Anticipation building for 'Ellen'<BR>The Maine Archive on the Queer Resources Directory

Tuesday, April 29, 1997

Anticipation building for 'Ellen'

At left:Kate Neale and Linda Monko, holding her dog Mac, are planning to hold a dinner party for their friends to celebrate Wednesday's broadcast of ''Ellen.''
At right:Jonathan Carr, a computer programmer and former Navy man, expects the television episode to validate his own experiences in announcing his homosexuality to friends.
Staff photos by Gordon Chibroski

By Steven G. Vegh
Staff Writer
©Copyright 1997 Guy Gannett Communications
Wednesday night, for the first time in her life, Kate Neal will see a lead character on a prime-time television show do what Neal did years ago: declare herself a lesbian.

Friendly, funny Ellen Morgan, played by Ellen DeGeneres, will ''come out'' as a homosexual on ''Ellen,'' an ABC sitcom that will air at 9 p.m. on WMTW, Channel 8.

Combined with DeGeneres' acknowledgement this month that she is a lesbian, the show has stirred pride and anticipation among homosexuals in Maine and nationwide.

''For those of us who are 'out' every day, it's affirming,'' said Neal, who lives in Portland.

Neal is so thrilled with the episode that she and her partner, Linda Monko, are hosting an ''Ellen Coming-out Day'' gathering of friends to watch the historic show.

Homosexual characters are not new to television; ''Dynasty,'' ''Soap,'' ''Mad About You'' and ''Friends'' are among the shows that have portrayed gay men or lesbians. In every show, however, those characters have been secondary figures.

By contrast, DeGeneres' character is the star of ''Ellen,'' and a charming personality as well. The New York Times described Ellen Morgan as ''a sweetly befuddled bookstore employee, a latte-lapping Lucille Ball type.''

For Jonathan Carr, having this normal, fun and likable character announce her homosexuality is a welcome injection of real life into TV-land. ''It sort of validates what you yourself went through,'' he said.

Carr, a computer programmer in Portland and a former Navy serviceman, said he struggled for years over the question of coming out. Ultimately he did, with great support from his family and friends.

Nationally, the buildup to Wednesday's show has been tremendous. DeGeneres was featured on the April 14 cover of Time magazine, newspapers nationwide have covered the story, and there is massive ''Ellen'' chatter on the Internet.

Gay-rights groups such as The Human Rights Campaign and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation have actively promoted the show.

Both have ''Ellen'' Web sites, and both are distributing party kits containing posters, ''Ellen'' trivia and invitations for hosts of local ''coming out with Ellen'' parties.

In the Portland area, ''Everybody's talking about (the show),'' said Barbara Wood, a former Portland city councilor. ''The past couple of weeks, people I know in the gay community are really starting to ask, 'Where are you going to be watching it?' ''

At least 20 women will be watching it at the home of Monko and Neal, whose party will be complete with vegetarian lasagna and salad.

The fact that Monko doesn't particularly like ''Ellen'' as a television show is irrelevant. On this night she expects prime-time television to ''demystify'' gays and lesbians for mainstream America.

''It's like we're becoming openly a part of society and acknowledged as such, though all along we've been part of it,'' she said.

Wood agrees that for some Americans, prime-time network television undoubtedly defines what is perceived as mainstream and normal in society.

But with ''Ellen,'' is television reflecting an increasing acceptance of gays and lesbians by Americans? Or is this a case where television's positive portrayal of a lesbian sets a trend for Americans to follow?

''I believe, as a politician, it's both,'' said Wood, who still is involved in Portland city politics. ''For those segments of society who say 'we're never going to be ready for this,' it's going to push their envelopes.''

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