Ellen Page knows how power works.
In her viral appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert earlier this month, the out lesbian actress blamed the persistence of anti-LGBT sentiment in our country on politicians like Vice President Mike Pence who aggressively pursue anti-LGBT policy.
“Connect the dots,” she urged, her voice rising. “This is what happens. If you are in a position of power and you hate people and you want to cause suffering to them, you go through the trouble, you spend your career trying to cause suffering, what do you think is going to happen? Kids are going to be abused, and they’re going to kill themselves—and people are going to be beaten on the street.”
Her anger was striking, not because it wasn’t justified—it was—but because it is rare to see such strong sentiments televised. Page gave voice to the queer pain that often gets drowned out by so much other noise: LGBT youth—especially transgender youth—are indeed far more likely to attempt suicide than their peers. Hate crimes are on the rise. Transgender people are being gunned down, stabbed, and beaten.
These are not isolated phenomena occurring separate and apart from the White House’s long list of anti-LGBT actions; rather, as Page pointed out, they are fueled by a federal government that not only fails to protect LGBT people, but actively attacks us.
What’s happening in D.C. isn’t happening inside a vacuum. Homophobia isn’t some weather system that’s going to linger over us indefinitely until it just up and leaves one day; politicians like Trump and Pence help perpetuate it for their own cynical gain.
“Connect the dots,” was Page’s plea—and it’s an especially urgent one because too many Americans are unable to draw through-lines when it comes to LGBT issues.
For the past two years, it has felt as if the LGBT community are screaming from deep underwater. Only when something monumental happens—like the transgender military ban or the leaked memo from the Department of Health and Human Services redefining “sex”—does the general public pay attention, and even then only for a news cycle.
The fleetingness of public sympathy can be blamed in part on an oversaturated media environment in which shocking political scandals seem to erupt by the minute. But it’s also because those outside of the LGBT community—even our close allies—have a hard time analyzing the power dynamics that affect us, by simple virtue of the fact that they’re less impacted by them.
They don’t always see how all of the little incremental actions—a memo rescinded here, an amicus brief filed there—add up to an awful anti-LGBT whole. What’s happened since Trump took office is not the work of a few bad apples; it’s the work of anti-LGBT groups working in concert with the White House to roll back our rights, and then some.
It was jarring—though it shouldn’t be—to hear the newly-married Page say that Mike Pence “wishes [she] couldn’t be married—let’s just be clear” because it’s far more common to hear people on TV joke about the vice president supposedly being closeted than it is to hear someone express the hurt he has caused in a forthright, human way.
“The vice president of America wishes that I didn’t have the love with my wife,” said Page, gesturing to a photo of dancer Emma Portner, whom she wed last year.
That moment was a reality check, bracing in its earnestness, and it was even more forceful against the often-glib backdrop of the talk show format.
When host Colbert—who sympathetically listened to and signaled his agreement with Page’s impromptu speech—had to abruptly segue into a plug for the actress’s new Netflix series The Umbrella Academy at the end of the segment, the audience laughed to relieve the pressure. The show had to go on.
Page, who came out in an emotional speech at a Human Rights Campaign in 2014, is not the only LGBT celebrity who is unafraid to be political in convention-flouting ways.
When Billy on the Street creator and national treasure Billy Eichner was accosted by TMZ at LAX late last year—shortly after the anti-transgender HHS memo redefining gender was leaked to The New York Times—he deadpanned, “[Trump’s] not redefining shit. You can’t redefine it. It’s a fact of life. He’s a fucking piece of shit asshole. Evil piece of shit. The whole administration is awful.” That’s weighty stuff for a curbside interview.
But Eichner, like Page, is refreshingly himself no matter what context he’s placed in. See, for example, the ending of his 2018 HRC speech in which he says, “I hate that racist, misogynist sexual predator in the White House so fucking much” or his 2017 Colbert appearance in which he shows up dressed as a banana but clarifies that he’s a banana who “hate[s] Donald Trump so much—that lying piece of shit.”
Only relatively recently have we seen a critical mass of LGBT actors start to come out—and even then, the closet still looms large.
For better or for worse, we turn to actors to reflect our experiences and emotions, so the LGBT community needs people like Page and Eichner to channel our rage. We need stars who can show up to an interview feeling our pain at skin level and letting it be known—instead of just sharing an anecdote and showing a clip.
Page, for one, has shown no interest in abiding by Hollywood’s norms. Just last week, when Jurassic World star Chris Pratt talked about his faith with Colbert, she tweeted, “Oh. K. Um. But his church is infamously anti lgbtq so maybe address that too?” (Pratt attends the megachurch Hillsong, which as The Daily Beast previously reported opposes same-sex marriage and does not allow LGBT people to be leaders.)
Going up against one of the highest-paid actors in the world was a big move, and one that most in Page’s position wouldn’t risk—but the Juno star didn’t back down in the face of the inevitable backlash. Instead, she proved again that she understands how power works, tweeting, “Being anti LGBTQ is wrong, there aren’t two sides. The damage it causes is severe. Full stop.”
(Pratt later defended Hillsong on Instagram, saying that, “I go to a church that opens their doors to absolutely everyone” but without specifically addressing the policies to which Page was referring.)
Page smartly refuses to draw a distinction between anti-LGBT sentiment justified by religion and anti-LGBT sentiment justified by, well, what other reason is there for it, really?
In America, the GOP’s anti-LGBT crusade has long been a convenient way to rile up an evangelical base that largely opposes same-sex marriage and transgender equality. Hillsong may look a lot hipper than your average evangelical church—and a big-name Hollywood actor might go to its services—but that doesn’t mean that it is functionally any different from other organizations which regards homosexuality as immoral.
As Page might say, connect the dots.
We know by now that LGBT people are who we say we are. Conversion therapy has been proven to be not just ineffective but psychologically harmful, too. What Page intimately understands—the position from which she refuses to back down—is that there is no moral way to be against LGBT people being LGBT. There is no other side.
And perhaps no moment brought the boldness of that position into sharper relief than a tweet from another Ellen on Monday: Amid all of this, Ellen DeGeneres—who recently drew criticism for her handling of the Kevin Hart Oscars scandal—tweeted out a segment of her and Pratt playing a game on her talk show. Gay Twitter swarmed the tweet with critical replies.
If the reaction to DeGeneres—herself an LGBT trailblazer—is any indication, it’s that the rising generation of LGBT Americans wants to see their on-screen representatives stick up for them at all times, instead of shying away from politics to be polite, or to play by Hollywood’s unspoken rules. We want celebrities whose commitment to LGBT equality doesn’t have an off switch. We want Ellen Page, in all her glorious queer rage.