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Rebel Wilson’s coming out tainted by Hollywood homophobia

Actor Rebel Wilson recently came out on Instagram, announcing her relationship with Ramona Agruma. But what should have been a joyful milestone was tainted by threats and pressure from the media. 

The Sydney Morning Herald has faced backlash for its handling of Rebel Wilson’s relationship news. After sharing a sweet photo with her girlfriend, Ramona Agruma, on Instagram, it was revealed the actor had been pressured to announce the news by journalist Andrew Horney.

In a column that has since been removed from the SMH website, a begruntled Horney stated he had been ‘gazumped’ by Wilson’s decision to reveal the news on her own terms – perhaps before she felt ready to. As it turns out, Horney had told Wilson he knew about her relationship, and gave her 27 hours to respond ‘before publishing’.

His own admission at threatening Wilson to share deeply personal information sparked immediate outrage. But it also underlined Horney’s acute ignorance to the gravity of his actions.

The day following Wilson’s Instagram post, Horney wrote in the SMH, ‘it was with an abundance of caution and respect that this media outlet emailed Rebel Wilson’s representatives on Thursday morning, giving her two days to comment on her new relationship […] before publishing a single word.’

For Horney, what could well be deemed blackmail seemed an act of generosity; how gracious of the newspaper to give Wilson a whole two days (!). For Wilson, the rights to her identity had become media fodder.

Dr. Bodie Ashton was one of thousands to call out the SMH and Horney for their irresponsible behaviour and it’s timely correspondence with Pride Month:

‘In case you were wondering how Pride Month is going, the @smh got in touch with Rebel Wilson to say they’d be outing her in the next few days, so when Rebel came out herself the journalists are throwing a tantrum that she robbed them of an exclusive.’

To have a deadline placed on the control you have over your own life is devastating. LGBTQ+ campaigners were heartbroken as news of Wilson’s attempted outing surfaced. For them, it was a familiar story – one where media scrutiny and blackmail muddies a joyful milestone in a queer person’s life.

Wilson has since commented on her experience, tweeting last week that ‘it was a very hard situation but [I’m] trying to handle it with grace’.

For millions of LGBTQ+ people, coming out has always been a deeply personal journey riddled with societal hurdles. One would hope that denying individuals this milestone, especially on an international media stage, would be antiquated by 2022.

Horney has since issued an apology with an article titled ‘I made mistakes over Rebel Wilson, and will learn from them’ – a move that The Guardian’s Eleanor Morgan described as ‘quick [and] admirable’.

I’d say praising a cis, heterosexual man for acknowledging his mistakes is a bit of a stretch. But it highlights our bleakly low standards when it comes to LGBTQ+ rights.

Pride itself is testimony to this. Slapping a rainbow on a brownie is deemed ‘activism’. Large corporations have swept in and commercialised another political moment. Amongst all the rainbow-coloured food and corporate branding, it’s hard to remember that Pride is still a protest.

Despite a growing ‘who cares’ attitude toward sexuality, a blind celebration of LGBTQ+ rights that often begins and ends at parades and flags, we forget that this community still faces marginalisation. That for them, coming out can be paved with trauma, fear, and ridicule.

In his original article, Horney stated ‘In a perfect world, ‘outing’ same-sex celebrity relationships should be a redundant concept in 2022. Love is Love right?’. But as Morgan stated, mantras like these ‘are a luxury for anyone who isn’t part of a minority community and has to face the sometimes-complex reality of being ‘other’’.

Wilson’s experience is a reminder that homophobia still exists – in both its micro and macro-aggressions it shapes the spaces we can (or can’t) inhabit, dictates the borders of inclusion and exclusion, and maintains a monopoly over the content we consume.

It’s through this content that we view the world – if journalists like Horney excerpt a laissez-faire attitude toward LGBTQ+ rights and experience, it creates a ripple effect.

It cultivates the message that queer suffering is outdated, and we live in a harmonious society free of oppression. In denying the experiences of LGBTQ+ individuals, this ignorance is an act of oppression in itself.

Other media experts have criticised Horney’s approach. ‘This is a story that should not have seen the light of day’, said Dr Sacha Molitorisz, law and ethics academic at the University of Technology Sydney. But the reality is that it did see the light of day.

Dr Molitorisz concluded this can still be seen as an isolated incident, exacerbated by wrong decisions at the top.

‘Personally, I’ve worked with editors and journalists who are extremely sensitive and aware, and others who had about as much empathy as a cricket bat,’ he said.

Perhaps it’s naive to assume these subtle acts of homophobia are unusual in 2022. They still simmer beneath the surface, proving we have a long way to go in order to ensure LGBTQ+ rights are no longer under threat in our society.

More effort needs to be made amongst the straight, cis-gender population. Treating actions like those by the SMH as ‘stand-alone incidents’ absolves us of responsibility to make that effort.

If Wilson’s experience has taught us anything, it’s that queer people face societal ridicule regardless of their professional success. If you’d like to make a change this Pride month, you can donate to Out & Equal, a non-profit ensuring all workplaces – regardless of industry – provide cultures of belonging, so LGBTQ+ individuals can feel safe to be ‘out’.

 

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