Although few gay actors have been permitted the luxury of openness, many of them have challenged and helped reconfigure notions of masculinity and, to a lesser extent, of homosexuality.
Considering the unique set of problems facing lesbians who want to produce erotic art for the enjoyment of other lesbians, it is remarkable that so much lesbian erotica has been produced in so brief a time.
Lesbian actresses have played a significant role in Hollywood, but their contributions have rarely been recognized or spoken of openly; the "lavender marriage" is by no means a relic of the past.
Although American gay film icon Brad Davis has been described as "the first heterosexual actor to die of AIDS," he was widely known as bisexual within the entertainment community.
Long-distance swimmer and respected sports commentator has in more recent years spoken out on issues of glbtq rights.
The greatest dancer of his time, Rudolf Nureyev also gave the world a new and glamorous image of a sexually active gay man.
While nude depictions of women appear in most cultures, on both sides of the equator, and in rich variety, lesbian artists have been particularly resourceful in their use of the female nude.
Handsome, athletic, graceful, and charismatic, actor Errol Flynn was widely rumored to enjoy sexual relations with men as well as women.
On October 22, 2012, Ellen DeGeneres was presented the nation's most prestigious award for comedy, the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, at the John F. Kennedy Center Concert Hall in Washington, D.C. The ceremony will be broadcast on PBS on October 30, 2012.
At the star-studded event, DeGeneres was recognized not only for her unique comedy, but also for her groundbreaking move of coming out as a lesbian on television in 1997.
Previous Mark Twain Prize recipient Lily Tomlin said of DeGeneres, "She went from stand-up to standing for something."
She was similarly praised as a trailblazer by Sean Hayes and Jane Lynch. Among other performers lauding DeGeneres were Jimmy Kimmel, Kristin Chenowith, and Jason Mraz.
"I just want to make people happy and make people laugh," DeGeneres said on the red carpet before the show.
In making the announcement that DeGeneres had been chosen for the prestigious award, Kennedy Center Chairman David M. Rubenstein said that "The Kennedy Center is happy to recognize Ellen DeGeneres' unique contributions to the world of comedy. Through her television programs, stand-up appearances, movies, and even commercials, her special brand of humor has allowed us to find hilarity in the mundane and has kept us laughing for years."
Upon learning she would receive the Mark Twain Prize, Ellen DeGeneres remarked, "It's such an honor to receive the Mark Twain Prize. To get the same award that has been given to people like Bill Cosby, Tina Fey and Will Ferrell, it really makes me wonder . . . why didn't I get this sooner?"
According to the Kennedy Center website, "The Mark Twain Prize recognizes people who have had an impact on American society in ways similar to the distinguished nineteenth-century novelist and essayist best known as Mark Twain. As a social commentator, satirist, and creator of characters, Samuel Clemens was a fearless observer of society, who startled many while delighting and informing many more with his uncompromising perspective of social injustice and personal folly. He revealed the great truth of humor when he said 'against the assault of laughter nothing can stand.'"
The first Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize for American Humor was presented to comedian Richard Pryor on October 20, 1998. The first two years of The Mark Twain Prize were taped and broadcast on Comedy Central. Since then, the award presentations have been taped for broadcast on PBS. The format of the ceremony is a celebration of the recipient's work by her peers and colleagues.
Other recipients of the award are the following: Jonathan Winters (1999), Carl Reiner (2000), Whoopi Goldberg (2001), Bob Newhart (2002), Lily Tomlin (2003), Lorne Michaels (2004), Steve Martin (2005), Neil Simon (2006), Billy Crystal (2007), George Carlin (2008), Bill Cosby (2009), Tina Fey (2010), and Will Ferrell (2011).
DeGeneres began her career in local comedy clubs in her hometown of New Orleans, which led to national recognition in 1982 when her videotaped club performances won Showtime's "Funniest Person In America" honor. In 1986, she became the first female comedian to be summoned by Johnny Carson to sit down with him after her performance on the Tonight Show.
DeGeneres gained national fame by starring in her sitcom Ellen. Running from 1994 to 1998, the show garnered record ratings, with DeGeneres receiving Emmy nominations each season in the Best Actress category. In 1997, DeGeneres was the recipient of the coveted Peabody Award as well as earning an Emmy for writing the critically acclaimed "Puppy Episode" when her character came out as a lesbian to a record 46 million viewers. DeGeneres followed with the CBS sitcom, The Ellen Show, which ran from 2001 to 2002.
In the course of producing and starring in Ellen, DeGeneres received numerous accolades including The People's Choice Award in 1995, two Golden Globe nominations, and two Screen Actors Guild nominations.
Her talk show, The Ellen DeGeneres Show recently began its tenth season. The show has won dozens of Daytime Emmy Awards. Additionally, DeGeneres has won 12 People's Choice Awards and most recently, the Teen Choice Award for "Choice Comedian" for a third consecutive year. The show has also won two Genesis Awards and a GLAAD Media Award for "Outstanding Talk Show Episode."
DeGeneres has been an outspoken advocate of equal rights for glbtq people, campaigning for marriage equality and speaking out against the bullying of gay youth.
She is also known for her random acts of kindness, some of which are directed toward those who stand up for equal rights and for those who have been bullied. I have blogged about these acts of kindness here and here.
In the MetroWeekly video below, celebrities including Lily Tomlin, Jane Lynch, Steve Harvey, Jimmy Kimmel, Kristin Chenoweth, and Ellen DeGeneres speak with editor-in-chief Randy Shulman.
Accompanied by her wife Portia Di Rossi, DeGeneres remarks that although her coming out on television "helped a lot of people," she did it selfishly: "I did it because I didn't want to live in shame anymore. I wanted to free myself from all that self-hatred and realized that that was heavy to carry around."