Is TR Knight The Face of Gay Pride?

It may strike some of you as queer that The Advocate chose actor TR Knight for the cover of their annual Pride issue. His may have been one of the most anticlimactic coming outs in homo history. The events leading up to the Grey’s Anatomy star’s October 19, 2006 People-hosted revelation were far too explosive to afford Knight a proper, prideful arena.

Co-star Isaiah Washington had an altercation with another Grey’s actor, Patrick Dempsey, reportedly shouting, “I’m not your little faggot like [redacted].” Tongues immediately started wagging and the media – including ourselves – began speculating as to whom Washington referred. More than a few fingers pointed at the initially timorous TR…

Rather than let the gossip mill churn indefinitely, like some of his Hollywood peers, Minnesota-born Knight released the aforementioned statement:

I guess there have been a few questions about my sexuality, and I’d like to quiet any unnecessary rumors that may be out there. While I prefer to keep my personal life private, I hope the fact that I’m gay isn’t the most interesting part of me.

After this lackluster announcement, Knight kept out of the limelight, letting the scandal-scarred Washington garner most of the increasingly damaging ink. The most unflattering flack came after Washington lied to the press at the Golden Globes, saying, “I did not call TR Knight a faggot”.

Again, Washington’s statements pushed Knight into the center stage. Ellen’s stage, in fact, where he confirmed Washington’s anti-homo harangue and thanked Ellen for being such an inspiration. The comedienne did, after all, come out on the cover of Time in April of 1997, as well as on her national television show. That was ten years ago…

In April of 2007, nearly three months to the day after appearing on Ellen, TR Knight took the stage once again. This time, the boyishly handsome actor appeared to introduce GLAAD’s west coast media awards. Standing before the cream of the queer crop, TR Knight insisted,

I am angry very angry at the inequality that we face every day. I hope I can turn my anger into action. One of those actions is me being here tonight.

The 34-year old, fresh faced actor received a standing ovation. Some wondered if Knight deserved such lauding, especially since his outing just as easily be described as pragmatic as heroic. Defamer passed on a reader’s take:

Okay, I get that he was discriminated against and Isaiah should have been fired, but it was a little odd that he got a standing ovation. He was very “shocked” with the ovation, didn’t really deliver a very good speech and it just sort of started the night off a little weird.

The Advocate explains, however, that Knight’s not interested in talking about himself. In fact, he avoids it at all costs.

No surprise, then, that he declined The Advocate’s initial October 2006, offer for an interview. We spoke with the biweekly magazine’s art and entertainment editor, Corey Scholibo, who explains how Knight shunned the magazine’s invitation, preferring to keep quiet on the queer matter. The Ellen appearance, however, may have been the tipping point.

Knight’s public demeanor changed. Scholibo reflects:

He started to mold into an activist: someone we would look to hopefully as a hero. As that evolved, he seemed like the perfect fit for the pride cover and watching this person evolve into this prideful gay man.

Knight didn’t burst on the scene with any “Yep, I’m gay” tagline. He materialized out of a larger scandal: a scandal he avoids discussing in the Advocate interview.

Knight’s dull disclosure hardly fits The Advocate’s liberatory origin. First published in 1967 as The Log Angeles Advocate, the magazine functioned as a mouthpiece for California’s left-leaning lavender soldiers. In a 1998 article, – which would go on to buy The Advocate – described the magazine’s beginnings:

The editorial style was brash and pro-sex, with nude or nearly-nude men on many early covers. Articles explaining how to avoid police entrapment ran side by side with lifestyle pieces about movie stars and male fashion, and Michaels covered the gay liberation movement faithfully.

Things changed when The Advocate went national and advertising dollars started rolling in.

Some more radical activists shamed the increasingly mainstream mag, but that didn’t stop – or, perhaps it encouraged – a slew of notable homos from appearing on their cover. When asked why so many gay celebrities – including Ellen, Melissa Etheridge, Gene Robinson and Ian McKellan have chatted it up with the news glossy. Scholibo remarks:

The Advocate’s been around for forty years. [It] burgeoned from the gay and lesbian rights movement. When there was no media representation for queer culture, there was The Advocate… It has always been the voice of the gay and lesbian rights movement and as its evolved, it’s also become this sophisticated magazine for the gay community…

Neil Patrick Harris, who has also opted to keep his personal life personal. Gone are the days when actors have to make big splashy entrances into Gayville. They can just sort of stumble on in and learn as they go: no particular mission, no particular ideology. No particular clue. They’re just so-called regular guys who happen to suck dick.

It’s tempting to wag a finger at the house-trained homo, but rather than reading The Advocate’s endorsement of the “angry” – but puppy loving – Knight as a lame mainstream ploy, perhaps Knight should be recognized precisely for his conventional qualities. He’s been accepted by the mainstream. He’s likable, seemingly amiable and people can readily relate with Knight. Consider his first, far less publicized brush with homophobia. The Advocate‘s Michael Giltz writes:

[Knight] remembers when he was in junior high, someone donated a wooden play set for the kids to use. Shortly after it arrives another student spray-painted it al over the slurs including T.R. Knight Is a Homosexual…. To Knight, the most upsetting part wasn’t the juvenile name-calling, but that the nuns running the Catholic school did nothing. He was just expected to keep quiet.”

Knight heard the same advice in the days before his coming out. Associates and friends – including Knight – feared public backlash. Knight may have initially agreed, but he knew – after all those years – what needed to be done. His decision was as motivated by pragmatism as by a need for sexual expression.

TR Knight’s may not have been the loudest in the world, but it’s created a slow, steady rumble. In the midst of all these culture wars and contested elections, TR Knight may be a trojan horse of gay pride. He may look soft and cuddly, but who knows where Knight’s experience will take him. One thing’s for sure, he’s certainly learning fast…

He told The Advocate:

This is something that’s bigger than [my career]. How selfish it wold be to only think of myself and my life as an actor when you are weighing it against the severe homophobia that [coming out] addresses.

. Perhaps now Knight will outshine the scandal that led to his coming out in the first place. Perhaps the bright-eyed actor’s finally getting the point. He tells Glitz, “I’m proud of a lot of things. I’m proud of some of my decisions this year. There are some I haven’t been proud of, but I’m proud of the ones pertaining to being gay.” Does pride require a grand mission and ideology, or can it just be about having personal respect? We suppose that’s up to you…

The Advocate‘s Pride Issue just hit the stands. Go on out there and get it!

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  • Paul Raposo

    First off; very good post. This post is an excellent example of why I read Queerty every day and enjoy doing so.

    Second; I find it absurd that the Advocate would have an “annual” pride issue. Shouldn’t pride be a part of every issue? And that they’d make a big deal about putting a gay person on the cover of–wait for it!–a gay mag. That’s almost as crazy as putting a black person on the cover of Ebony!

    Lastly; I find it sad that a mag who made straight and slightly phobic Bill Mahr their “Person Of the Year” would still consider itself a gay culture mag and not just another mainstream rag using the LGBT community to rake in advertising dollars

  • dan

    ya’ll, its not as complicated as you are making it.
    1) the advocate does a pride issue because madison avenue amps up their advertising during “pride month” and the advocate has to have an issue for them to dump their ads in. its one of the big revenue generating issues of the year.
    2) tr knight is on the cover because he’s the most famous gay person du jour. they can’t keep putting melissa etheridge or ellen degeneres on the cover every year, and the rest of the gay celebs are so d-list they won’t sell magazines. so they put a celebrity on the cover that they think will sell enough magazines to cover the advertising rate base for that issue, and amp up the average circulation for the 6 month period. enough people are interested in knight that this will probably work.

    thinking it has to do with anything gay is naive in today’s world. this is a revenue decision based on the best way to score big advertiser dollars. call it what you will, but its not stupid, particularly with planetout’s stock having dropped all the way from $11 to $0.94 in the last year. the cash situation is desperate, so they are making decisions on that basis. they are a corporation, and corporations don’t answer to any other motive.

  • Bryan

    A Agree with Paul on all 3 points.

  • Bryan

    I Agree with Paul on all 3 points.

  • 24play

    Oh, silly me. I thought the preceding issue, the one with notorious closetcases Latifah and Travolta pimping their new movie, was The Advocate’s pride issue.

  • Gregg

    Paul Raposo and Dan both make good points, and I think they are both correct. And I think their points are a large part of why the stock has fallen so dramatically. Money is a major concern, but when a magazine with such cultural roots as The Advocate starts pimping itself out, it loses all credibility, and without that credibility it loses its reason for existence.

  • drh

    TR’s coming-out might not have been huge and dramatic, and it may have been precipitated by some on-set bad blood, but you know what? He still did it. He didn’t have to, but he did. Lots of bigger names (John Travolta, Tom Cruise, etc.) with much thicker cushions of money have stayed in the closet despite growing evidence. For someone far less-established to come out at the beginning of his career is still a bold move. I’m proud of him.

  • Michael

    I have to agree with drh. I read the Advocate article on TR Knight..he is an assuming, down to earth guy. I believe he came out with grace and a great deal of class and his comments in the Advocate are thoughtful and unassuming.

    As to the Advocate, I do agree with the comments made about it. I have read it over the years and it has lost some great editors and seems to be going for the glitz as opposed to being “The National GLBT magazine” it claims to has lost its sense of mission and if it kept to that and dare I say took a note or two from Queerty, it would be able to keep its once cutting edge and standing up for and being about the GLBT me it reminds me of GLAAD….it lost its way (Vito Russo would be appalled at the gone Hollywood str8 routine joke it has become) and the Advocate has lost its initial mission…which is still important 40 yrs after its be a strong voice for the GLBT community.

  • BC

    People seem to be presuming that because TR Knight wasn’t previously publicly known to be gay, that he was closeted. In fact, as far as I can tell, he was out to people who actually knew him. I realize that some believe that celebrities have an expectation, if not an obligation, to parade every facet of their private lives before the public; and that others believe that celebrities have an obligation to come out to the public, because their popularity will magically transfer to gays in general, and public homophobia will disappear.

    I subscribe to neither belief. However, now that he is out in all senses, he seems suitably fair game for a cover story linked to pride. Also, did anyone stop to think that gay magazines have pride issues at this time of year because June is recognized as Gay Pride Month?

  • nystudman

    So if they had someone like, say, the general who came out agaisnt DADT or Gene Robinson or someone else who’d actually DONE something, as opposed to being a TV actor, that would have less newsstand sell-through?


  • dan

    the advocate put gene robinson on the cover and it tanked hugely. so the answer is yes, not just less sell-through…cataclysmically low sell through. you may call it lame, but the lameness is not the advocate. its the guys who look at the advocate when they do a story that matters and say “no cute guy…not gonna bother.” and that says a lot about the gay population…nothing surprising…nothing new…just a lot.

  • Wolfi

    Oh, my… what a drama. They put one of the most recognizable gay faces of today on their cover in the hope to sell issues. Shocker. They sell a Pride issue during pride month. Another shocker. If pride, as someone here said, should be part of every issue of The Advocate, why shouldn’t it be part of our everyday lives and not just a parade / party on a summer weekend? Bit of a double standard.
    T.R. seems like a nice guy, he maybe didn’t deserve a standing ovation, but he didn’t ask for it either.

  • Alan down in Florida

    The day I received the Advocate issue with T.R. Knight on the cover my immediate reaction was “Finally, somebody gay on the cover!” Honestly, I had never heard of him before Grey’s Anatomy. Funnily, the night I received the Advocate I saw a rerun of an episode of Law & Order CI in which TR played a character who was obsessed with his male business partner and killed a woman he thought was coming between them. I’m sure his closetedness at that point informed an excellent performance.

    Nevertheless he is a hero, accidentally and reluctantly. He has handled the situation with such clarity and grace it sets an example for all of us.

  • abelincoln

    Who’s cares about The Advocate

    — TR’s just as cute as a button – that’s all I care about in this post.

  • Mr. Bros

    Hey abelincoln:

    Who cares about The Advocate? Try any gay person with an understanding of history.

    Think about it like this: “Who cares about Abe Lincoln? Eddie Murphy’s just as cute as a button…”

  • nystudman

    You’re right dan. And it’s the same people who bitch on this board about how no one covers the serious gay issues anymore. People WANT fluff, alas.

  • dan

    whats interesting about that, however, is that sites like this, and others, have managed to figure out how to provide news, provide it pretty fast, give it a fun twist, mix in the fluff, and get people to come back over and over…its something that a lot of people have been trying to tell the old guard at print media publications that they needed to do…however they have utterly failed in finding the balance and have succeeded in mostly just creating product that appeals to no one. And that is not just gay media by the way…its all around and across the board. Whether its Queerty, or DailyKos, or Salon, or whatever, pretty much the whole world is getting their news, their information, and their entertainment somewhere other than print media. So the desperate scramble at The Advocate and others to find anything…please, god, anything, that appeals to anyone is understandable.

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