This isn’t really about Kevin Hart. The world is full of people unwilling to apologize for something that they feel was done or said so long ago that they shouldn’t have to still be addressing it. I could write a dozen essays about the wrongness of that. But this is actually about what’s right in this scenario.
I was probably in 8th or 9th grade when I realized how drawn I was to girls and not so much to boys. And, although these events aren’t immediately tied together, it was also around that time that I became fascinated with movies and the Oscars. Movies were an escape for me and witnessing the extravagance of the Oscars every year from our plain, tract home living room was the ultimate fantasy. Watching glamorous women and men air kissing on the red carpet took me away from the reality of my life. Even host Bob Hope’s jokes seemed funny in a silly, Hollywood way. I hadn’t yet fully taken in what it meant to be gay, but I knew it was bad, which in my mind made me bad. That was core self-knowledge, like knowing I liked hamburgers and that I wasn’t great at math.
There is possibility—that we might learn to be kind and loving and accepting, and that anything less than that will not be allowed.
This was all in my own head, of course, because this simply wasn’t a topic anyone discussed. I couldn’t even imagine going to my parents and telling them that I liked girls. I certainly couldn’t ever tell a girl that I liked her. And, although much of this was what I told myself as I let all of this roll around in my head in those days, there were enough signs from the outside that confirmed my fears. Every relationship I saw was heterosexual, and every girl who was popular was pretty and feminine. I didn’t see myself in that way, and more or less imagined a life feeling depressed and alone and ashamed. The day I walked past two girls in high school and heard one of them whisper to the other, “She’s a lezzy,” confirmed it. I’m sure everyone else in my high school knew it, too.
Last week, when comedian Kevin Hart was asked to apologize for homophobic comments he made eight years ago, he chose to step down from hosting the Oscars instead. Although he did eventually kind of apologize, his original response was that he was misunderstood and that his views had “evolved.” But as I said, this isn’t really about him. It’s about the fact that it is no longer acceptable in an arena as large as the Oscars to make homophobic comments.
To me, this is huge progress—so large, in fact, that never in a million years would I have imagined it happening in my lifetime. I’m sure it’s like the feeling that women who have been sexually assaulted had when the Me Too movement began. Sometimes things change, I'm learning, whether we imagine they will or not.
My feelings of shame as a gay kid growing up in the 1950s and 60s convinced me that no matter what I did, the world would never accept me. I learned that saying mean things about people like me was completely acceptable. In these days of Donald Trump and those who see his presidency as a time to proudly behave as badly as they possibly can, it feels as if we are taking a huge step backwards. But then something like the Kevin Hart thing happens and I realize that the world might really be shifting.
In the time since I was that 15-year-old subject of my high school classmate's slur, I’ve grown to love myself and my gayness. I’ve been blessed by friends and colleagues who accept me for who I am. And, I’ve found the love of my life—something I couldn’t have dreamed of when I was struggling through the angst of my teenage years. I can’t tell you what it means that the rest of the world has moved enough to decide that it’s not okay to say unkind things about a person like me. It isn’t earth-shattering, but it means there is possibility—that we might learn to be kind and loving and accepting, and that anything less than that will not be allowed.