Hollywood still has a ways to go when it comes to accepting gay actors and actresses, according to openly gay actor and longtime LGBT rights activist Sir Ian McKellen, who told PopEater on Thursday that he fears agents and managers are still forcing stars to stay in the closet.
"I don't think any gay person is going to be happy and bring joy to themselves and other people unless they can be honest about their sexuality, and if other people don't like that honestly, that's a comment on them and not on the person who is being honest," McKellen said at the Savannah Film Festival.
"That might seem a harsh thing to say to a young actor who is being advised by an agent to stay in the closet. There are no openly gay stars in Hollywood, so someone is telling them to shut up."
The decision for a person in the public eye to come out of the closet remains gut wrenching. Just ask singer Ricky Martin, who this week admitted to Oprah that finally saying he was gay to his fans around the world reduced him to tears.
"When I realized, OK, I just pressed send; I was alone," the 38-year-old told Winfrey. "I was in my studio alone for a minute. My assistant walked in and I just started crying like a little baby. I started crying."
While it may seem as though Hollywood has moved forward by leaps and bounds when it comes to acceptance of gay actors and actresses, that is because now there are some rather than none. There are still only a handful of big names, such as Ellen DeGeneres, Neil Patrick Harris, Wanda Sykes, Jane Lynch and Cynthia Nixon, that have come out of the closet and maintained successful careers.
Hollywood also still seems to think that gay-bashing humor -- such as the recent line in the Vince Vaughn film 'The Dilemma,' which equated being "gay" to being "lame" -- is entirely acceptable. Director Ron Howard and star Vaughn both said they did not want the joke removed from the film. But Vaughn did say he never meant to hurt anyone's feelings.
"I don't think Hollywood is sensitive to the gay and lesbian community unless someone gets caught then you get an apology. The unwritten rules of engagement are we don't want people discussing their sexuality," explains celebrity publicist and image consultant Michael Sands. "Hollywood is very homophobic and behind the times like the military. There is this unbreakable silent law that if you come out, your career will be ruined because no one wants to hire someone who is gay or lesbian."
McKellen, who came out in 1988 at the age of 49, says that he was less concerned about coming out when he did because he wasn't a huge movie star. He explains that his film career didn't really take off until he was out of the closet, but he still doesn't believe the modicum of fame gained by lying about your sexuality is worth it.
"If you're going around telling a lie you may get by but you won't be half as happy as you would be if you came out," McKellen said. "If that means you have to give up hopes of being one of the three or four young sex symbols in Hollywood so be it. You probably weren't going to be one of those anyway. That happens by chance and it doesn't last for very long."
McKellen added that just because an actor or actress chooses to be honest about their sexuality, it doesn't mean they have to have loose lips regarding all parts of their personal lives.
"There is a difference between living a private life and being in the closet. Being in the closet means you're lying about your life but just because you come out doesn't mean you have to talk about every affair you have. You don't have to talk about what you do in bed anymore than I have to talk about the food I eat."