Yesterday Broadway and film star Nathan Lane stopped by the Ellen Degeneres show, and initially it was a mystery as exactly why he was there, other than to raise Ellen's spirits (she's bedridden from a back injury). The two bantered a bit (Lane did most of the bantering, as Ellen's pretty zonked on meds) and then Ellen mentioned that Lane is receiving an honor from the Trevor Project, an organization that provides suicide prevention support to gay and questioning youths. Ellen then asked Lane about his own coming out:
Ellen: How old were you when you told your parents? Did you have a hard time coming out?
Lane: I was very young — I was living in New Jersey with my mother but I was seeing someone in New York, and she thought it was a woman. And I finally broke it to her — I was around 21 and I finally sat her down, she was this little Irish Catholic lady from Jersey City — and so I said, you know, "I know you think I'm seeing a girl but i've been seeing a guy." And she said — the blood just drained from her face — and she said, "so you're a homosexual?" And i said, "yeah, i guess so. Yeah, i guess so." And she said, "oh, i would rather you were dead".
(The audience gasps, Lane laughs)
See, I always laugh, because I knew her better than they did (gestures to audience). Because you know, it was the worst, you know — so I said "I knew you'd understand," and once I got her head out of the oven she was fine. And she was never — she was always very exceptings of relationships I had, it was never an issue except for that one time.
Ellen: That one time,
Lane: Yeah, "I would rather you were dead."
Ellen: But she did come around, that's great — because it is a hard thing for a lot of parnets to accept.
Lane: And it's a hard thing for people to do.
Lane: Still — and not just kids, adults.
Ellen: Grown people.
Lane: Grown-up people.
Ellen: And it's very very hard and you need someone who's understanding, especially if you're a kid, so good for you and good for the Trevor Project, because they do a lot of good.
Lane, who did not speak about his sexuality for years, came out publicly in 1998 after the death of Matthew Shepard. To speak openly on an a hugely successful talk show about being gay is a big move in terms of visibility, and one that we of course applaud.
In recent months Ellen has been turning up the gay considerably on her talk show. When T.R. Knight came out in the wake of the Grey's Anatomy "faggot" scandal, Ellen had him on the show to talk about his ordeal — which at the time was actually pretty out-of-character for the show. A few months later, Neil Patrick Harris stopped by to talk about his coming out (among other things, including American Idol), and just a few weeks later Laura Dern came by to reminisce with Ellen about that landmark episode a decade ago when Ellen's character came out to Dern's — and resulted in Dern's not working for several years.
And now Lane speaks openly and relatively comfortably about a topic that caused him discomfort in the press for the better part of his career (and about his dog, who sounds like the gayest animal on four legs). Fantastic. We hope it's not just the tenth anniversary of Ellen's momentous coming out that has her mind turned to gay visibility and that the trend continues.