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Jodie Foster: "When You Break Ground, Do You Get to Walk on It?"

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I went to Hancock Park Elementary School with Jodie Foster. I first noticed her sitting on a bench all alone. Many of the kids would not play with her because her brother Buddy was on the TV series MAYBERRY R.F.D. This made her different and that's not what you want to be in school. I was drawn to her, as I was to all artists, because I wanted to be in show business. I felt alone and different. She did too.

Decades later, I saw her again, but this time on TV, no longer alone. Sunday Jan 13th was my birthday, and it was also the night of the Golden Globes. I got a present I did not expect. When I came out 20 years ago on The Geraldo Show and told the world that I was a gay man who happened to be an actor and comedian, I was so scared that my mouth was dry and I was afraid I would not be able to speak. But I was willing to risk my career and let the chips fall where they may. Jodie Foster did the same thing in a much bigger way on Sunday Night.

She said,

In those very quaint days, a fragile young girl would open up to trusted friends, and family, coworkers and then gradually, proudly, to everyone who knew her. To everyone she actually met. But now, apparently I'm told, that every celebrity is expected to honor the details of their private life with a press conference, a fragrance and a prime time reality show.

And then she proudly thanked her ex-partner, a woman. Yes, I wish she had said the word "gay". Yes, I wish she had come out years ago. I agree with Wilson Cruz's critique that Jodie was too flip with her comments and presented it as a non-issue, when it is a big deal to all of us not-so-famous gays and lesbians. But, the fact that she spoke of her coming out speech on a major award show, when she could have just thanked the usual suspects, is life changing for me. Jodie could have said nothing, but instead she spoke of here ex partner Cydney Bernard and their two children, which they are co-raising. Her words really affected this over-40 actor who has felt the sting of not being the actor industry folks cast in roles that my straight counterparts get to play all the time. She made me feel less alone as an Out and not-so-young-anymore performer.

Jodie seems willing to give up being a movie star and just be an artist. She mentioned how she may not be on the stage like this again. Perhaps she feels that, being 50, her best acting parts are behind her, and she won't be honored like this again. Perhaps she feels she will no longer be considered for the female leads in major studio pictures because she is a lesbian. Perhaps she realized being an out, gay woman is more important than being in showbiz and she is willing to risk her career, like I was 20 years ago. I mention this brilliant actress in the same breath as I mention myself, a working Joe, with all due respect.

Like Jodie Foster, most actors who come out nowadays are already a success -- for example, Neil Patrick Harris, who now stars in the TV series How I Met Your Mother and more recently, Jim Parsons, star of The Big Bang Theory. Not to diminish them by any means -- I am thrilled they have joined Elton John, Wanda Sykes, Ian McKellan, Rosie O'Donnell and of course Ellen DeGeneres, who told the world they were gay after they became famous. But we must not overlook people like Jane Lynch, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Harvey Fierstein and Wilson Cruz, came out at the beginning of their careers. That takes great selflessness and courage.

My hope is that those of us who break the ground get to walk on it. I know that Jodie Foster's speech last Sunday will help us do that.

Congrats to my old school chum! Welcome to the Out Actor Club!