Jane Lynch: ‘Younger Generations Have Always Been Progressive’
For decades, Jane Lynch has appeared on our TVs and movie screens as loveable, awkward, and unforgettable characters. You might know her as the cranky but endearing Coach Sue on FOX’s hit “Glee.” Or perhaps you remember her from earlier days—a gig on the too-short-lived “Party Down” or her hilarious role as dog trainer in Best of Show. Lynch recently spoke with Campus Progress about her acting work, new memoir “Happy Accidents,” and her role as an openly gay mother and advocate for LGBT youth.
In your memoir, one thing that really sticks out is the different obstacles and struggles you faced while growing up. You write about how your mom always pushed you toward teaching instead of your true love, acting, and how you grappled with that. Any advice for young folks in the same situation, wondering if they’re on the right path or if they’ll be able to pursue what they love?
What I always say is: Wherever you are right now and what’s right in front of you is exactly what you need to put your attention on. And if you find that you don’t love it, that means you’ve got to put your attention somewhere else. Find the stuff that pleases you. I say at the end of the book to find what it is you do best and do your best with it. That’s a Carol Brady phrase, actually.
I kind of went through the trials and tribulations phrase of trying to be a person [that I wasn’t], although it’s almost as if the imprinting on my DNA that wanted my to be an actress was much stronger than anything anybody else told me. And I went with that, ultimately.
It takes a certain amount of bravery, especially when it’s something that’s not socially acceptable, or it’s not culturally the right thing, or you grew up in a family that doesn’t really understand you wanting to be an artist or wanting to be an engineer or whatever your path is. Literature is riddled with stories of people taking the path less traveled and the amount of courage that it takes to do that.
In your book, you also discuss coming to terms with your sexuality, something you struggled with when you were younger. Can you talk a little bit about your experiences getting over that anxiety and coming out to your family?
I was going to say it’s easier now, but it’s really not. If you’re growing up in a small town in Iowa, it can be difficult. Again, it’s kind of the same lesson—it was culturally and societally unacceptable, and yet I knew I had it—and I viewed it as a disease—and I just had to find my people. Luckily, being in the theatre and being gay kind of line up. [Laughs]
You just kind of have to go where the love is. It’s really about heeding the call from the deepest part of yourself and going on that journey that may be fraught with obstacles but, ultimately, you have to go on it and find your people, find the places where people love you for who you are.
You mentioned that it’s not really easier for young people to come out today. But we are seeing a growing number of openly gay celebrities and people who are advocates in the mainstream—everyone from Ellen Degeneres to Chris Colfer to you. Does that help?
Oh, I totally think it does. And anytime there’s a huge societal shift—like the acceptance of gay and lesbian relationships, which is growing all over the country—the oppositional forces get even stronger. So I think it’s hard for kids who grow up in places where it’s not culturally acceptable. But the fact that there are now healthy, happy people in great relationships with children that they can see in the media … I think that’s so important and I wish that I had that.
I’m very happy that my relationship and my family give some people hope. I love Dan Savage’s website, It Gets Better, where everybody—gay and straight—opines and gives these kids hope. I know it’s tough now but you’re going to have to find your people and go to the places where you’re loved. And you’re kind of stuck right now, because you’re a kid, but it gives them hope. We can’t come there and rescue you right now, but you’re going to rescue yourself. Just know that, hang in there until you’re old enough to find your people.
And you’ve also made an It Gets Better video with your wife, Lara. Are those the same messages you give to the young folks you meet?
There’s a lot of youth activism around equality now, everything from work on ballot measures to young folks testifying on behalf of their parents in front of state legislatures. Do you think that’s something that’s unique to our generation, this more progressive attitude?
No, I think the younger generations have always been progressive, and they lead the way. I think it takes the young idealistic person to move things forward and that’s why we always have great hope in the young generation. And it’s a responsibility, if you’re the younger generation, to step up and create and fashion the world that you want to live in.
I think it’s really great and there’s something wonderful about the idealism and the energy and the almost ignorance of youth that makes kids so gung-ho and able to go out there. Look at any great invention, any great movement—there’s a 20-year-old kid who thought of it sitting in the basement.
Do you think, though, that our generation is finally creating the time for true equality and gay rights?
It’s totally possible. And what’s great about it is it’s not just an issue for gay kids, but straight kids, Christian kids—there’s some huge number of Christians under 30 who are so tired of the gay issue and so accepting of gay being just another way to love.
There are some people we’re never going to win over and, luckily, most of the people we’re not going to win over will be dead soon. [Laughs] But some will survive, some are young, but the tide is in our favor. Just look at Barack Obama’s parents—they would have been arrested if they got married in Georgia or Virginia.
In the most recent season of Glee, we saw a pregnant Sue Sylvester. And you’re a parent now, too, right?
Relatively recently, yes.
Has being a parent changed you?
It’s interesting because I was a single person until I was 49 years old. And now, not only do I have a wife but I have a child, so yes, my whole life is changed. I think less about myself and I have a family to consider. This is what I wanted, and I got what I wanted and I’m really happy with it.
[As a parent,] you do start to become concerned about the next generation. I have one of those kids—she’s a progressive kid herself, she’s really fair-minded and she’s a great advocate for other kids and she’s a wonderful friend. I have great hope for her and other kids in terms of fairness and equality and being nice to each other.
So what’s next for you on ‘Glee?’
I don’t know! I didn’t even know I’d be pregnant until I got the script. It’s always a surprise for us what’s going to happen. I have no scoops to share. [Laughs]
Brian Stewart is the communications director at Generation Progress.