Back in ye olden days, circa 1997, a quirky and popular actress named Ellen made national and international news headlines, notably landing on the cover of Time magazine, just for publicly stating what many people kinda sorta already knew. (Yep, she’s gay.) Fast-forward 17 years later, and another quirky and popular actress also named Ellen came out as gay to decidedly less fanfare in so-called mainstream media, but garnering lots of love from the Twitterverse.
Ellen DeGeneres and Ellen Page might be separated by a generation, but when it comes to the media attention and subsequent public fallout (or lack thereof) that followed the revelations of whom they choose to love, their coming-out stories are telling indicators of the changing perceptions and growing levels of acceptance of LGBT people, especially among Millennials.
While DeGeneres faced increased public scrutiny two decades ago when she came out as a lesbian, a move that many believe led to the cancellation of her popular, eponymously named sitcom, Page has largely received support from fans and skeptics alike. What constituted headline news in 1997 (namely, the public disclosure of a private matter) nowadays seems to be NBD. In fact, many have asked, “Why is this even news at all?”
For a generation that has grown up with more and more LGBT representation in media, in politics, and now increasingly in professional sports, the once-scary specter (for some old peeps, at least) that the gays were going to adversely influence culture and destroy family values is now being met with a collective whatevs from a vast majority of Millennials. A 2013 survey from Pew Research indicated that 87% of Americans personally know someone who is gay or lesbian, compared 61% in 1993.
If knowledge is power, then familiarity breeds something closer to tolerance—if not outright acceptance—than contempt. For Millennials who were raised on a media diet that included “Glee” and “Modern Family,” not to mention “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” as well as direct social interactions that included gay-straight alliances in high school and in college, their post-Stonewall perceptions of LGBT people aren’t confined to the secrets and whispers of the closets of yesteryear.
While Millennials are a diverse group with a wide range of opinions and experiences, one thing that unifies them is sense of social justice, and for them that means taking to social media to express their opinions and feelings, which tend to lean more liberal, more Democratic, and more accepting of diversity than each generation that preceded them.
Media and marketing suits seem to be paying attention to the progressive attitudinal and generational shift that’s being led by Gen Y. Recent spots from wholesome, all-American brands such as Coca-Cola and Chevrolet have unabashedly, if somewhat subtly, tipped their hats in support of the LGBT community. Although there has been some backlash (mostly from morons, obvs), the prevailing consensus has been positive. After all, the fast-moving, inevitable tide of change is moving toward greater acceptance of all people, including LGBT peeps.
A survey from the Public Religion Research Institute illustrates the generational divide in even starker terms: on every public policy measure in the survey concerning rights for gay and lesbian people, there was at least a 20-point generation gap between Millennials (age 18 to 29) and seniors (age 65 and older). So while some of the olds will wring their hands with concern whenever a public (or private) figure comes out as LGBT, chances are good that their kids and their grandkids are pretty much unfazed by this “news.”