What’s Love Got to Do with It? Everything!
When you read this column, awards season will either be about over or coming to a close with the broadcast of the 92nd Academy Awards on Sunday, February 9. Let’s see...we had the Screen Actors Guild Awards, Critics’ Choice Awards, the British Academy Film Awards, and of course the Golden Globes.
Instead of focusing on the continued lack of diversity among the 2020 nominees across the board or the searing reviews of the various emcees, I want to direct your attention (pun intended) to a bright spot when the Hollywood Foreign Press Association bestowed the Carol Burnett Award upon comedienne Ellen DeGeneres. DeGeneres is only the second recipient of the award, following Burnett at the 2019 ceremony.
The award is given to “an honoree who has made outstanding contributions to the television medium on or off the screen.” While the producers failed to learn from their previous mistakes by selecting Ricky Gervais who yet again delivered a lackluster and often offensive performance, their decision to have Kate McKinnon present DeGeneres with this coveted prize saved the day.
Kate McKinnon introduced DeGeneres by thanking her for being her true self and living her life openly and honestly. It was because of that visibility that McKinnon believed she too, another young lesbian, had a chance to also make it in the entertainment industry. Choking back tears (I was right there weeping with her at this point), McKinnon said that “if I hadn’t seen her on TV, I would have thought, ‘I could never be on TV. They don’t let LGBTQ people on TV.’” She closed by thanking Ellen “for giving me a shot.”
I know exactly how Kate McKinnon felt because as a young teenager in the early 80s, I too struggled with coming to terms with my own sexual orientation. Like Kate, I looked for others like me on television or in the movies. At the time, there was only one openly gay character on a primetime series and it was Billy Crystal who played Jodie Dallas on ABC’s Soap.
For those that never saw the show, let me give you a brief synopsis of who Jodie was and how he was portrayed. Jodie Dallas was a young gay man who lived at home with his mother and made a living directing television commercials. He was even dating a professional football player named Dennis. Not bad so far, right? Wait for it.
Jodie feels the only way he can legally marry Dennis is to have sex reassignment surgery which Dennis fears will expose their relationship and calls it quits. Jodie attempts suicide but survives, remains depressed, meets a woman, has a one-night stand, and she gets pregnant. They move in together and plan to get married but she leaves Jodie at the altar. It goes on from there but I think you get the picture.
It was not until 1983 while attending Georgetown University that I met other people who were gay that looked like me and also had similar interests. Finally, I was no longer all alone and realized that my future could be much different than I had imagined. Most importantly, it gave me the courage to come out and experience a personal happiness I never thought possible. Is this ringing a bell for you?
While writing this column the story came full circle in a way that I had not unexpected. I turned on the Grammy Awards and saw Ellen DeGeneres pay it forward in her introduction of Lil Nas X, the openly gay 20-year-old rapper whose song “Old Town Road” has become the longest charting number one song in the history of Billboard’s Hot 100 list.
“Unwavering in the face of prejudice,” DeGeneres said, “he told the world that he was gay and then he became an inspiration to millions of young people around the world.” She went on to call the artist “courageous, brave, and groundbreaking” which proved to be a fact with Lil Nas X winning two Grammys for Best Video and Best Pop Duo/Performance.
The moral of this story is that while people like Lil Nas X, Ellen DeGeneres, and Kate McKinnon truly inspire others to live freely, more often than not it is everyday people we come to know in the form of a teacher, a neighbor, a relative, or friend that let us know it is okay to be our true selves.
As RuPaul says at the end of every show, “If you don’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?” ▼
Wesley Combs is a diversity and inclusion expert and a passionate social justice advocate. He is the founding Principal of Combs Advisory Services where he works with clients who share his values of enabling equity, equality, and opportunity in the workplace and the community. He serves on CAMP Rehoboth’s Board of Directors.