famous and gay

From actress Ellen Page to diver Tom Daley, a host of high-profile stars have shocked – well, no-one really, it is 2014 after all – by coming out as gay or bisexual in recent months.

Famous and gay (Getty)

“I’m dating a guy, and I couldn’t be happier… People are going to have their own opinions and I think people are going to make a big deal of this. Is it a big deal? I don’t think so.”

That’s what Olympic diving medallist Tom Daley said in a YouTube video last year. It’s a sentiment shared, in 2014, by a lot of people – a poll by YouGov for the Huffington Post in the United States recently found that 65 per cent of people would approve if their favourite team signed an openly gay athlete. Just 18 per cent said they would disapprove.

Is it a big deal? I don’t think so. Tom Daley

Daley isn’t the first openly gay sportsman – but he is among the highest profile figure to come out in the UK while still competing. He’s currently training for the Rio Olympics in 2016.

Sexuality remains a fraught issue for many sportspeople, but in recent years many more have felt they can be open about their sexuality. In fact, Russia’s anti-gay attitude saw many gay competitors at the recent Sochi Winter Paralympics grow more bold, rather than less, with rainbow protests becoming a brief craze in protest at the host country’s prejudice.

New Zealand skater Blake Skjellerup, one of the only openly gay athletes at the Games, wore a rainbow pin badge as he competed. He tweeted: “I have decided that the month of February is officially ‘hug a Vladimir Putin’ month”.

Earlier this year, former Premier League footballer Thomas Hitzlsperger announced that he was gay, adding: “I’m coming out about my homosexuality because I want to move the discussion about homosexuality among professional sportspeople forwards.”

He was swiftly followed in the UK by top female footballer and England women’s team captain Casey Stoney, who said: “I feel it’s really important for me to speak out as a gay player because there are so many people struggling who are gay, and you hear about people taking their own lives because they are homosexual. That should never happen.

“How can I expect other people to speak about themselves if I’m not willing to do that myself?”

Different walks of life

And it’s not just sportspeople. In the modern world of celebrity obsession, famous people from all walks of life face intense scrutiny about their private lives. While some would say their private lives should remain just that – private – others have chosen to be open about their sexuality, like the athletes above, to help others.

In a passionate speech earlier this year, actress Ellen Page told an LGBT conference: “I’m here today because I am gay. And because maybe I can make a difference.”

I’m here today because I’m gay. And because maybe I can make a difference. Ellen Page

She joined TV star Wentworth Miller, who came out as gay last year in protest at gay rights in Russia.

But while many stars now feel able to come out to help encourage others, it’s not a total bed of roses. In fact, the idea that people still have to “come out” at all shows, some would argue, that there’s a long way to go. As Tom Daley put it: “In an ideal world, I wouldn’t be doing this video, because it wouldn’t matter.”