Gay Canadians who came out later in their careers

Popjournalism
Notable Canadians who came out later in life (from clockwise top left): k.d. lang, Ellen Page, Luke Macfarlane, Ashley MacIsaac and Brian Orser Popjournalism

Barry Manilow may have shocked no one when he announced that he was gay on the cover of People, but the 73-year-old musician is not alone in coming out (very) late in his career.

At age 73, musician Barry Manilow publicly came out in a ‘People’ magazine cover story
At age 73, musician Barry Manilow publicly came out in a ‘People’ magazine cover story People Magazine

The “Copacabana” and “Mandy” singer publicly revealed his 39-year relationship with his manager and husband Garry Kief, long after the couple had married quietly in April 2014 in their home in Palm Springs, California.

“I thought I would be disappointing [my fans] if they knew I was gay,” Manilow told People.

Gay celebrity “comings out” have been an increasingly common practice, as social acceptance has risen in recent years. However, Manilow, like others raised in times where homosexuality was vilified and taboo, have delayed their comings out only once their careers have been established.

Many notable Canadians — celebrity counterparts like Jodie Foster, Anderson Cooper and Rock Hudson to name just a few — have preceded Manilow by stepping out of the closet later in life.

k.d. lang, came out at age 31

Singer-songwriter k.d. lang
Singer-songwriter k.d. lang Charlie Llewellin, flickr/cc 2.0

At the peak of her career, with the release of her album Ingénue and her breakthrough hit “Constant Craving”, the Consort, Alberta-born lang came out as a lesbian in a June 1992 article in The Advocate. You could argue that her coming out negatively affected her career in the U.S., as many radio stations dropped “Constant Craving” from their playlists in response, and the song remains lang’s only top 40 hit stateside. In Canada, lang continued her marquee recording career, and in 1996, she was made an Officer of the Order of Canada. She is currently celebrating the 25th anniversary of Ingénue with a commemorative tour.

Ellen Page, came out at age 26

Ellen Page speaking at the 2013 San Diego Comic Con International, for ‘X-Men: Days of Future Past’
Ellen Page speaking at the 2013 San Diego Comic Con International, for ‘X-Men: Days of Future Past’ Cage Skidmore, Wikipedia Commons, CC 2.0

The Juno actress’ sexuality was revealed publicly in The Hollywood Reporter in 2014, when the industry trade publication reported on her coming out speech at an LGBT conference in Las Vegas. During her speech, she said that she was “tired of lying by omission.” She continued: “I suffered for years because I was scared to be out. My spirit suffered, my mental health suffered and my relationships suffered. And I’m standing here today, with all of you, on the other side of all that pain.”

Luke Macfarlane, came out at age 28

Anna Altheide, Wikimedia Commons, CC 3.0

In 2008, the London, Ontario-born actor was in the hit freshman ABC TV drama Brothers & Sisters, and announced that he was gay in an interview with The Globe and Mail. The actor played a gay character in the series, but told the newspaper that he was fearful about going public with his own sexuality. “I don’t know what will happen professionally … that is the fear, but I guess I can’t really be concerned about what will happen, because it’s my truth,” he said. He stayed with Brothers & Sisters during its entire five-season run.

Ashley MacIsaac, came out at age 21

Ashley MacIsaac performing at the Burlington Sound of Music festival in 2010
Ashley MacIsaac performing at the Burlington Sound of Music festival in 2010 Tabercil, Wikimedia Commons, CC 3.0

The youngest on the list, the Cape Breton Island fiddler was in the midst of his first major commercial breakthrough with his double-platinum album Hi™ How Are You Today? and hit single “Sleepy Maggie” when gossip magazine Frank announced his sexuality in an unsolicited cover story. Following that story, he officially came out in Maclean’s and Advocate interviews. The former interview revealed that he had a 16-year-old boyfriend and a fondness for watersports (comments which The Advocate did not include), that reportedly caused him to be removed from Maclean’s annual “honour roll.”

Mark Tewksbury, came out at age 30

Mark Tewksbury in 2015
Mark Tewksbury in 2015 Screen capture

Olympic gold medalist swimmer Tewksbury officially came out in December 1998. Following his announcement, he later told The Globe and Mail that he lost a six-figure speaking contract due to his being “too openly gay.” He spoke publicly about being gay in a 1993 CBC Radio documentary about homophobia in sports, though both he and Olympic silver medalist boxer Mark Leduc recorded interviews which were anonymized using voice filters. (Leduc came out in a TV documentary the next year, becoming one of the first boxers to be openly gay. He died in 2009 which was attributed to heat stroke.) Tewksbury remains a popular public speaker and sports media personality in Canada.

Brian Orser, came out at age 37

Figure skater Brian Orser (suited) at Fashion Cares 2007
Figure skater Brian Orser (suited) at Fashion Cares 2007 B-Girlz, flickr/CC 2.0

The two-time Olympic medalist in figure skating was forced to reveal his sexuality in November 1998, when he lost a palimony case with an ex-partner. Orser retired from competition that year and turned pro, notably touring with the popular skating revue Stars on Ice from 1988 to 2007.

Svend Robinson, came out at age 36

Former Canadian poliltician Svend Robinson at a 2003 New Democratic Party convention in Toronto
Former Canadian poliltician Svend Robinson at a 2003 New Democratic Party convention in Toronto Montrealais at en.wikipedia CC 3.0

Canada’s first openly gay Member of Parliament came out in 1988 — at the time, was one of just four national politicians in the world who were openly gay. He served as Burnaby’s MP for the New Democratic Party and later revealed in The Globe and Mail that “the hostility and homophobia that greeted my coming out was incredible.” He wrote in that op-ed that his “office windows were shattered, I received death threats, and public officials and media heaped scorn on me.” Other notable MPs who came out later in life following Robinson include NDP Libby Davies at age 48 and then-Conservative Party MP Scott Brison at the age of 35.

Kathleen Wynne, came out at age 37

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne Province of Ontario

When Canada’s first openly gay premier came out in 1990 — she was elected Premier in 2013 and currently holds the position — the Ontario leader told the Toronto Star that her friends suddenly stopped asking her out for coffee. “I realized it was because I was changing my life and I remember feeling outraged,” she said. “Who are they to do this to me? To have had heterosexual privileges all those years, then realizing I’d stepped over a line. I was the same person but I was treated differently.”

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