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Our View

David Hyde Pierce made news recently when he let it be known in an interview with The Associated Press that he is gay and has been in a relationship with Brian Hargrove, a writer-director-producer, for well over a decade. In 11 seasons on Frasier, Pierce received 11 Emmy nominations for best supporting actor in a comedy series and earned the award four times, all for playing a heterosexual pining for and then winning the affections of his father's physical therapist. He is currently starring on Broadway in Curtains, again playing the boy who gets the girl; on Sunday he won the Tony Award for best leading actor in a musical.

That Pierce is gay is not exactly news; it has been an open secret in show business for some time. Pierce's talents, however, are such that he has winningly and convincingly played heterosexuals, and we hope that his mild revelation in late May will not prevent him from continuing to do that. We wish the same for Neil Patrick Harris, T.R. Knight, and other gay and lesbian actors who are now out to the general public. But for that to happen, members of the industry's straight community have to be actively involved. It is no longer enough for them to be tolerant; they now have to be vigilant to help create an atmosphere in which gay and lesbian actors are not punished artistically and financially for living their lives as openly as they choose.

Although the belief that says audiences will not accept queer actors in straight roles is probably a canard, even if it is true, the powers that be in entertainment need to ensure that gays and lesbians get a fair shot in heterosexual parts. Rupert Everett, who has been out for more than a decade, has received rave notices for his performances as a gay man (My Best Friend's Wedding) and as a straight man (The Madness of King George, An Ideal Husband) but has not enjoyed the kind of leading-man success that his talent and looks would seem to dictate. Ellen DeGeneres and Rosie O'Donnell have not suffered financially by coming out, but one wonders if their successes as talk-show hosts resulted from lost opportunities as actors. If, as we are told, audiences are not ready for queers to play it straight, then executives have to get them ready for it by not letting actors' sexuality dictate the course of their careers.

The not-so-big secret, of course, is that a significant number of Hollywood's power brokers are gay (many of them closeted). The situation is strikingly similar to the one earlier last century, when actors such as Emanuel Goldenberg, Issur Demsky, and David Kaminsky changed their names to Edward G. Robinson, Kirk Douglas, and Danny Kaye so people wouldn't know they were Jewish. They did this because they were told audiences wouldn't accept Jewish actors; the ones helping to propagate that idea were Jewish studio moguls.

For their part, gay and lesbian actors could help the cause by choosing to come out. No one should browbeat anyone into jeopardizing an artistic and financial livelihood by assuming a personal/political stance with which he or she isn't yet comfortable. Pierce, Harris, and Knight, for example, came out after being nudged (and not always slightly). By contrast, Malcolm Gets, Nathan Lane, and Christopher Sieber declared they were here and queer of their own accord. With each homosexual actor who comes out, the momentum accretes and pushes us toward the day we hope for: when an actor's sexuality no longer qualifies as news.

Back Stage Staff

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