Hollywood’s homophobia: past and present

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By Jordan Ruimy

It’s no secret that Hollywood, a money making machine that takes pride in its left-wing ideals, has had major issues with homophobic-like behavior in the past and present.  This is not to say that things have gotten worse.

In the 1950’s Hollywood actor Rock Hudson, the Brad Pitt of his generation, hid his homosexuality and got married to Phyllis Gates in an attempt to dispel any rumors.  There wasn’t any actual proof that Hudson was gay until his death from AIDS in the 80’s, when close friends came out to confirm that the rumors were true. Hudson even blamed contracting AIDS on a botched blood transfusion at the hospital. He lived with the secret his entire life, and chances are there are other current Hollywood actors who are too.

Of course, there are plenty of big names that have come out. Neil Patrick Harris, Elton John, Jodie Foster, Ricky Martin and Lance Bass among others. Yet all the names mentioned above have denied their homosexuality at one point or another, and some have not even made an official statement.

What gives? Is it a death wish on their career to do so? I thought our society opened up the last decade to homosexuality, or maybe we are still in the same position as when we started.

Are there any Rock Hudson’s working right now in Hollywood? James Franco, Tom Cruise and Ryan Seacrest come to mind as far as gossiped upon celebrities. The latest rumors involve John Travolta. The Grease and Saturday Night Fever star has spent a nightmarish past few weeks, flooded with rumors and insinuations that he has had sexual encounters with other men.

The media is focusing on Travolta’s sexuality and not the fact that he is a married man with 2 children. The media is more concerned with the dramatic possibility that maybe, just maybe he could be – shock – a homosexual! Yet there’s a lot more at stake here than just someone’s closeted homosexuality. His family is facing hard times with these rumors as they try to cope with the media firestorm that’s been happening. It’s not easy. Just ask Tom Cruise, who has had to face these same rumors his entire career, married to two different women and having kids of his own during that time period.

It is rumors like these that create a stigma around any association with the LGBT community. What it does is instill fear in any closeted celebrity that wants to come out and enjoy a free life devoid of any secrets. The media is to blame for its horrendous coverage of homosexuality in the industry, in which they portray the rumored gay celebs as liars or cheats on the public.

They also make a big deal out of gossiping about who is gay and who is not gay, as if it would change the perception we have of the given celebrity. This is in a way what Rock Hudson feared the most – he knew that if he came out, his career just wouldn’t be the same again. Of course there’s a big difference with the mainstream’s perception of homosexuality today compared to that of 1950’s, yet some examples might refute this theory.

Singers  such as Ricky Martin, Clay Aiken and Lance Bass had their careers destroyed once they publicly came out, as if our media and the public felt cheated by their denials all these years and couldn’t handle the fact that they lied to them. Other examples include Rosie O’Donnell’s public outing on her once mega popular daytime talk show and the low ratings -and eventual cancellation – that followed afterwards.

Hollywood can be nasty. It could champion gay-themed movies such as Brokeback Mountain and Milk one day but then ruin a gay actor’s career with an unfair backlash the other. Is it a coincidence that both Brokeback and Milk – while gay themed – featured a mostly straight cast pretending to be gay? Would a gay cast make it too difficult for the film to be accepted by the mainstream?

It’s this type of artificialness that has marred Hollywood’s image for the last century and prevented more actors from fully coming out, for if they did come out, negative consequences could surely arise concerning their careers. Rock Hudson saw the bigotry and plastic that came with the industry and pretended to be someone else to further save his career and live what was supposed to be a “normal” life to the viewing public. Many are still doing it today.

If Rock were alive today and saw modern Hollywood, he’d notice that positive changes have indeed occurred – but that there is still much work to be done.  

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