TIME women

Rose McGowan Was Right: Women Can’t Lean on the Gay Rights Movement Anymore

amfAR LA Inspiration Gala Honoring Tom Ford Hosted By Gwyneth Paltrow
Actress Rose McGowan attends amfAR LA Inspiration Gala honoring Tom Ford at Milk Studios on October 29, 2014 in Hollywood, California. Jeffrey Mayer—WireImage

Steve Friess is a freelance writer.

LGBTers were once so desperate for allies that they supported any and every liberal cause

Seventeen years ago, in the dark ages of the gay-rights movement, I was a member of the board of the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association when we voted to move our 1998 national convention from San Diego to Las Vegas in protest of California’s passage and subsequent legal defense of Proposition 187. Prop 187 had nothing to do with gay rights; it was a measure, later thrown out by the federal courts, that stopped undocumented immigrants from using health care, public education and other social services in the state.

I was new then to identity politics, so I naively wondered what this issue had to do with ours. It was explained to me that we “owed” our friends in the National Association of Hispanic Journalists because they moved their convention some years earlier from Colorado after that state passed a measure, also later invalidated in court, that barred cities or the state from enacting gay-rights measures.

The episode springs to mind this week because actress Rose McGowan endured a crushing backlash for her declaration that gay men owe it to women to support her definition of feminism. “Gay men are as misogynistic as straight men, if not more so,” she told the American Psycho author Bret Easton Ellis on his podcast. “I have an indictment of the gay community right now. I’m actually really upset with them.” After she was attacked for these statements, she backpedaled modestly and apologized for glibly suggesting the gay-rights movement was all about earning the ability to appear in Speedos in pride parades and take drugs. On Twitter, though, she suggested gay men owe women like her because, “I fought for your right to do that as well.”

To those who were offended and appalled by these remarks, I say, get used to it. But the Rose McGowans of the world also better get used to not being able to count on “gay people” as automatic supporters of every liberal or progressive cause. LGBTers were once so desperate for political allies that they had little choice but to show support for any and every other group that might return the favor, from racial minorities to women to the poor.

Now that gays have become stunningly successful at winning their key battles at a speed that is the envy of other minority movements, their political priorities are changing and their monolith is crumbling. There will always be a hearty component of the LGBT population who agree on principle with the goals of progressive groups, but going forward neither other oppressed groups nor the Democratic Party should assume gay support without earning it. We are morphing from an interest group to a constituency.

The fact is, the objectives of gay activists are decidedly different from that of advocates for abortion rights, amnesty for undocumented immigrants, universal health care, gun control, government assistance for the poor or legal protections for racial minorities. What these contingents and gays chiefly had in common – and still do, though perhaps not for long – were common enemies. It was the same gang — the religious right, straight white men and Republicans in general – who opposed all of us.

Yet as civil rights movements go, the gays have had a staunchly conservative and traditional agenda. Our chief aims over the past two decades were legal recognition of same-sex marriage, permission to serve openly in the armed services and freedom from legal interferences in private, consensual, adult sexual relationships or discrimination because of it. Translation: we’re pro-family, pro-military and anti-Big Government. Given that, is it really an obvious contradiction or hypocrisy to be both gay and a member of the National Rifle Association? Or to be gay and believe in lower taxes and less regulation? Or, heck, even to be gay and believe that abortion is murder – especially when science could very soon help parents screen for and then dispose of their gay fetuses?

For a long time – and still in certain quarters today – African-American and feminist leaders took great offense to the LGBT community’s insistence on equating the gay struggle with theirs. It has certainly been rhetorically useful for gays to do this, especially when we fought for an integrated military and marriage equality. But perhaps, after all, they were right. But now they resent not having knee-jerk support from gays and they wonder why that is.

Please note: I am not stating my own political beliefs here. I absolutely believe that gay people, having been oppressed and subject to vicious discrimination, would do well to hold on to their sense of social justice and have that empathy influence their views on many other matters.

But the cold reality is that progressive groups will someday soon be unable to presume the overwhelming support of gay people. The nation is rapidly approaching a point at which sexual orientation is seen as a distinction as insignificant and immutable as eye color. Once gays are comfortably mainstreamed, Republican presidential candidates will garner ever-larger chunks of votes from fiscally conservative and religious gays.

McGowan may not realize it, but this is what is bothering her. Gay men are, in fact, men first. We probably aren’t actually more misogynistic, as she contends, but there’s no obvious reason why we would necessarily be any less misogynistic than any other men.

There will be times in this gay new world when the interests of LGBTers will align in direct, obvious ways with that of other minorities, or in which alliances will be mutually beneficial to similar aims of both sides. And there will be times when they won’t. That’s going to be quite a shock to everyone who took us for granted for so long.

Steve Friess is an Ann Arbor, Mich.-based freelance writer and former senior writer covering technology for Politico.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME latvia

Latvian Foreign Minister Announces He Is Gay on Twitter

Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics attends a press conference in Tehran, Iran on April 23, 2014.
Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics attends a press conference in Tehran, Iran on April 23, 2014. Fatemeh Bahrami—Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Edgars Rinkevics is due to play an important international role when Latvia takes over E.U. presidency

The Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics has announced he is gay on Twitter.

The minister of the Baltic state wrote: “I proudly announce I am gay…good luck to all of you.”

Rinkevics made his declaration the day after being confirmed in his position as foreign minister.

Latvia is a former part of the Soviet Union and socially conservative views remain popular. It is one of the few countries in the European Union that does not allow same sex marriage. Rinkēvičs’ announcement on Thursday evening comes before Latvia assumes the rotating presidency of the E.U. on Jan. 1, giving him an enhanced international profile for six months.

TIME Companies

You Can Be Fired in 29 States For Doing What Tim Cook Did Today

Congressional inaction has resulted in a patchwork of state legislation that’s left big gaps across the country where being LGBT can be cause for termination

On Thursday, Apple chief executive officer Tim Cook confirmed what had long been believed: he is a gay man.

In coming out in Bloomberg Businessweek, Cook wrote, “Of course, I’ve had the good fortune to work at a company that loves creativity and innovation and knows it can only flourish when you embrace people’s differences. Not everyone is so lucky.”

That last statement is accurate, not just because of the prejudice that gay individuals face in their personal lives, but because of the lack of protections against the discrimination of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people in the workplace.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, in 29 states workers can still be fired for saying exactly what Cook wrote Thursday. They include:

Alabama
Alaska
Arizona
Arkansas
Florida
Georgia
Idaho
Indiana
Kansas
Kentucky
Louisiana
Michigan
Mississippi
Missouri
Montana
Nebraska
North Carolina
North Dakota
Ohio
Oklahoma
Pennsylvania
South Carolina
South Dakota
Tennessee
Texas
Utah
Virginia
West Virginia
Wyoming

Congress has failed to pass federal legislation that bans discrimination in the workplace based on sexual orientation and transgender identity outright. But politicians in Washington have introduced legislation known as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act for two decades. And, for two decades, it has failed to pass.

Congressional inaction has resulted in a patchwork of state legislation that’s left big gaps across the country where being LGBT can be cause for termination.

“When I talk about hot topics, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act is front and center. The President and The White House are making incremental steps to move us in that direction because there is no federal protection,” says Selisse Berry, founder and chief executive officer of nonprofit advocacy organization Out & Equal.

In June, President Obama signed an executive order banning workplace discrimination based on employees’ sexual orientation and gender identity among federal contractors. In September, the EEOC filed its first lawsuits on behalf of transgender employees under the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The business community in the U.S. is also doing its part to combat LBGT discrimination. Company by company, businesses have put sexual orientation and gender identify protections into their codes of conduct. “That way, people can come out at work and not be worried about being fired,” Berry says.

“Ninety-one percent of Fortune 500 companies include sex orientation protections. Seventeen years ago, it was 5%. People weren’t really talking it,” she says. Today, 61% of Fortune 500 companies include protection against gender identity bias.

The situation overseas, however, is significantly different. “There are 17 countries where [LGBT people] can be married,” Berry notes, “but 75 where we can be imprisoned or killed as LGBT people.”

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com

MONEY Careers

The Best Way to Come Out to Coworkers and Bosses

Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks on stage during an Apple event at the Flint Center in Cupertino, California.
Stephen Lam—Reuters

Inspired by Apple CEO Tim Cook's announcement that he's gay? These strategies can help you open up with your colleagues.

On Thursday, Apple CEO Tim Cook came out to his entire customer base.

In a column for Bloomberg Businessweek, Cook wrote: “I’m proud to be gay, and I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me.”

The Apple chief’s column continued to say while he had wanted to maintain “a basic level of privacy,” he felt that this was holding him back from helping others.

“I don’t consider myself an activist, but I realize how much I’ve benefited from the sacrifice of others,” Cook wrote. “So if hearing that the CEO of Apple is gay can help someone struggling to come to terms with who he or she is, or bring comfort to anyone who feels alone, or inspire people to insist on their equality, then it’s worth the trade-off with my own privacy.”

Coming out to anyone is a big step. But for many LGBT individuals, informing professional relations of one’s sexuality is just as challenging—if not more so—as telling friends and family.

Despite rising public support for LGBT rights and the increase in state laws recognizing those rights, a majority (53%) of LGBT workers in the U.S. hide this part of their identify at work, according to a study released this year by the Human Rights Campaign.

According to the survey, the reasons for not being open at work range from feelings that one’s sexual orientation or gender identity is “nobody’s business,” to fear of being stereotyped, to concern that bias could have a negative effect on one’s career and professional relationships. What many don’t realize, however, is that remaining in the closet can itself have negative effects: Many LGBT workers report feeling exhausted and distracted at work from all the time and energy they spend hiding their identities, according to HRC.

“Often fears are overblown in our minds,” says Sarah Holland, an executive coach who formerly headed the Visibility Project, a national organization that helped corporations address issues of sexual orientation in the workplace. “The world is more receptive to LGBT individuals than it’s ever been before. More often then not your colleagues have already made assumptions about your sexual orientation, especially if you never say anything about your personal life.”

There’s no need to share your orientation if you don’t care to, experts say. But if you decide that it’s finally time to let your guard down—as Cook did—here’s the best way to go about it:

Assess the Risks

Before doing anything, you want to make sure that you won’t put your career or personal security in any kind of jeopardy by saying something.

Start by checking whether your state has a non-discrimination law that would protect you from being fired, harassed, or discriminated against. Currently 21 states have such laws in place regarding sexual orientation, and 17 of those for gender identity as well. (No workplace protections exist in federal law.)

While it’s a reassuring backstop if your state is among those that offer protections, it’s arguably more important to assess your company and department culture to get a sense of how your news will be received, suggests Deena Fidas, director of workplace equality for the Human Rights Campaign.

Does your employer have a written non-discrimination policy that covers sexual orientation and/or gender identity? The vast majority (91%) of Fortune 500 companies have workplace protections in place on the basis of sexual orientation and 61% on gender identity. Does your company offer domestic partner benefits? Is there a support or affinity group for LBGT individuals, or is anyone in your department openly gay? (If so, you might want to talk to people to learn about their experiences coming out and for their insights.) Is your company ranked highly on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index?

On the other hand, have you heard anyone at work make derogatory comments about LGBT people?

Should you get the sense that it wouldn’t be comfortable to come out, you might want to rethink your corporate affiliation, says Holland. “Consider why you want to be at that company. Do you really want to spend your work life being closeted for fear?”

Start with Your Closest Colleagues

Once you determine that your workplace is LGBT friendly, begin by sharing more details of your personal life with a trusted coworker whom you know is LGBT-supportive, recommends Fidas.

Having an ally will make you feel more comfortable opening up to the rest of the workforce, and can help you deftly handle any conversations that get awkward or too personal.

For the other folks in your social circle, “use the Monday morning coffee talk as a chance to be more forthcoming,” suggests Holland.

Chances are, you’ve been ducking out every time the social chatter turns to relationships or dating—and 80% of straight workers say that these conversations come up weekly or even daily, according to the HRC survey. But now use them to your advantage: “When asked how you spent your weekend, don’t change the gender of your partner,” says Holland. “Say if you went to a function for gay rights.”

By speaking about your LGBT identity casually, you can help coworkers to follow your lead and treat it the same way.

Let Everybody Else Figure it Out

While coming out to family and friends often happens with a discrete announcement, “in the reality of the workplace, coming out is more of a daily process, not an announcing that one is gay,” says Fidas.

In other words, you need not go around to everyone from the IT guy to the mail clerk to formally and awkwardly inform them about your sexual orientation. There are many subtle, discreet ways you can clue in coworkers with whom you’re less likely to talk about these topics.

For example, putting photos of your partner on your desk or having your loved one pick you up at the office allows coworkers to make the discovery themselves without you hiding any aspect of your identity.

Fidas also recommends using an opportunity to correct a coworker’s mistaken assumption as a way to make your sexual orientation or gender identity clear: “If you’re staring a new job, and a coworker asks if you moved from Boston with your husband, you can say you moved with your wife, rather than saying your spouse moved with you.”

Remember most of all that “you do not need your coworkers’ approval,” says Judith Martin, author of Miss Manners Minds Your Business. “You only need them to be respectful of you, which your workplace probably already obligates them to do.”

TIME celebrity

No, That Wasn’t Paul Rudd Tackling an Airport Homophobe

"They Came Together" Screening - BAMcinemaFest 2014
Actor Paul Rudd attends the "They Came Together" screening during theBAMcinemaFest 2014 at BAM Harvey Theater on June 23, 2014 in New York City. Ilya S. Savenok—Getty Images

Hunky mensch who took down violent bully looks like Paul Rudd, is not Paul Rudd

Sorry, amateur celebrity sleuths — the actor Paul Rudd was not involved in the tackling of a man shouting homophobic slurs in a Dallas airport last week.

A man who looked almost exactly like the This Is 40 star was caught on video helping to tackle a man who yelled homophobic slurs and kicked another man waiting in Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport last week.

After the man became violent, a group of people swarmed him and brought him to the ground, with the help of a wavy-haired hunk in a checkered shirt who looks a lot like Paul Rudd. The video of the incident quickly went viral, amid rumors that the Hollywood funnyman was involved.

But Paul Rudd’s rep confirmed to TIME on Monday afternoon that the man with a noble heart, quick reflexes, and a strong sense of social outrage is not Paul Rudd.

Ladies: That means there is a mensch out there who looks like Paul Rudd but isn’t Paul Rudd, and also appears to be nice, hunky, and quick to stand up to injustice.

Read next: Take Your First Look At Paul Rudd As Marvel’s Ant-Man

TIME LGBT

Houston’s Pastors Outraged After City Subpoenas Sermons Over Transgender Bill

Ted Cruz
Sen. Ted Cruz is surrounded by preachers as he addresses a crowd at a Houston church Thursday, Oct. 16, 2014 about a legal dispute involving several pastors fighting subpoenas from Houston city attorneys. Pat Sullivan—AP

City officials have subpoenaed the sermons of five pastors who oppose the Houston's new equal rights ordinance

Houston, with its left-leaning, openly gay mayor governing an influential conservative and evangelical base, is a city politically divided. That division has been made clear in recent days after the city subpoenaed sermons of several pastors who oppose a recently passed equal rights ordinance for gay and transgender residents. The subpoenas are an attempt by city officials to determine how the preachers instructed their congregants in their push to get the law repealed.

The city’s subpoenas targeted sermons and speeches by five Houston pastors with ties to religious leaders attempting to repeal the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, which bars businesses from discriminating against gay and transgender residents. The law, passed into law by Mayor Annise Parker in May, is often derided as a “bathroom bill,” because it allows transgender individuals to choose whether to use a male or female restroom.

This summer, a group of local pastors and religious leaders began gathering signatures in an attempt to get a referendum to repeal the law on this November’s ballot. But City Attorney David Feldman blocked that attempt by throwing out thousands of signatures he said didn’t meet the criteria to qualify, incensing groups opposed to the rule.

Local religious leaders claim Feldman illegally disqualified the referendum and have filed a suit against the city. Mayor Parker, meanwhile, has pledged not to enforce the ordinance until there’s a court decision. But the move by the city to subpoena Houston’s pastors, who have been vocal on the issue and have urged their congregants to support a repeal referendum, has drawn national attention. Republican Senator Ted Cruz said in a statement that the subpoenas were “shocking and shameful,” and Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins has called for the city to drop them as well.

“The chilling effect of government scrutiny of our pastors is unconstitutional, and unconscionable,” Perkins said in a statement. “Mayor Parker’s use of her bully pulpit to silence pulpit freedom must be stopped in its tracks.”

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott also issued a letter saying the city impinged on the pastors’ First Amendment rights and called for the subpoenas’ immediate reversal. “Whether you intend it to be so or not, your action is a direct assault on the religious liberty guaranteed by the First Amendment,” Abbott wrote to Feldman. “The people of Houston and their religious leaders must be absolutely secure in their knowledge that their religious affairs are beyond the reach of the government.”

University of Houston law professor Peter Linzer says the city reached too far in issuing the subpoenas. One subpoena sent to Pastor Steve Riggle, for example, asks for “all speeches, presentations, or sermons related to [the equal rights ordinance], the petition, Mayor Annise Parker, homosexuality, or gender identity.” However, Linzer says it wouldn’t impinge on the pastors’ First Amendment rights if the city only asked only for sermons or speeches related to the signature drive. “Let’s assume they gave instructions to cheat,” Linzer says. “That would be relevant speech and I don’t see how they would have any First Amendment protection for that.”

Among those fighting the city’s move is the Alliance for Defending Freedom, a religious freedom advocacy non-profit whose lawyers have filed a motion trying to quash the subpoenas. “I haven’t seen any indication that the city is backing down,” says Erik Stanley, the group’s senior legal counsel. “But we’re hopeful that they will. The only thing we can figure is they were subpoenaed because they spoke out against the ordinance. And they urged people to sign the petition. They exercised their constitutional rights to speak out.”

Still, Mayor Parker and City Attorney David Feldman appeared to backtrack on the subpoenas Wednesday, saying they had only recently learned of them and that outside lawyers handled the lawsuit. They argued the city is merely looking for communications from those pastors regarding the petition drive, but that the subpoenas’ language was inappropriate.

“There’s no question the wording was overly broad,” Parker said in a news conference Wednesday. “But I also think there was some deliberate misinterpretation.” Feldman, the city attorney, called the uproar over the wording “ridiculous,” but also has argued that if a pastor is speaking about political issues from the pulpit, it’s not protected. The mayor’s office declined to comment further for this story.

On Friday, The Houston Chronicle reported that the city would remove the term “sermon” from the subpoenas. Mayor Parker, however, said that relevant sermons regarding the petition drive could still be gathered.

TIME LGBT

Colorado Allows Clerks to Issue Same-Sex Marriage Licenses

Same sex marriage licenses issued
Jason Woodrich (L) and Ben Hauth share a kiss after signing their marriage license at the Denver County clerk's office where they began issuing same sex marriage licenses July 10, 2014. John Leyba—Denver Post / Getty Images

County clerks who defied a state-wide ban cleared the last legal hurdle to issuing licenses

Colorado county clerks were free to issue same-sex marriage licenses on Tuesday shortly after Colorado’s Supreme Court lifted an injunction against the practice.

The Denver Post reports that three clerks challenged a state-wide ban on gay marriage in June, issuing roughly 350 same-sex marriage licenses despite cease and desist orders from the state’s Attorney General. A Colorado court placed an injunction against the clerks until their case had received a final ruling in the courts. That final decision came Monday, when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear all appeals on same-sex marriage cases, deferring to a lower court’s decision that Colorado’s clerks could rightfully defy the ban.

The removal of the injunction on Tuesday was the last legal hurdle for the clerks, several of whom jumped ahead of the decision and issued licenses as early as Monday afternoon.

[Denver Post]

TIME

Michael Sam’s March to NFL History Derailed — but Only for Now

FILE - Michael Sam Released By St. Louis Rams
Michael Sam addresses the media during a press conference at Rams Park on May 13, 2014 in Earth City, Missouri. The St. Louis Rams released defensive end, ending Sam's effort to become the first openly gay player in NFL history. Dilip Vishwanat—Getty Images

Michael Sam the NFL player may not have a jersey right now, but he isn’t going anywhere

The Rams cut openly gay rookie defensive end Michael Sam on Saturday, minutes before the NFL’s mandated roster deadline. The news sent shockwaves through the NFL and the LGBT community Saturday afternoon, his march to history seemingly derailed.

Yet for Sam, his journey continues. This is just a hiccup for the man who was the first openly gay man drafted by the NFL, the first openly gay man to play in an NFL preseason game, and who will be the first openly gay man to play in a regular-season NFL game.

Michael Sam the NFL player may not have a jersey right now, but he isn’t going anywhere.

The road to that final piece of immortality is simply a little bumpier now. Sam will have to be signed by another team in the next 24 hours, or he’ll most certainly end up on the Rams’ practice squad. From there, he would continue to work with the staff that drafted him in May, honing his skills and proving his worth on the football field. He would then wait week-to-week as other NFL teams considered picking him up or until the Rams activated him for a game.

The journey isn’t over, it just took a left turn.

Sam was born to be this man. Growing up in a rough-and-tumble neighborhood he survived tragedy after tragedy as a child, surrounded by drug dealers and coping with the loss of three siblings. His father abandoned the family during his youth. His mother, a Jehovah’s Witness, barred Sam from playing football when he was younger.

His mother banning him from football didn’t take, and neither will this.

Since coming out publicly, Sam has continued to endure. His NFL Draft stock fell in May in part — many including myself believe — because he is openly gay. He endured heavy criticism with the announcement of a docuseries produced by Oprah Winfrey. While many have lauded Sam, there have also been jabs at him, most recently with ESPN’s report on his showering habits.

With more scrutiny and pressure than any seventh-round pick in NFL history, plus the hopes of an entire community on his shoulders, Sam performed well in four preseason games, tallying three sacks and leading the team in tackles just last Thursday against the Miami Dolphins.

The Rams’ decision to cut him is just another hurdle that will ultimately demonstrate the courage and fortitude of a great man.

The man knows how to overcome set-backs and handle pressure. He was made for this trailblazing role. He was made for the NFL.

Many in the LGBT community are lashing out at the NFL today, claiming homophobia. It’s understandable. Gay men have been told for decades they’re not good enough to play football, they’re not welcome in the locker rooms. Some of those messages have even reverberated in 2014. While the Rams’ decision wasn’t based on homophobia, it’s hard not to afford gay men a little foot-stomping at this latest rejection.

You know who isn’t lashing out? Michael Sam. He knew this was always a possibility, part of the cold business that is the NFL. A coach is your mentor and father-figure one day. The next afternoon he gives you a pink slip. Sam understands this is not the end, but rather another opportunity to prove his doubters wrong, earn his spot at the very top of his profession and take his rightful place in history.

“The most worthwhile things in life rarely come easy,” Sam said in a statement after learning the Rams’ decision. “This is a lesson I’ve always known.

“The journey continues.”

Zeigler is co-founder and editor of Outsports.com.

TIME Culture

Finding My So-Called Queer Identity in My So-Called Life

MY SO CALLED LIFE
Claire Danes, A.J. Langer and Wilson Cruz film the "Betrayal" episode of "My So-Called Life." ABC Photo Archives—ABC via Getty Images

The TV landscape for LGBTQ characters has shifted dramatically since the groundbreaking show first aired 20 years ago

When I was 8, my favorite thing to do after school was to visit the set of My So-Called Life. My mom, who created the show, had to be there all the time, so I’d visit her on days when a babysitter could drive me or when my dad was shooting scenes as Angela’s grandfather. I’d play behind the scenery, do my homework in the unused fake school hallway, and plunder the craft service snack table. I loved reading the scripts and watching rough cuts of the episodes. A lot of what I saw went over my head, but I could totally identify with Angela’s intense crush on Jordan Catalano. I was already boy crazy, pining after classmates, camp counselors, my friend’s older brother and the bowl-cutted hunks of Tiger Beat.

So it was no surprise that I swooned over Wilson Cruz, who played gay teenager Rickie on MSCL. I was in awe of all the actors—even 14-year-old Claire Danes seemed impossibly grownup to me—but felt especially thrilled when warm, funny, magnetic Wilson would chat with me between scenes. “I’m gonna marry him!” I confided in my mom one day. She smiled. “That’s so sweet, honey, but you know, Wilson is gay.”

I understood what that meant. My parents, who had many gay friends, had explained it to me in a simplified way. I’d known the character of Rickie was gay, but it hadn’t occurred to me that Wilson might be too. (I decided I could still fantasize about our wedding anyway.)

Many people fear exposing kids to the idea of sexual orientation or gender identity when they’re “too young”—though those very kids may already know they’re attracted to people of the same sex or that their gender doesn’t match what they were assigned. But my parents didn’t think twice about broaching the subject or letting me watch MSCL. Rickie’s storylines on the show opened my eyes to something I was beginning to see more and more at elementary school: homophobia. I became a tiny advocate, chastising friends when they used “That’s so gay!” as an insult. But I didn’t yet realize that I was queer too.

When I unexpectedly fell for a girl in high school, I was thrown for a loop. By that time, I could appreciate more of the nuances of MSCL, like the fluidity of Rickie’s sexual and gender expression. He starts out identifying as bi before eventually coming out as gay; he wears makeup but experiments with a traditionally masculine look on Halloween; he tries using both the girls’ and the boys’ bathroom at school but doesn’t quite fit in either. These details felt authentic to me as a teenage queer in flux, trying on different labels to find what felt right. It reassured me to know not everyone’s journey began with “I always knew.”

But as much as I related to Rickie, his story was very different from mine. In a particularly emotional episode, he is beaten and forced out of his home on Christmas. That storyline was inspired by aspects of Wilson’s real experience as a teenager. As I struggled to define my sexuality, the one thing I never had to worry about was how my parents would react. By talking with me at a young age and allowing me access to LGBTQ stories, they’d shown me I could count on their unconditional acceptance when I’d need it most. I feel incredibly lucky, and sometimes guilty, for having a painless coming-out experience when so many face abuse or rejection from their families, as Wilson did. Even subtler forms of disapproval, like parents who insist “It’s just a phase,” have had deep psychological impact on friends of mine. I cannot imagine how isolating it must be to have to hide who you are from those closest to you. Yet it’s a commonplace reality for LGBTQ youth—a group with disproportionately high rates of homelessness and suicide.

That’s why characters like Rickie matter so much. They can be a lifeline for viewers who may not be able to talk to anyone about what they’re going through. And they can help change minds by humanizing those who are different. It’s inspiring to see how much the TV landscape has shifted in the 20 years since MSCL first aired. Rickie helped pave the way for LGBTQ characters on Glee, Orange Is the New Black, Degrassi, The Fosters and many more shows. And Wilson Cruz (who was eventually able to reconcile with his father) is helping shape that landscape as an actor and national spokesperson for GLAAD. It gives me hope that we’ll continue to break ground, bringing even more diverse stories to the screen and moving toward a culture where more kids can feel as safe coming out as I did.

Savannah Dooley is a screenwriter best known for her work on ABC Family’s Huge.

TIME LGBT

Smithsonian Expands Collection of LGBT Artifacts

National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution
The facade of Smithsonian's National Museum of American History is lit up at dusk on June 4, 2013. John Greim—LightRocket /Getty Image

A donation from the TV show Will and Grace kicks off a wider effort to document the history of sexual orientation

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History announced Tuesday a significant expansion to its collection of artifacts documenting the history of America’s sexual minorities.

The expanded collection includes a donation of studio props from the television series Will and Grace, which debuted in 1998 with one of the first openly gay characters on primetime television. It also includes diplomatic passports from the first openly gay U.S. ambassador, David Huebner, and his husband, Duane McWaine, and a racquet that formerly belonged to transgender tennis player Renee Richards, who challenged a league-wide ban on transgendered players.

The museum said in a statement that the recent acquisitions mark a “long tradition of documenting the full breadth of the American experience and what it means to be an American. The LGBT narrative is an important part of that American story, and the Smithsonian has been documenting and collecting related objects for many years.”

 

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser