Edge Publications Story By Renee Baker, May 16, 2008
Chastity Bono is a real person, a real person with depth and soul and she knows how connect with her audience without even trying. She felt honored to be the first keynote speaker at the inaugural GLBT Summit meeting, held at Rice University in Houston this past Monday.
This is the first time the Texas Diversity Council (TDC) has embraced a GLBT summit meeting, and is doing so to celebrate an even broader aspect of diversity. TDC joins the Dallas and Houston Steering Committees of the Human Rights Campaign and the Dallas-Fort Worth Regional Affiliate Chapter of Out & Equal in hosting the summit meeting. Ron Ausemeus, Council Chair for the Out and Equal Chapter, says the summit was designed “to focus on GLBT workplace topics.”
About 200 guests attended the GLBT summit and anxiously awaited Bono to speak, though on what topic was only speculation during the Texas-style fajita luncheon. Jamey Seely, honorary chair for the summit as well as VP and General Counsel of Direct Energy, welcomed everyone to the summit and introduced Bono. Bono is the daughter of Cher and the late Sonny Bono and frequently appeared on the Emmy nominated Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour during the early 1970s.
Bono, whose career has been in performance, music, writing and advocacy, felt perhaps there were expectations that she would speak on corporate diversity issues. She opened up her talk saying “I wish I could regale my experiences in corporate America to you. Unfortunately, I have no experience.” The luncheon crowd responded with laughter, obviously knowing her national celebrity status did not take her into a life of a typical corporate employee.
After sharing a few of her life achievements, such as her prominent position as GLAAD’s entertainment and media advisor and her campaign support for former President Bill Clinton, she jokes “I feel like I’m reading my resume.” With that, she said she would share her coming out story and take questions from the audience, which she says she enjoys the most.
“Coming out is a process…and mine was a big process,” Bono said. “I felt different. It was when I was 13 years old that I figured out I was gay.” She said she figured it out while watching a film called Personal Best. “When I saw that love scene between two women, it clicked,” she said to a chuckling audience.
Bono, born in 1969, did not come out publicly until she was 25 years old and writing for The Advocate. This was after denying rumors she was gay, as spread by the supermarket tabloid Star magazine in 1990. She said, “No one was out then, and that was one of the most terrifying things that happened to me.” She joked, “Even Elton John was still bisexual then.” She added more seriously, “I was so scared and so spooked that at that time I was not able to do it.” In regard to Star outing her, she feels strongly that outing is wrong and should be a personal decision. But she didn’t mind adding slyly, “with the exception of perhaps Republicans.”
She said she went back into the closet for her career as a musician. “I was putting out my record then. I’m sure none of you have heard it. It sold to friends and family.”
After her partner died of cancer, she realized how much they could have done if they had not been in the closet. She did not want any more regrets and “needed to get on with life” and come out.
When she came out formally in The Advocate in 1995, the response she got back was “absolutely tremendous”. “All sorts of organizations came forth” she said. “HRC was actually in the process of introducing ENDA then.”
While on the topic of ENDA, she was asked her opinion of how the HRC handled the dropping of gender expression from the ENDA bill. “It’s horrible. I really disagree with HRC on that. I am just really disappointed. We are one community and have to start behaving as one community.” She continues, “The people that hate us, hate us. The people that support us, support us. I don’t think there are many politicians who would say, ’If you took out trans, you would have had me’. Trans people start off as gay and lesbian and are a big part of the family.”
Bono came out to her parents when she was a teenager, but waited until she was just barely an adult. “I thought I had to be 18 when I told them,” she said, explaining it was as if there was some rule about it.
She told her father first, as she “had a better relationship with…dad at the time”. “I left gay books around, and eventually he took the hint,” she said. Her Republican father, who was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1994, was said to have told her, “I want you to know that you can tell me anything” which was his way of saying he knew. Bono told her mom last, which she said was a mistake “as it made it worse for her.”
Bono added, “Those years were great and ignorant. ” It was a time when many celebrities came out, such as “K.D.”, “Melissa” and the Indigo Girls. “It was a celebratory time to be gay.”
Bono also addressed a number of other questions from summit participants. On the future of our youth, she commented “The changes we have seen are cultural changes. It’s gonna get better and better. [Being gay] is just not a big deal to [our kids] today.” She added, “Everyone has a gay, lesbian, bi or transgendered friend or family member, but may not know it. Americans are really a lot farther along than are representatives are.”
On legalizing gay marriage, Bono said, “I’ve always thought we should not call it marriage.” She believes that domestic partnership would be an acceptable compromise. “Marriage causes religious folks to freak out.” Her comments came one day before California became the second state to declare that same-sex couples have a right to marry, going beyond domestic partnerships, which the California Supreme court rejected as being similar to the idea of separate but equal.
Bono was asked too, where we should go from here as a gay community and how we should build allies. “Well, as far as allies, PFLAG is my favorite organization for that. There is nothing scarier than a pissed-off PFLAG mom.” The lunch crowd laughed. “When we get there, it will be the end of censoring”, she said, and then said it will be a time that we can all talk like straight people, without fear. “The best way to gain allies is to let them know us. You have to normalize what it is to be gay.” She said that most people are more accepting than we think. “I’ve come out to many strangers on airplanes. I have yet to have someone ask to be moved to a different seat.”
Bono left the audience wanting more, and received a standing ovation. She warmly greeted summit guests both before and after her talk. As one woman said to her, “You have really touched my heart. Would you be open to a hug?” “Of course”, said Bono, who could only close her eyes and smile during the embrace.
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