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The big showbiz secret: Actors in the closet

A charter to protect the rights of gay actors and actresses is to be created after it emerged that many still worry about the effect of coming out on their careers and professional relationships. The entertainment trade union Equity said it hoped to agree a charter that will enshrine the rights of its gay members at a meeting of global unions in Toronto later this year.



British actor Rupert Everett at a ceremony to unveil Irish writer and
poet Oscar Wilde's renovated tomb in November 2011 in Paris. The
actor has openly spoken about how coming out of the closet affected
his career in Hollywood. Pic/ AFP Photo


The idea was proposed after troubling results emerged from a survey the union commissioned this week. When asked whether it was "safe to be out about your sexuality in the entertainment industry" a quarter said they hid their sexuality in case they became the target of discrimination, were victimised by the media and lost out on roles.

However, Equity's president Malcolm Sinclair said there were some encouraging signs. About 75 per cent of the gay performers surveyed were open about their sexuality. "The results show the industry is not as bad as it was. Back in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s it was terrible. You had to stay in the closet. It has become much better," he said.

A new generation of performers has talked openly about being gay, including Russell Tovey, who was in The History Boys, and the Weekend star Chris New, who pointed to the positive influence of actors such as Ian McKellen and Simon Callow on the industry.

The Hollyoaks actor Kieron Richardson, who came out in 2010, said he was "really glad" he did.
He told Pink News: "It's not a big deal and there are so many people doing it now, young people like myself."
However, the Equity survey found that, while most tell their fellow performers about their sexuality, almost 40 per cent keep it from their agents. "That was a real shock," Mr Sinclair said.

One in 10 said they had been discouraged from coming out by their agents. New said: "The first agent I ever had told me not to come out; she didn't want people to know. I didn't ask why." Other gay actors said they were told not to "broadcast" their sexuality.

Mr Sinclair continued: "I don't think it's about shame, or even so much the homophobia you would encounter - actors don't want to limit the parts they are offered. They don't want to be crossed off certain lists."
Mr Sinclair holds regular meetings with international entertainment unions. "When talking about the charter, the European countries mostly shrug and say it isn't an issue. The American union said it remains a huge problem. Homosexuality remains a massive issue for many people in the US. There is a pressure for British actors who look to make it over there to go back into the closet."

Almost one in five told Equity that coming out to their colleagues had negatively affected their career. The majority feared that the roles offered to them would be restricted, or that they would be stereotyped. Rupert Everett said in 2009 that he had lost out on lead parts after coming out, and urged other gay actors to keep their sexuality under wraps. He said: "The fact of the matter is -- and I don't care who disagrees -- it doesn't work if you're gay."

Many feared they would not land leading roles portraying straight characters. "You often see heterosexual actors playing gay characters, but it's pretty rare the other way round," Mr Sinclair said. The union's equalities officer Max Beckmann said it was "particularly concerning that 35 per cent of respondents have experienced homophobia in their professional lives. This goes some way to explaining why many respondents say they weigh up whether or not to come out on a job-by-job basis."

Zachary Quinto, who played Spock in the recent Star Trek remake, came out last year. He said: "As a gay man, it made me feel like there's still so much work to be done, and there are still so many things that need to be looked at and addressed."

Sophie Ward, who appeared in the recent film adaptation of Jane Eyre, married Rena Brannan, an American writer, in 2000, before English law recognised civil partnerships. She said coming out in 1994 had been a "raw time", but added: "I don't think coming out in our industry is an issue any more."

She said that, while there was homophobia "as there is in any industry", those who really worry most "would be those up for leading male or female parts, where the audience is wanting to identify with and follow the story of those people".

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