Hollywood Lesbians: It's a 'Girl World.'(gay Women in the Motion Picture Industry)

Article excerpt

Gay women in showbiz are coming out and succeeding as never before.

A FICTIONAL CHARACTER COMING out of the closet on television may send shock waves through much of America. But in today s Hollywood, coming out as a real-life lesbian won't even raise an eyebrow at the office. "It's a great time to be a gay woman," says Dannielle Thomas, president of InterAct Management. "Five years ago, we would whisper about being lesbian. Now, in the boardrooms of Hollywood, we're talking about it openly, even making jokes."

Now that the closet door has been kicked wide open, lesbians are openly feasting at Hollywood's power-lunch tables. They even have a name for themselves: the Girl World. Theft mentors are called the Girl Titans, the pioneer lesbians in top jobs at studios, networks, agencies, publicists' offices and production companies who declare their sexual orientation with the boldness of, well, a straight woman. With each new public declaration, the network of upwardly mobile, outwardly lesbian women in Hollywood grows in force. "It's the power of being honest," says Nancy Levin, a recording-industry executive. "To be the senior vice president of Red Ant Entertainment [a $700 million company] and to have no one care that I'm a lesbian, that couldn't have happened a while back."

Indeed, it was only about five years ago that Lesbians in Film and Television (LIFT) held its first party--and only a handful of women attended. Now LIFT has close to a thousand members. At the Gay and Lesbian Center's Women's Night honoring k. d. lang last month, 900 women bought tickets. "I didn't know one lesbian when I came out in 1990," says Nina Jacobson, a top production executive at DreamWorks SKG. "Now it's trendy to be a lesbian."

Then again, it wasn't that long ago-- probably five years--that any woman was a rarity in the executive suite. Before gay women could emerge, women in general had to come into their own. And the Girl World is still tiny compared with the male homosexual galaxy in show business. The wealth and power of its leaders are dwarfed by those of David Geffen and the so-called velvet mafia. In the Girl World, the most powerful examples were set by musicians Melissa Etheridge and k. d. lang and "Married With Children" star Amanda Bearse, lesbian entertainers who publicly declared their homosexuality. Bearse, who plays the Bundys' man-hungry neighbor Marcy on "Married With Children," was the first prime-time actress to come out--in 1998. "It is very liberating. Personally speaking, that is," she says. "But there are still a lot of people, unfortunately, who can't join us. There is always a vulnerability when you are in front of the camera."

But Hollywood is now teeming with role models: independent producers like Christine Vachon, agents such as Jane Berliner at CAA, production executives such as TriStar's Lauren Lloyd and Fox 2000's Carla Hacken, and activist Chastity Bono, the daughter of Rep. Sonny Bono and Cher, who is a director of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD). "Today the only thing that stands in the way of being honest in Hollywood is your own fear and self-loathing," says Jacobson. Says Lauren Hanson, a screenwriter and director of LIFT: "I see these 20-year-oids sauntering into Little Frieda's [coffeehouse], so out, so obvious, so who they are. …