It would be impossible for me to express accurately the impact Ellen Degeneres has had on me as a person. I wonder if she gets tired of hearing how important she has been to people. I was a senior in high school in 1997. The previous Summer had been the time when I finally accepted for myself that I was gay, although I had known since kindergarten. I was in the midst of coming to terms, but it was in a world that made clear that being a gay person was not okay. Gays portrayed in popular culture were relegated to AIDS patients or to the periphery where their lives were lived apart from “normal” people. Often they were more glamorous and more successful than other people. RuPaul, I’m looking at you. They were not, however, the main part of the story
Enter Ellen. She had been teasing her coming out for months, so everyone knew about it and was anticipating it for a while. It was the topic of conversation everywhere. For me, I had been dealing with being gay quietly. I had visions of living my life in the shadows, which I had accepted as my fate, but Ellen was being so open about it. It was a little uncomfortable. She seemed to be sticking her toe in the water, testing it. And it was going well for her. Meanwhile, so many of us were watching her to see if it was okay. On March 17, 1997 I decided it was time to tell someone. My own coming out conversations were scary for me, and ultimately much darker than they would need to be. It felt like everything in my lie would be altered. At least there was someone for me to look to, someone to remind me that achieving my dreams would still be possible.
Ellen has said that she didn’t set out to become an icon, that she didn’t intend to have people look up to her. She was simply living her truth and letting the world see who she was fully. I think that attitude about the whole thing had just as much of an impact to me as her coming out did. Folks glomming on to her as a symbol of what they could be had to be something that factored in to her decision, but she didn’t let that define the moment. Everyone should be living their own truth’s. That doesn’t mean everyone has to know that someone is gay. It’s that person’s choice. What Ellen did was give us a choice.
You would think that Ellen had given the world her best by coming out. It was historic, it was brave, and it was door-opening. She wasn’t ready to settle into the shadows. She has now been inviting America to have a little fun everyday on her talk show. It’s a genius premise, and so needed at times. Even more, it has invited America to see LGBT celebrities as normal people, as neighbors. She did it all by having a good time. That will be her real legacy. She put such a great amount of positivity into the world.
Frank Ocean (1987-)
Sometimes living one’s truth is more difficult. The world of hip hop has had trouble opening its arms to the LGBT community. With a strong emphasis on stereotypical masculinity and femininity, and the common belief that gay men in particularly non-masculine and gay women are non-feminine, it isn’t surprising that there have been hurdles.
Frank Ocean revealing that he had been attracted to men, and the revealing he had been in love with a man is monumental. In other industries it has become routine, but for his it was a big deal.
Neil Divine (1939-1994)
What is interesting about Theodore Neil Divine is how little information is out there. I have seen his name on lists for years, giving him prominence as one of the most influential LGBT scientists, at least in recent history. He authored the NASA paper The Planet Mercury, 1971. The problem is that all the information about him seems to come from two sources, one of which I cannot find directly. We need more information about him. Clearly his contributions to the field of astrophysics are important, but I want to know more about the man himself. The most I learned from my research is that in 1957 he placed 9th in a national academic contest of some sort, winning an RCA Hi-Fi set. I’d like to have a photo to put with his name. I think what draws me most to this guy is the idea of obscurity. People who make contributions should not fade away so quickly. There is a reason to include him on lists of important scientists, but memory is fading. I’ll keep digging and if I find anything in the future, I will update.
Biographical Sources (Complete Texts):
American Astrophysicist, major contributor to modern theory of star formation and prediction of meteoroid and space debris environments. During his 25 years at Caltech’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Devine made many fundamental scientific contributions, including defining the radiation belts around Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune, and Uranus, and the dust environment around Halley and other cometary targets. During his tenure at JPL, he often served as a mentor and inspiration to many younger space physicists who benefited from both his scientific incisiveness and quick wit. (credited as Neil Divine’s 1994 Memorial Biography)
T. Neil Divine, a member of AGU since 1974 in the Planetology section, died of AIDS‐related complications on January 27, 1994. He is best remembered for contributions to the Voyager, Galileo, CRAF, and Cassini missions, which included denning the radiation belts around Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune, and Uranus and the dust environment around Halley and other cometary targets. Donations will be accepted in his memory to the AIDS Project Los Angeles.(from the AGU website)
Dan Choi (1981-)
I firmly believe that anyone who is willing to put their life on the line for their country should be given the right to serve. Dan Choi is a great example of someone who refused to be silent, who refused to hide, and who wanted to serve his country. He was in the United States Army from 1999 to 2010 when he was discharged for being gay. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was still the law, and while it was finally repealed the following year, Choi never did get back into the military. He has instead devoted his life to activism, for which he has been willing to be arrested and prosecuted. He is an honorable man and beyond worthy of respect.
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