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Gays hope 'Ellen' makes it easier to come out

April 29, 1997

By LAURA ERNDE

Staff Writer

Beckie Blevins has a gay uncle who always showed up alone to family gatherings because he was trying to protect people's feelings.

When the Hagerstown woman confronted her own sexuality two years ago, she wanted things to be different. She didn't want to hide the woman she loves from her parents.

Even though she was afraid, she "came out of the closet" to her family.

To her surprise, everything turned out fine.

"They dealt with it very well. I think I made a bigger deal out of it than they did," said Blevins, 23.

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To come out or not to come out is a question faced by many gay people across the Tri-State area.

Every time they meet someone new, they have to decide - pretend to be straight and be safe, or be honest and risk rejection.

The main character in the well-known sitcom "Ellen" is coming out of the closet tonight, and some hope that will make their own decisions easier.

For many gay people, it wasn't a huge surprise that Ellen Degeneres and her character are gay.

The revelation may serve to remind people that gays are part of mainstream society and not the outrageous, flamboyant people often portrayed by the media, they said.

One Hagerstown man, who didn't want to be identified because he was worried about his business reputation, says he is a Republican who voted for Bob Dole and grew up in a fundamentalist Christian family.

Because of his conservative upbringing, he denied his sexuality and married a woman.

"I tried my best to suppress it and live by society's standards. So I ruined someone's life just to make people happy," he said.

Two years ago, at age 30, he decided to quit living the lie.

It was difficult, but his family and close friends finally accepted that he is gay. There were some, however, who shunned him.

"If I could wave a magic wand and start over, I would have come out in high school," he said.

Now that he is out, he has a wide network of supportive friends.

Some gay people come out of the closet, but only part way.

"A lot of people I know are about halfway out of the closet," said a 40-year-old Waynesboro, Pa., woman.

While her close friends know she's a lesbian, most of her family doesn't.

"I think it would make them uncomfortable. I don't want to subject them to that," she said. It is relatively easy to hide her sexuality because her family members aren't very close to each other.

At work, she doesn't make it well known, but she doesn't try to hide it, either. When she talks about dates, she refers to "the person," rather than "he" or "she."

"You reach a point in your life where you don't really care what other people think," she said.

Some gay people feel they have a lot to lose if their sexuality were to be revealed.

One business owner in Frederick, Md., has told his 80-year-old mother he is gay but hides it from his customers and the people who work for him.

"It would be extremely detrimental to the business," he said.

His friends who are in the closet fear losing their jobs. He knew someone who was evicted from an apartment for being gay.

"It's really not easy. We're just absolutely ordinary people," he said.

Even though Blevins had told her family that she's a lesbian, she kept it a secret when she worked for a Hagerstown electrical company.

Her boss was very religious and made it clear that he did not approve of the lifestyle. Before she left, she said, she told him and watched his face turn bright red.

Teresa Alderton, 32, a medical transcriptionist, said most of her former coworkers at Washington County Hospital figured out she's a lesbian.

"Because they knew me as a person, they didn't hold it against me," she said. "Nobody said anything about it, but they knew and they were totally cool about it. I think some people were shocked."

Coming out to her parents wasn't difficult. Her lesbian sister already had paved the way, she said.

Although she is openly gay, there always is a part of her that is on guard.

She would never walk hand-in-hand with her girlfriend in downtown Hagerstown, for example.

She said there have been times when strangers have made negative remarks.

"I just let it go. I know I'm a better person than they are," Alderton said.

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