Billie Eilish came out. Here's why it still matters.

(Getty Images)
Billie Eilish recently came out as LGBTQ, and now she has the whole world praising her for it. (Getty Images)
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After opening up about being “attracted” to girls in a recent interview, singer Billie Eilish is navigating a new chapter, both personally and publicly.

“I love [girls] so much. I love them as people. I’m attracted to them as people. I’m attracted to them for real,” the singer, 21, said in the November cover story for Variety’s “Power of Women” issue. “I have deep connections with women in my life, the friends in my life, the family in my life. I’m physically attracted to them. But I’m also so intimidated by them and their beauty and their presence.”

That wasn’t always the case. Growing up, she always assumed that girls didn’t like her, which is partly why she said she couldn’t “relate to girls very well” as a teen.

On Dec. 2, the singer addressed her comments while attending Variety’s “Hitmakers” brunch, where she and her brother and collaborator Finneas accepted the Film Song of the Year Award for the Barbie ballad, “What Was I Made For?”

On the red carpet, journalist Tiana DeNicola, who identifies as LGBTQ, asked Eilish if she’s since changed her mind about the assumption that women don't like her: “I’m still scared of them, but I think they’re pretty,” the singer said.

DeNicole followed up, asking, "Billie, did you mean to come out in this story?"

Eilish said that while she identifies as LGBTQ, she resents the idea of needing to label herself at all.

“No, I didn’t [mean to come out]. But I kind of thought, ‘Wasn’t it obvious?’” she said. “I didn’t realize people didn’t know. I just don’t really believe in [the concept of labels]. I’m like, ‘Why can’t we just exist?’ I’ve been doing this for a long time and I just didn’t talk about it. Whoops.”

After seeing the article, Eilish told DeNicole, “I was like, ‘Oh, I guess I came out today!’” Adding, “It's exciting to me because people didn’t know so it’s cool that they know. ... I’m nervous talking about it. But no, I am for the girls.”

Eilish coming out still matters

According to a November 2023 report from UCLA’s Williams Institute, one in six young adults ages 18-24 identify as either lesbian, bisexual, queer or trans. For the majority of that population, says Dr. Eric Yarbrough, a New York City-based psychiatrist focusing on queer youth, seeing out and proud celebrities offers hope that “they too can live a happy and productive life,” free of discrimination.

“Politics has shown us that we are still living in a world of uncertainty around LGBTQ rights, and visibility and representation can have a powerful positive impact on public opinion,” he told Yahoo Entertainment.

“Billie Eilish commented that sexuality shouldn’t matter,” he added. “And while I hope we live in a world like that someday, we aren’t there yet.”

“It will always matter for celebrities to come out because they have huge followings who look up to them and are influenced by them,” Village Voice contributor Michael Musto told Yahoo, explaining that “out celebs” help to “normalize [queer people’s] sexuality as nothing to hide or be ashamed of.”

That’s supported by data from the Trevor Project, an LGBTQ youth suicide prevention organization. According to its 2022 survey, 79% of queer youth reported “feeling good” when musicians come out as LGBTQ. In a separate 2023 survey by the organization, LGBTQ youth ages 13-24 were asked what the world would look like if all queer people were accepted. Their top responses included: People “can be who they want to be.”

To that end, Yarbrough says, “out and proud” role models with large platforms like Eilish give young people the confidence to not only advocate for themselves, but also for each other.

Being outed

When the Variety event was over, Eilish took to social media and acknowledged the outlet for outing her, despite having made the declaration in print.

“Thanks Variety for my award and for also outing me on a red carpet at 11 am instead of talking about anything else that matters,” she wrote. “I like boys and girls. Leave me alone about it, please. Literally who cares.”

“Outing” refers to the “act of publicly revealing (sometimes based on rumor and/or speculation) another person’s sexual orientation or gender identity without that person’s consent,” according to GLAAD, the premier LGBTQ media advocacy organization. Historically, outing has been used to weaponize and exploit the LGBTQ community.

It’s different from coming out, which describes a “lifelong process of self-acceptance” about one’s sexual orientation. It’s a personal decision one makes to disclose their identity with loved ones, close friends, work colleagues or even to themselves — on their own terms.

Eilish's post has been liked by more than 4.5 million people as of Tuesday afternoon, and while the overwhelming majority express support and encouragement for the singer, some fans commented on the difference between coming out and being outed.

“Billie please change your language relating to this,” a fan wrote. “Please do not make ‘outing’ some sort of buzzword for your discomfort when there are teens misplaced every single day for being outed.”

“It's not really fair to say ‘outed on a red carpet,’” another wrote. “You had a conversation with a gay interviewer about the cover story where you came out. She was doing her job. Representation is still important.”

Musto, who was well-known in the 1990s for pressuring celebrities (including Rosie O’Donnell and Ellen DeGeneres) to come out, illuminates the conversation even further.

“Outing is a harsh term that simply represents equal gossip reporting,” he explained, pointing to the number of journalists — like Perez Hilton and Michelangelo Signorile, widely considered a pioneer of outing public figures — who notoriously pressured celebs to come out in the ’90s and ’00s.

As Musto explains, outing celebs was never meant to ruin careers or lives, but rather to give LGBTQ people the visibility they needed at the time.

“The media always reported on [straight] celebrities’ private lives, often in ways the celebs didn’t want or appreciate, but they drew the line at queer reporting, partly out of their own squeamishness on the subject,” he said. “The result was queer media, myself included, simply saying ‘This celebrity is gay! They should come out!’”

As cultural acceptance for LGBTQ people increased, the need to out celebrities became unnecessary. "And that’s what ‘outers’ were always fighting for,” Musto said.

There are exceptions, however. Rebel Wilson went public in 2022 after a journalist threatened to out her, for example. Heartstopper star Kit Connor also claimed to come out as bisexual after “feeling forced” to do so by fans.

Regardless of how it happened, the significance of Eilish coming out cannot be overstated, said Musto, noting that it’s important for people to have perspective — and compassion — for everyone’s journey.

“[Eilish] probably wants to control the narrative and will keep evolving toward the exact way she wants to define and label herself,” he said. And we should be OK with that.