Is TR Knight The Face of Gay Pride?

advocateKnightcover.jpg
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, PlanetOut.com – 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!