'Coming Out' Is No Party for Gays without Sitcoms

Article excerpt

Byline: Burt Constable

For out-and-out TV suspense, it may not top "Who shot J.R.?" But for plain old "out" suspense the big question of the fall TV season has to be "Is Ellen gay?"

The popular ABC sitcom "Ellen," starring comedienne Ellen DeGeneres, is considering "outing" Ellen's character - bringing her out of the closet (filled with pant suits) and into the world of lesbianism.

Not since Murphy Brown had a baby out of wedlock has a fictional TV character ignited such real-life outrage. The mere hint of a lesbian plot twist on "Ellen" has spurred threats of an advertising boycott.

Meanwhile, Ellen DeGeneres is a lot like her TV character in that her sexual identity is the subject of public speculation - especially after one magazine reported seeing Ellen kiss another woman at a bar.

I couldn't care less if Ellen is a lesbian or just plays one on TV. But then again, I watch sitcoms for humor, not sex. Give me a funny punch line on the heels of a good straight line and I don't care if the character delivering the straight line isn't.

So what's the big deal about "outing" a TV character?

To find out, I asked a suburban lesbian who operates a part-time sportswear company that caters to gays and even includes the word "out" in its name.

Ellen's coming out would be "great" for gays, this suburban lesbian says. Viewers already like Ellen, she figures, so their opposition to gays would vanish when they realize the Ellen they like is also a lesbian.

That said, this local lesbian understands the reluctance of gays - even fictional ones - to come out of the closet.

"I'm not out," the 39-year-old mom admits as we chat outside the office of her full-time job in DuPage County. "Well, I'm out (to friends, parents, siblings, her two kids who live with her and to her understanding ex-hubby); I'm just not out here at work."

The sportswear she sells talks about being true to yourself, but she can't take that risk herself. …