By James Duke Mason
Becoming successful in Hollywood is a huge challenge for any actor or actress. There are thousands of people competing with each other for the same roles. According to the establishment, their chances of succeeding are even lower if they are gay, lesbian, or bisexual, and this has been the case since the 1930s. Movie stars such as William Haines, Rock Hudson, Tab Hunter, and Farley Granger were told that their careers would be over if they came out of the closet. Out of those men, only Haines had the courage to defy the studios and try to make it as an openly gay entertainer; the others chose to enter sham relationships or marriages and cover up their true selves.
A lot has changed since that time; not only has gay rights moved forward in many ways, but society’s perception of LGBT people has taken huge strides forward. Our culture, more and more, has embraced gay people and accepted them as part of the diverse population of America. But unfortunately, the same progress hasn’t occurred in Hollywood. There is still a huge stigma in the industry when it comes to being an openly gay actor, and the studios and power players still put tremendous pressure on their clients to remain in the closet and lie about who they really are.
While the American public has opened their minds and made progress in terms of their thinking, the agents, managers, studio heads and others in the entertainment world have maintained their homophobic thinking. This vast effort on their part to keep the closet door shut for so many celebrities in L.A. is stopping positive change from being made on so many fronts, because Hollywood really has the power to influence pop culture and politics in our nation.
The time has come for that glass ceiling to be broken, and that’s why I’ve started the Trailblazer Campaign. As a young openly gay actor myself, my goal is to get others in entertainment who have had the courage to come out and express themselves honestly to join the movement and send a message to the naysayers, the people who are resisting change, that idealism and hope will overcome cynicism and hate and that one day soon the gay community is going to have it’s very own Sidney Poitier, it’s very own trailblazer.
It’s going to be tough; I’ve encountered a lot of industry folks who have told me that I’m naive, that ultimately my efforts will fail. But what they don’t seem to understand is that the end of their stranglehold on Hollywood is inevitable, that eventually the walls of oppression must fall. They know it in the back of their heads, but they’re doing everything they can to stop it, and that’s why visibility in this fight is so important; the more openly gay celebrities come out and take this battle public, the more the power players have to accept that this is what the public is for.
The public wants honesty and integrity from their leaders, and that’s exactly what celebrities are; like it or not, celebrities have the power to make a difference in huge ways, and the more they stay silent and closeted, the more extreme the climate of prejudice becomes, the climate that has led so many of our nation’s youth to take their own lives. To use a phrase coined by ACT UP during the movement to stop HIV/AIDS in the 1980s: SILENCE = DEATH. It may sound harsh, but it’s that simple. It’s the truth. It’s why this effort is so important, and why I hope more and more entertainers will join me in this endeavor. We all need to stand up and demand action, and if we do that and do it loudly and clearly, then we will see a huge tidal wave of change sweep through Hollywood, and across America and the world.