Even the goofy Sonny Bono couldn’t wrest the spotlight away from his flashy onetime costar and wife, Cher. But, shockingly, it was their towheaded daughter, Chastity, who pulled off the ultimate star eclipse. On April 18, 1995, she revealed that the cute little girl who dazzled Mom, Dad, and a nation on The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour was all grown up…and gay.
Though it was two years before Ellen DeGeneres came out, Chastity’s appearance on the April cover of the gay-themed magazine The Advocate wasn’t the first for a lesbian celeb (both k.d. lang and Melissa Etheridge had beaten her to it). But she did have the distinction of becoming one of the first outed by the tabloids when in 1990 the Star revealed her secret. ”It pushed me way deep into the closet,” Bono says.
Even tabloid vet Cher was undone. She had first grappled with Chastity’s sexuality in the late ’80s, when Sonny broke the news. ”I was very un-Cher-like in my acceptance of my daughter’s choice,” she admitted at a 1996 National Coming Out Day rally. Though Cher came to terms with her daughter’s homosexuality, it wasn’t until Chastity’s lover, Joan Stephens, died of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 1994, that the younger Bono decided to take control of her sexuality. ”There were so many things Joan and I didn’t do,” she recalls. ”I didn’t want to live feeling so bad about a part of myself anymore.” So, with her parents’ support, Chastity became an Advocate cover girl. ”So many kids wrote to us…[her story] helped them come out,” says Judy Wieder, who authored the piece and is now The Advocate’s editor in chief. ”They could say, ‘Look, Mom, I know you’re struggling, but so is Cher.”’
The publicity led to a gig as the entertainment media director for the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) and a cameo on a 1997 episode of Ellen. But Chastity experienced the flip side of gay pride when, asked by Variety in 1998 to explain Ellen’s sagging ratings, she suggested the show was ”too gay-specific” (a comment GLAAD claimed was taken out of context). According to Chastity, GLAAD gave her the boot three months later.
But much like her parents, Bono has a knack for reinventing herself. Now a full-time author, she’s written a coming-out tome, 1998’s Family Outing, and a memoir, The End of Innocence (in stores this June). And she’s not ruling out running for office like her father, who died in a skiing accident in 1998. Seems we may have to come up with a whole new definition of First Lady.