Comedian and actress Wanda Sykes officially came out this weekend, announcing to the estimated crowd of 1,000 gathered in Las Vegas at one of the many rallies for gay rights taking place around the country on Saturday that she’s gay, and that she legally married her wife in California on Oct. 25.
Sykes (who divorced her husband of seven years in 1998), has spoken out about gay rights issues many times in the past, recently participated in a campaign to fight anti-gay slurs, and has openly referred to her wife in some of her stand-up routines.
Sykes at New York’s Apollo Theater in June 2008
But she has always declined to specifically discuss her sexual orientation publicly — until now.
“I don’t really talk about my sexual orientation," she told the crowd at the Las Vegas GLBT Community Center. "I didn’t feel like I had to. I was just living my life, not necessarily in the closet, but I was living my life."
"Everybody that knows me personally, they know I’m gay. But that’s the way people should be able to live their lives.”
But the passage of Proposition 8, she told them, spurred her decision to officially come out. “ We took a huge leap forward and then got dragged 12 feet back. I felt like I was being attacked, personally attacked — our community was attacked."
“Now, I gotta get in their face," she continued. "I’m proud to be a woman. I’m proud to be a black woman, and I’m proud to be gay.”
Sykes joins WNBA player Sheryl Swoopes as one of the few high-profile black women in America who have publicly come out as a lesbian or bisexual woman.
Just before the Nov. 4 election, Sykes talked about homophobia within the black community on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, acknowledging there are differences between the black civil rights movement and the gay civil rights movement, but saying, "discrimination is discrimination, and of all people, black people should know about discrimination."
Currently co-starring with Julia Louis-Dreyfus in the CBS comedy The New Adventures of Old Christine, Sykes — along with Jasika Nicole on the Fox sci-fi drama Fringe, and Kristen Vangsness on the CBS crime drama Criminal Minds — is one of the few out actresses currently playing a leading or supporting role on primetime broadcast television.
Sykes and Louis-Dreyfus in a recent episode of Old Christine
She and her wife are among the 18,000 gay and lesbian couples who married during the four months same-sex marriage was legal in California, including many lesbian couples in the entertainment industry.
Sykes said in her speech that she believes passing Proposition 8 will ultimately backfire for those who are against gay marriage.
"They pissed off the wrong group of people," she told the crowd. "They have galvanized a community. We are so together now and we all want the same thing and we shouldn’t have to settle for less. Instead of having gay marriage in California, no, we’re gonna have gay marriage across the country."
Watch Wanda’s speech at the Las Vegas rally here: