Andrew Scott is a multi-talented individual, but giving a boring interview does not seem to be one of his abilities. Last year, he passionately spoke out against the pressure to give standing ovations in modern theater, stating “if people don’t feel like standing, they shouldn’t.” Recently, during an awards season roundtable discussion with The Hollywood Reporter, he challenged an outdated mindset that associated queerness with shame.
During the discussion about representation, moderator Scott Feinberg highlighted actors Scott and Colman Domingo, both openly gay, for their roles in respective films that center on important themes. Scott stars as a screenwriter reconnecting with his deceased parents in All of Us Strangers, while Colman portrays Martin Luther King Jr.’s advisor in Rustin. Feinberg’s comment sparked a conversation about LGBTQ+ representation in the film industry, though he did not mention the other performers, who are all openly heterosexual.
Scott suggested removing the term “openly gay” from common usage, as it is often only used in the media. He questioned why the word “openly” is always attached to being gay, when it is not used to describe other characteristics like nationality or handedness. He felt that the phrase may have negative connotations, similar to “shamelessly,” and proposed that it should no longer be used.
The term has a historical significance – one of the notable aspects of Rustin is that he was openly gay during a time before the Stonewall Riots when it was dangerous to do so. However, it is widely agreed upon that the term is no longer relevant in today’s society. It reflects a time when queer voices were not represented in the media, resulting in LGBT-related stories being presented from a straight and often homophobic perspective. In 1982, Andrew Lumsden, the editor of Gay News, stated, “There is no press freedom for homosexuals in this country.” He challenged readers to consider who openly identifies as gay when writing for respected or popular news outlets and noted that if gay individuals cannot express their viewpoint as freely as heterosexual writers, then a significant portion of opinion is silenced in Britain’s “free press.”
It is challenging to overstate the constant and hostile display of homophobia in the UK media, as documented in the online database created by Terry Sanderson, who passed away in 2022. For a quarter of a century, his Mediawatch column in Gay Times kept track of how LGBT-related stories and topics were covered in British newspapers, during a time when homophobia was not only widespread but also ingrained in the very fabric of mainstream media. The casual use of “openly gay” was not a major concern, given the blatant bigotry present in both factual reporting and opinion pieces.
Last year’s media coverage of TV host Phillip Schofield caused a frenzy and it’s clear that discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community is still prevalent. Similar to the film Get Out, which exposed how liberalism and the Obama administration did not eliminate racism but rather concealed it, the abundance of rainbow flags in public places serves as a distraction from society’s ongoing judgment of queer sexuality. While Schofield’s relationship with a younger mentee was deemed “unwise but not illegal,” the reaction from the press and social media revealed that older gay men are only accepted if they are not sexually active. This is in stark contrast to how David Bowie, who had relationships with underage girls, is still revered and even honored by the Royal Mail with commemorative stamps in 2017.
It is understandable that the term “openly gay” may bring to mind feelings of shame from the past, as illustrated by All of Us Strangers. This film also serves as a reminder that there was both pride and discrimination during that time, as shown through the use of The Power of Love by Frankie Goes to Hollywood in the soundtrack. Rather than trying to ban the phrase, which is nearly impossible, it would be more effective to let it fade away on its own as its relevance dwindles. Similar to how “ethnic minority” is being replaced by the more accurate term “global majority”. Those who still use “openly gay” can continue to do so, but the rest of us can correct them. As Ben Jonson famously said, “Language is a reflection of one’s character, speak so I may see you.” You go, diva!