HOLLYWOOD — Several news and entertainment outlets are reporting that celebrity publicist Howard Bragman is producing the show in conjunction with JUMA Entertainment for air on A&E. The show will turn the cameras on the journeys of public figures who are looking for a vehicle to support them as they come out of the closet as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. Bragman is known for representing celebrities like Meredith Baxter, Chely Wright, Chaz Bono and Isaiah Washington. (Note: For this post, I use gay to mean all LGBQT people.)
I met Howard at the OUTFEST “Coming Out in Hollywood” panel on Saturday. He’s an incredibly tall man; I think he’s twice my height! He was very sweet and got down on his knees next to me for this photo. He’s a formidable presence and, on the panel, he spoke passionately about the importance for people to be out in our industry. Although it is complicated and difficult (knowing the once adoring public can turn on dime), Howard talked about how more visibility leads to more acceptance for everyone. He made a comparison to the lack of blacks in film and television in the 50’s and 60’s and how their insistence on being included brought diversity to mainstream media.
While listening to the panelists discuss the pros and cons of being an out actor, I was having a revelation. The focus of the panel was, in my opinion, a minor point in the bigger conversation. Don’t get me wrong, whether an actor is out or not does have an influence on the public but it really isn’t the big kahuna. A gay actor isn’t the same thing as a black actor. A gay actor is STILL INVISIBLE to the audience. That’s the “problem” with being gay, it can be quite easy to “pass for straight.” More gays in the industry and more gays being open doesn’t really change anything because, onscreen, it’s all the same. It’s not like putting a black, an asian, a hispanic or disabled actor on screen.
It hit me like a thunderbolt and I had a hard time sitting there. Howard was right. It was incredibly important that Meredith Baxter came out because everyone saw her as the all-American Mom. Her coming out made the public more aware that the all-American Mom could be a gay woman with five children and grandchildren (as Meredith is). For much of the audience, Meredith Baxter (the person) is indistinguishable from Meredith Baxter (the actress). Meredith’s coming out revealed gay Moms in America like me. It put my son’s life into the public dialog in a whole new way.
What is missing, in my opinion, are gay characters in mainstream film and television. Gay parents, gay teachers, gay repairmen, gay plumbers, gay farmers. Current estimates are that 1 in 8 Americans are gay. Imagine if there were one gay character for every straight character in contemporary television shows and movies. Just average, every day people who do their jobs, raise their children and live in the world like everyone else. And, in this regard, I disagree with some of the panelists. I do NOT think our coming out is our most important story. It is one of our stories. We have many others. Our sexuality is only one aspect of our personality. And just as the sexual rites of passage are important to the LGBQT population, it is important to the straight population. But, for all of us, it is just PART of who we are, not all of who we are.
I want every human being to have the right to “live out loud and proud” … no matter who he or she is. Everyone. And, I’d like us all to be visible in our media, in the stories we tell.
I wish Howard the best of luck on his new series. I do think it is important. Most of all, I hope it leads to the creation of many more gay roles in television and film … roles that are played by GAY AND STRAIGHT actors. That’s what I’m waiting for! Howard’s agency is FIFTEEN MINUTES, as in “Hey, where’s MY fifteen minutes of fame?!?”