Talking with Chastity Bono
The star discusses ''Ellen'' backlash and becoming Hollywood's gay conscience
Nostalgia heads remember her as the cutesy-pie toddler on her parents’ Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour. Well, get ready for Chastity Bono’s big TV comeback: On the May 7 Ellen (the first post-outing episode), Bono will play a counselor at a support-group meeting for parents of gays and lesbians.
Her day job, though, is behind the scenes. As entertainment media director for the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), the out-of-the-closet 28-year-old monitors Hollywood’s portrayals of gay characters. Bono not only provided input on the big Ellen episode but also helped cook up GLAAD’s nationwide ”Come Out With Ellen” campaign, which includes screening parties in New York, Kansas City, L.A., San Francisco, San Diego, and Washington, D.C. (revelers will watch the historic episode and sip melon-flavored cocktails, a reference to one of the scenes). We caught up with the famous scion in her L.A. office:
TELL US ABOUT YOUR JOB.
I see my role as a technical adviser. If someone is making a film about astronauts, they talk to NASA, because it’s a different world. I think the gay community — to people who aren’t involved in it — can be a different world too.
HOW DID YOU ADVISE THE ‘ELLEN’ FOLKS?
I didn’t want to be overbearing. I made little suggestions…. At the support group, they had pictures up that were a little too graphic. Hunky good-looking gay men. You wouldn’t have that in a room where parents have their meeting.
HOW’D IT FEEL TO GO IN FRONT OF THE CAMERA?
I went to New York’s performing-arts high school, but I stopped acting because I didn’t think I’d get roles as a lesbian. So [doing this] was really special for me.
IN GENERAL, HOW IS THE PORTRAYAL OF GAYS ON TV?
It’s getting really good. You’re seeing the range of the gay community. It’s not just the effeminate swishy hairdresser and the masculine woman. It’s professional people, masculine men, lipstick lesbians.
WHAT STILL NEEDS FIXING?
TV’s doing great, but there’s a lot of work to be done in movies. You’ve got stuff like The Birdcage. It wasn’t offensive, just inaccurate. I’ve known drag queens all my life and I’ve never met one as effeminate as Nathan Lane was. Ever! There are a lot of those goofy gay films in [development].
WHAT ABOUT OTHER BARRIERS ON TV?
The next logical step is either a gay male lead or a gay lead on a drama. And more intimacy between men.
YOU GET A LOT OF PEOPLE WHO SAY ELLEN’S COMING OUT IS NO BIG DEAL BECAUSE THERE ARE SO MANY GAY CHARACTERS ON TV ALREADY.
It’s a huge deal. There’s a big difference between supporting characters and a lead. And I love that people are watching the coming-out process. It’s not a new show that’s being created with a gay lead. It’s going to be helpful to many people.
ONE ABC AFFILIATE IN BIRMINGHAM, ALA. — WBMA — HAS REFUSED TO AIR THE EPISODE. HOW DO YOU RESPOND?