Back in August the LGBT press got a bee in its bonnet over British actor Luke Evans. Luke appears to have stepped back into the closet since making it in Hollywood, despite being openly gay in interviews as recently as 2004. His story was of particular interest to me because I saw his performance in Boy George's musical Taboo back in 2002. I thought about Luke when I interviewed Sean Maher in October for Pink News, and again last week when I interviewed Melissa Etheridge.
Anyone worried that coming out could affect his or her career should look at Melissa. Prior to coming out in January 1993, her three previously released albums had sold just under a million copies each. Eight months after coming out she released Yes I Am. It went six times platinum, selling more than 6 million copies. Her talent won out: Yes I Am contained the hugely popular hits "Come to My Window" and "I'm the Only One."
"I love being asked if there was any backlash to me coming out, because in my case there absolutely wasn't," Melissa told me. She went on to say, "It's not about whether you're gay or straight; it's about talent. Look at Neil Patrick Harris: one day he's doing How I Met Your Mother, and the next day he's hosting the Tonys. You can't argue with his talent. If you've not got the goods, that's bad luck, but don't blame being out."
Having seen Immortals on Friday I can confirm that Luke Evans has the talent, not to mention the biceps. True, he's not Henry Cavill, but having appeared in Clash of the Titans and the recent Three Musketeers, and with a part in the upcoming Hobbit movies, his Hollywood resume is filling out nicely. So why now hide his sexuality? It's possible he only recently discovered an attraction to women, but what I and other journalists fear is that the public relations machine now surrounding him has decided he should simply stop talking about the fact he likes men, like it's something to be ashamed of.
Luke was very much in the forefront of my mind when I interviewed Sean Maher. What made Sean's coming out significant was his description of the pressure he was under to hide his sexuality. Worse still, the advice he was given was inconsistent. A manager once told him to always have a girl on his arm and, if pressed, to say he was bisexual. A publicist later told him to avoid being seen with women altogether so as to not put off a female fan base. Which was he to do?
"Initially it was a manager, an agent and a group of publicists who instilled this fear in me," he told me. "I then internalised that fear. I lost a lot of sleep thinking: 'If I get found out, I'm going to be fired. I've got to keep this to myself. I've got to pretend I'm an alpha male if I want to be a leading man.'"
Fast-forward 12 years to Sean joyfully describing the industry's reaction to his coming out in Entertainment Weekly: "I got emails and messages from a lot of studio executives and people in the casting industry, who either found me through Facebook or reached out to my manager. They said it was an incredibly brave decision on my part, they'd always admired my work and this was only going to make them fight for me more."
When I interviewed CNN's Don Lemon, I broached the reaction to his coming out from the black community. He had this to say: "I have to say that I've received overwhelming support from African Americans, especially women, who have said, 'Your sexuality doesn't matter to me; what matters to me is that you're a good journalist.'"
The recurring theme here is: if you're good at what you do, people really don't care who you fall in love with. If you're being advised that coming out will hurt you, maybe you should think about what that really means: the person giving you that advice clearly doubts your talent and your ability to "bounce back" from what in their eyes would be a fatal blow to your career.
Carl Lewis is rumoured to be gay, something commentators believed would have come to light had he been allowed to stand for election to New Jersey's senate. As one of the greatest athletes of all time, with a massive nine Olympic gold medals to his name, how could anyone argue that coming out would negate his standing or record?
I'm not saying there aren't forces out there that seek to harm the gay community and its members. Some would argue that lobbying by conservatives contributed to ABC's decision to cancel Ellen after five seasons. However it was Ellen's undeniable talent that attracted CBS and later NBC, eventually resulting in her hugely successful The Ellen DeGeneres Show and her stint on Fox's American Idol.
Luke? Carl? If you're reading this, let's do an interview. I believe in your talent. You both have the power to do a tremendous amount of good for the LGBT community simply by showing you're not ashamed or worried to be a part of it. I don't think either one of you has anything to fear. Take that as the compliment it's meant to be and let's set something up.
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