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Hollywood has been creeping out of the closet these past few years -- Cynthia Nixon, Portia de Rossi, Lance Bass, T.R. Knight, Neil Patrick Harris, David Hyde Pierce -- but coming out hasn't always meant becoming an LGBT spokesperson.
For most, revealing their sexuality was more a pre-emptive tack to derail a media outing than a political statement. As Nixon said to New York magazine, "If someone is chasing you, stop running. And then they'll stop chasing you."
In fact, it would appear many celebrities prefer to live privately and hope that outing themselves doesn't impact their career. So when someone as famous and successful as Rosie O'Donnell takes the bulldyke by the horns and becomes decidedly out, loud and proud at a time when few are willing to take that risk, it's hard not to extol her as a heroine.
Between her occasionally controversial, opinionated blog Rosie.com and her seat on The View, which she vacated just before Memorial Day weekend after another grisly fight over the Iraq War with Christian conservative co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck, Rosie has attracted as much media exposure as Paris Hilton without ever flashing her nether regions.
I came out during Reagan's oppressive mid-1980s, so I can really appreciate what it took for Rosie to transform herself from the closeted "Queen of Nice" (a mere ten years ago, the media ordained her as such) to a take-no-prisoners gay activist.
If she'd revealed herself as a lesbian back in the '80s, I would have built the woman a shrine. Even now, I wholly want to embrace her. She is totally fearless and puts her money where her big mouth is. She has three adopted children with her partner, Kelli Carpenter, who gave birth to their fourth child. They were married at San Francisco's City Hall along with thousands of other same-sex couples in the presence of Mayor Gavin Newsom.
She started R Family Vacations, a cruise line for gay and lesbian families, and has founded and funded a number of philanthropic ventures. She salvaged The View's fast-sinking ratings, single-handedly rescuing it from Star Jones's shameless daily play for a corporate-sponsored wedding, and returned the dialogue to current political events, in part, just by being herself: a lesbian mother who is infuriated at the Bush Administration and not afraid to go to the mat for anything. In so doing, she has become the most visible and outspoken lesbian in the nation -- whether by design or accident is unclear.
What I especially love about Rosie is her rare ability to endear herself to Middle America while rattling the cages of idiotic Hasselbeck, megalomaniacal Donald Trump, patrician Barbara Walters and swag-seeking Jones, whom she inadvertently drove off the show.
On her multi-Emmy Award-winning Rosie O'Donnell Show, she confronted Tom Selleck about his NRA membership on the heels of the Columbine massacre. On The View, she talked openly about Kelli the way others spoke of their spouses and boyfriends, which is in and of itself a radical act for daytime talk shows. My jaw dropped when she swapped coming-out stories with lesbian comedian Judy Gold.
Before Rosie, you could find such candid conversations only on cable channels like Logo or Bravo, certainly not on midmorning ABC. And more than once, she pleaded not for swag but for a safe withdrawal of US troops from Iraq and for President Bush's impeachment. "Someone, I believe, should call for the impeachment of George Bush to let the world know," Rosie powerfully argued, "that the nation is not standing behind this President's choices. That the nation -- a democracy -- feels differently than the man who is leading as if it were a dictatorship, and that we represent this country. He does not lead as a monarch."
So it feels weird to say that despite my deep admiration of her courage, her big heart, her good intentions and, frequently, her right-on politics, I am not her biggest fan. Yes, I share many of her views, not least of all her profound hatred of the Bush Administration, but there have been more than a few times when I found myself cringing at her ignorance.