Pop culture’s recent outings

Sarah Smith and Sarah Smith

Barry Manilow publicly opened up about being gay for the first time in an interview last Wednesday.

In the interview, he explains why it took him until he was 73 to tell the world, saying, “I thought I would be disappointing them if they knew I was gay.” Them, referring to his fans, who are primarily female. The singer has been in a relationship with Garry Kief, his manager, for 39 years.

I think his official coming out opens up an important dialogue for us. In a country where gay marriage is legal, and this diversity is becoming more and more welcomed by (most of) society everywhere from television shows to high school hallways, what does it say that such a well-respected celebrity in his 70s has trouble coming out?

Manilow goes on to say, “so I never did anything. When they found out that Garry and I were together, they were so happy. The reaction was so beautiful – strangers commenting, ‘Great for you!’ I’m just so grateful for it.”

I can’t help but think about the recent version of Beauty and the Beast, which featured Disney’s first “exclusively gay moment.” Lefou, Gaston’s sidekick, gives us a different kind of representation when it comes to sexuality in a Disney movie, which are slowly beginning to include some diverse characters.

I don’t quite know what to make of Disney making small strides around the same time that Barry Manilow struggled to officially come out, but I do believe that these two things influence the country when it comes to thinking about marginalized groups.  

According to the movie’s director, Bill Condon, the original Beauty and the Beast made back in 1991 was actually inspired by lyricist Howard Ashman, who died of AIDS just days before the screening of the film, and thought of the plot as one big metaphor for AIDS, shaping the narrative. So it’s interesting to keep that in mind when viewing Lefou in today’s version.

In an interview with Attitude, Condon said that “Ashman had just found out he had AIDs and it was his idea, not only to make it into a musical but also to make Beast one of the two central characters; until then it had mostly been Belle’s story that they had been telling.”

Condon also discussed that Ashman connected with the Beast’s story, saying he painfully viewed his diagnosis as a “curse that brought sorrow on those he loved.”

Although Lefou is shown as having a same-sex attraction in a very small scene, Disney sends out the message that this is an okay feeling to experience, the same feeling that might be felt when learning of Manilow’s story.

“It was strange that we were even talking about it,” Manilow said, “but I don’t mind at all. I’m proud of it, I am. I’m proud of it.”

Congrats Barry Manilow, may your story encourage even more people to live their truths.

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