June is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month and crowds in New York, San Francisco and other cities have celebrated with abundant exuberance and flair. But even as more and more celebrities have come out of the closet, many boldface names have chosen to remain silent about their sexuality, fearing the impact it may have on their careers.
“It's fear,” said openly gay comedian Judy Gold. “Fear that they will lose everything they have worked for. It's self-loathing and internal homophobia. When you decide to be a public figure, there are certain responsibilities and burdens that come with the territory. Being gay is not a choice. Being closeted is. When there are beloved stars that spend their energy staying in the closet -- for me that is sad and disappointing. Being in the closet equals shame.”
Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation spokesman Rich Ferraro, who emailed me while walking down Fifth Avenue in New York City's pride march with George Takei, has less sympathy for those who remain silent. "With celebrities like Neil Patrick Harris and Ellen DeGeneres being embraced by critics and audiences alike, it's clear that today you can be out in Hollywood without hurting a career," he said.
"With acceptance of the gay community at an all-time high, recent celebrity coming-out stories like [those of] Jim Parsons, Zach Quinto and Meredith Baxter are not being met with the same salacious press as in previous years," Ferraro continued. "More and more artists, like Adam Lambert, and actors, like Amber Heard, are starting their careers by being out and sending a message to countless gay young adults that you can grow up to achieve your dreams. While coming out is a personal decision, public figures today should use their platforms to send similar messages to their millions of fans."
This is a sentiment that Reputation.com vice chairman Howard Bragman, who has worked with Meredith Baxter and Chaz Bono, shared. “People use every excuse available to stay in the closet -- family, career, pressure, fear of the unknown," he said. "And while I respect everyone's right to come out on their own terms in their own time frame, virtually every public figure who has ever come out is happier, more fulfilled and lives a better life.”
Not everyone in the industry agreed, however. Dan Wakeford, editor-in-chief of two weekly entertainment magazines, In Touch and Life & Style, understood the pressures to stay in the closet. So did publicist Ronn Torossian, CEO of 5WPR, who has worked with celebrities such as Pamela Anderson, Nick Cannon and Hulk Hogan.
“An actor's role is to portray someone else on screen, so many actors like to hide as many elements of their lives and real identity from their audience so they can do their craft to their best ability,” Wakeford said. “Gay actors often feel if the audience knows they are gay they won't portray heterosexual roles as effectively. All actors struggle with the same issue. Being gay is just another element of this.”
“The entertainment business in general can be discriminating -- against Republicans, against gays, against many different things -- and as such there are many reasons that celebrities may choose to keep aspects of their personal lives, including their sexuality, personal,” Torossian told me.
“Celebrities are people -- people who also are entitled to some degree of privacy," Torossian said. "There is freedom of the press and freedom of speech, and the right to a person's private life and privacy. Every celebrity is an individual -- and every celebrity deals with his or her sexuality differently."
"PR firms that work with celebrities have to do all they can to control public appearances and interviews -- and do the best they can to keep the brand they want which maximizes their earning potential," Torossian said. "Can a celebrity who plays a tough playboy come out openly? Can a starlet who makes men crazy openly come out as a lesbian? Part of working with high-profile people is understanding the difference between their public persona and personal life.”
Gold has no interest in outing celebrities, but she observed, “It is especially mind-boggling when a person's mantra is 'keeping them honest,' and that person isn't honest.”
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