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Lily Tomlin: I didn’t come out because it would have hurt my mother

By Ben Kelly

Lily Tomlin has spoken about how her mother’s traditional views prevented her from coming out sooner.

Asked about whether she thought gay actors have a responsibility to be open about their sexuality, the 76 year old said, “I don’t hold anybody to some strict expectation because I don’t know what that person’s circumstance is. The one reason I didn’t come out more fully, really, is because I knew it would hurt my mother. She was so southern, so Methodist, she believed so much in Jesus.”


“My mother was pretty traditional,” she explains, revealing that her brother is also gay. “That generation would be horrified, 20, 30 years ago, if I’d announced it to them. So I never did.”

In the interview with the Guardian, she also said she turned down a Time magazine offer to put her on the cover in 1975, if she came out. “Well, it would have been suicidal career wise at that point,” she explains. “Also, it’s sort of like they didn’t want any specific gay person for the cover, they just wanted a gay person.”

Tomlin’s sexuality has long been an open secret in the entertainment industry, with no real pivotal ‘coming out’ moment. She has been in a relationship with her wife Jane Wagner since 1971, and the pair married on New Year’s Eve 2013 in Los Angeles.

Speaking about the online abuse suffered by Ellen Page when she came out earlier this year, Tomlin says, “It did make it hard on her, it’s true,” but added, “the best thing you can do for yourself is just go on as if it doesn’t exist and be bold.”

"Grandma" Left to right: Julia Garner as Sage and Lily Tomlin as Elle; Photo by Aaron Epstein, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics press site

Tomlin is about to star in Grandma, a movie in which she plays a lesbian who attempts to raise $600 in one day to pay for her granddaughter’s abortion. It was written specifically for her, and is already being touted as a major Oscar contender. It opens in the UK on 11 December.

The actress, whose credits include 9 to 5, Tea With Mussolini, and this year’s Netflix hit Grace and Frankie, also admitted it is still difficult for openly gay actors to get romantic leading roles; though she says, “I never was considered for those roles anyway.”