A survey by performers’ trade union Equity has revealed their gay and bisexual members have differing levels of openness about their sexuality, with agents being the least likely to be informed.
The researched formed Equity’s investigation into whether it is safe to be ‘out’ in the arts and entertainment world. Members who took part, most performers, revealed interesting results with only 6% admitting to hiding their sexuality from fellow performers.
The poll also showed that only 19% hide the fact they are gay or lesbian in their professional workplace. However performers and creatives within Equity are not so trusting of their agents. 57% of those asked said they were open and honest with their agent over their sexual preferences.
Legendary actor Richard Chamberlain, who was ‘outed’ by a French magazine in 1989 – although he didn’t confirm his homosexuality until 2003 – said it was “dangerous” to ‘come out’ if you’re in the limelight. The actor advised leading male actors to keep quite if they were gay, saying,
“There’s still a tremendous amount of homophobia in our culture. It’s regrettable, it’s stupid, it’s heartless, and it’s immoral, but there it is.” He once told Advocate, continuing, “It’s just silly for a working actor to say, ‘Oh, I don’t care if anybody knows I’m gay’ — especially if you’re a leading man.”
Fellow actor Rupert Everett agreed with Chamberlain,“The fact is that you could not be, and still cannot be, a 25-year-old homosexual trying to make it in the British film business or the American film business or even the Italian film business… It just doesn’t work and you’re going to hit a brick wall at some point.” He told the Guardian.
Chamberlain and Everett’s views are reflected in the survey with comments noting that many actors feel that they will be limited in roles being offered, and more so sidelined, if casting directors and agents are aware of their sexuality. It isn’t just the fear of restricting their range of parts offered and being ‘stereotyped’, responders also echo Chamberlain’s sentiments on homophobia with a third noting they have experienced homophobic abuse within the industry.
Equity equalities officer Max Beckmann told The Stage magazine, “The finding that 81% of survey respondents are out in their professional lives and that 73% found the decision to be out easy is hugely encouraging and suggests an industry in which it is safe to be out. What is troubling is the finding that only 57% of respondents are out to their agents and it’s particularly concerning 35% of respondents have experienced homophobia in their professional lives. This goes some way to explaining that many respondents say they weigh up whether or not to come out on a job by job basis, and while not hiding their orientation often do not ‘broadcast it’.”
The report also suggests that for lesbians in the arts and entertainment world it’s a bleak place to be. Respondents to the survey suggest that gay men are supported much more by the industry than gay women are.
Actress Amber Heard however disagrees. The openly gay performer told Women’s Health magazine, “You can’t respect yourself if you’re afraid to be who you are. It requires bravery to do something no one else around you is doing.” Adding that staying quiet about her sexuality was a “horribly detrimental lie”.
Despite the negatives in the Equity findings most performers who took part suggest that they would support other colleagues to be ‘out at work’. Well known gay performers include John Barrowman, Antony Cotton, Rupert Everett, Ben Daniels, Zachary Quinto, Kieron Richardson, John Partridge, Sean Maher, Matt Lucas and Alan Cumming.
Cumming recently hit out at Richard Chamberlain and Rupert Everett’s views that is is ‘best’ to ‘stay in the closet’. “I think it is really irresponsible of Richard and Rupert to say those things” he said, adding, “the idea that your work is more important than you as a person is a horrible, horrible message.” He told The Guardian.