Wright might not be a Top 40 music star, but she's had some serious hits on the country charts, where being gay is more controversial. As she said on the Today show this morning, "There had never been an openly gay country music artist Our fan base is conservative It's widely known to be about God and country and family, and for some reason people think that can't co-exist with being a homosexual." But the relatively small impact of the story — she even lost the cover spot to recovering rocker Bret Michaels — suggests that coming-out stories are becoming less seismic pop-culture events.
There was once a time when the very act of a star coming out — even if lots of people knew they were gay already — was a huge story. Only a decade ago, Ellen DeGeneres made the cover of Time magazine when she came out. Last month, Ricky Martin came out to collective shrugs. Click through the slideshow to see how we got here.
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Ellen DeGeneres - April 1997
First Ellen came out on her TV show, and then on Oprah. When she appeared on the cover of Time, the tagline “Yep, I’m Gay” said it all. Fans knew this was coming, but even so the news was big enough to … well, make the cover of Time magazine. The idea that one day she might be on the cover of People getting married to another celebrity seemed very, very far away.
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Rosie O'Donnell - February 2002
Rosie was another comedienne whose closet door was pretty transparent. Still, having created family-oriented programming for six years, it seemed pretty transgressive for the so-called “Queen of Nice” to start calling herself “a dyke” and putting on a new tough act. And however she came across, there were still thousands of housewives across the country who had gotten to know Rosie through her show that were pretty shocked — who knew they’d already had a gay friend?
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Cynthia Nixon - September 2004
Cynthia Nixon didn't actually come out — she was outed by New York tabloid reports. But as a Sex and the City star she was a heterosexual icon, and refused at first to talk about her relationship with Christine Marinoni. By the time she opened up about it while promoting the Sex and the City movie, it seemed like she'd always been a lesbian (which, we guess, she had).
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Tab Hunter - October 2005
This one was really a long time in the making — and for people who grew up loving the handsome boy-next-door at the Drive-In, this was surely big news. But when the then-74-year-old Tab Hunter came out it was hard not to think about what a big deal it would have been had he done it back then. Which threw into relief how much less of a big deal it was in 2005.
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Lance Bass - July 2006
A guy who used to dance around to pop music in latex bodysuits likes to have sex with men? Say it ain't so! While many people weren't surprised to hear that this N*Sync'er was gay, he was the first major boy bander to come out. Had the band still been together, this may have been bigger news. As it is, being "the gay one" seems to have helped keep Bass in work and in the spotlight. And maybe the fact that he once tried to fly on a Russian rocket into space makes the whole gay thing seem to be perhaps not the most outlandish thing about him.
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T.R. Knight - October 2006
Like Neil Patrick Harris, who would come out just one month later, this Grey's Anatomy star came out after media scrutiny. When co-star Isaiah Washington made headlines for calling him a "faggot" on the set of the then-white-hot show, Knight said "something shifted, and it became bigger than myself." He came out to Ellen DeGeneres and did get a couple of magazine covers out of it. Knight says that producers of the show encouraged him not to come out, and later he saw his screen time on the show dwindle, eventually leading him to quit. According to IMDb, he doesn't have any projects in the pipeline.
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Neil Patrick Harris - November 2006
Basically every story — including ours — about Neil Patrick Harris since he came out nearly four years ago has played up the fact that he is a gay actor with a successful career, whose primary role is that of an incorrigible ladies' man on CBS's How I Met Your Mother. The wonder at the seeming improbability of this overlooks the fact that Harris came out not with a bang or cover shoot, but a reasonable statement. "The public eye has always been kind to me, and until recently I have been able to live a pretty normal life. Now it seems there is speculation and interest in my private life and relationships," he told People. "So, rather than ignore those who choose to publish their opinions without actually talking to me, I am happy to dispel any rumors or misconceptions and am quite proud to say that I am a very content gay man living my life to the fullest and feel most fortunate to be working with wonderful people in the business I love." See? Simple.
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Clay Aiken - September 2008
Being a parent apparently spurred Aiken to admit his sexuality to People. Again the magazine went with the "Yes, I'm Gay" construction in a nod to the fact that many people who lived outside of the fantasy land "Clay Nation" already knew this fact. (That whole widely publicized Internet sex hookup — with pictures! — pretty much did the trick, pun intended.) Of all these coming out-stories, Aiken's seemed to have the most public negative effect. Despite his co-star turn in Broadway's Spamalot a couple of years ago, it does seem like his star is burning less brightly these days.
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Adam Lambert - June 2009
Adam Lambert was essentially out of the closet before his first Rolling Stone cover, in which he confirmed his sexuality. It was a measure of his success that this news seemed a bit like an afterthought to his talent and the fact that he lost to clean-cut all-American Kris Allen in what many fans thought was a severe upset. Lambert got in trouble with Out magazine after his publicist asked them not to make him seem "too gay." Shortly after, he was reprimanded by ABC for kissing another boy onstage at the American Music Awards. Sure, him being gay is a story — but him admitting it hardly was.
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Ricky Martin - March 2010
How long did the news of Ricky's big announcement stay in the headlines? Two days? Three? Maybe it was that Americans weren't surprised by this news, or maybe it was because he doesn't have the cultural relevance here that he once had. Maybe it was the simple fact that he came out on his own website and didn't allow a media outlet to play up the story for magazine sales. Either way, ten years ago, the reaction to a platinum-selling international Latin pop star coming out would have been espectacular.
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Chely Wright - May 2010
Chely has her own hurdles to face in Nashville now. The story we're really interested in is what happens after she comes out, not that she came out period. If Ricky's fans can handle it, why not Chely's?