When Famous People Come Out

Actress Amber Heard comes out. Does it make a difference?

Over the weekend, Amber Heard, an actress who has appeared in films including the Pineapple Express and Zombieland – and who stars opposite box office “it” man Johnny Depp in the recently wrapped The Rum Diary, shared her sapphic side at GLAAD’s 25th anniversary event.

According to AfterEllen.com, the starlet – whose made a name for herself as the object of Maxim-style male affection  – said she wanted to come out because she doesn’t want to be part of injustice. She attended the event with gal pal photographer Tasya van Ree who she’s said to have been dating since 2008.

“I think when I became aware of my role in the media,” the website quotes Heard, “I had to ask myself an important question: Am I part of the problem? And I think that when millions of hardworking, tax-paying Americans are denied their rights and denied their equality you have to ask yourself what are the facts that are an epidemic problem and that’s what this is.”

She went on to explain to AfterEllen.com: “Injustice can never be stood for. It always must be fought against and I just was sick if it being a problem. I personally think that if you deny something or if you hide something you’re inadvertently admitting it’s wrong. I don’t feel like I’m wrong.”

Bold statements. But does Heard carry enough star power to make a difference? Will most of her male fan base really even bristle at the thought of her with another woman? Or will the move make her even more popular among the guys who stream videos of the bombshell on their desktops during lunch hour? The $10,000 question is: Do so-called famous people who come out make any difference when it comes to gay rights?

Visibility definitely counts. But given the way the looming Hollywood spin machine tends to paint pictures, it’s easy to wonder whether a fairly under-the-radar actress could be using the lavender spotlight to cast some light on her own burgeoning career. And if so, does that mean being gay – or lesbian – is suddenly a gateway to fame? Or is she of a young generation that cares less about defining sexuality rigidly?

Many artists have suffered serious career fails after revealing their homosexuality (Ellen lost her TV show, but one might argue the show became a lot less funny when the comedian came out). And British actor Rupert Everett caught a lot of heat when he wrote in his memoir that the worst thing an actor can do is come out of the closet. But now Ellen is among the top-rated, dancing, necktie-wearing daytime talk show hosts in the country. And Everett, well, he’s a casualty of too much plastic surgery.

Who was right? Does being gay really matter? Do gay women have it easier in a society that takes female sexuality a whole lot less seriously compared to men who may appear “girly?”

For every Ellen story about success, there’s an Anne Heche story of demise, which might explain why plenty of Hollywood’s closet doors have been barricaded shut and why for every young actor that comes out, another old actor sues a tabloid for saying he’s gay (you know who they are).

Something definitely did happened since Heard made the announcement about her homosexuality this weekend: By Monday morning she became a headline. But whether it makes any difference in the way LGBT people are viewed and treated in this country is hard to tell, not until her name’s on a marquee and audiences decide whether to pay for a ticket – or not.

There is one thing this optimistic 24-year-old can count on from here on out: She’ll never again be known simply as “actress Amber Heard.” Wikipedia’s already added “lesbian” to her page.

A video of Heard for the “i equals you” project (directed by van Ree):