Men in sports and entertainment have been the most reluctant to come out of the closet. The popular myth has always been that the public would never accept a gay actor playing a half of a leading heterosexual couple. Many in the industry have proclaimed that coming out in Hollywood would lead an actor to a career limited to gay roles. For some time, there was some truth to that statement. Thankfully, things are changing because of new role models who are daring to defy stereotypes.
For years, actors know to be gay, especially with the LGBT community, have issued press releases, made public denials and concocted heterosexual romances in order to avoid being labeled gay. The painful public spectacle of talented actors being put through the Hollywood press machine is truly sad. All of us, in any profession, know the pain, darkness and fear of the closet. We can only imagine working out all those issues in a public forum.
However, two recent success stories should give us hope. Often, when an actor comes out, there is a breathless story in People Magazine, an exclusive interview with Pat O'Brien on Inside Edition and maybe an appearance on one of the morning shows. Then, people move on to the next one and rarely do we seriously reflect on the consequences of coming out in Hollywood. Of course, we all know Ellen, Melissa and Elton have done incredibly well, but none of them are actors that require them to play different roles.
T.R. Knight and Neil Patrick Harris have proven all the myth makers wrong. These two talented and handsome actors have defied common wisdom through their acclaimed portrayals of heterosexual men in popular dramatic and situational television shows. Both were even nominated for Emmy Awards this year.
In How I Met Your Mother, Harris is hilarious as a lovable ladies man, who can't seem to get enough. Thankfully, the writers haven’t changed his character since he came out. His career has not been affected in the least and he is on the path to even greater success. How exciting it was to see him take his partner actor David Burtka to the Emmys. For the two of them, the evening must have been extraordinary.
Although his coming out was controversial, T.R. Knight has enjoyed even more success. His dynamic character on Grey’s Anatomy is burdened by sexual tension. He is married to Sara Ramirez's character and having an affair with the beautiful Katherine Heigl. His vulnerable puppy dog eyes make all the female characters swoon. In addition, his grace under fire and his focus on his acting made us all proud.
So now, we know that gay actors can play straight romantic leading men, win awards, attain public acceptance and have major success. It appears that in this case, the public might be ahead of Hollywood in their acceptance of our actors. Though both actors didn't quite choose to come out, we are all winners because of their personal grace and professional skill.
LGBT organizations such as GLAAD have done a remarkable job of creating an increasingly supportive environment in the entertainment industry for actors. Clearly, that work is starting to pay off big time. Thanks to them for that important work.