Queer Town: Smashing the Gay Closet in Hollywood

Soon after openly gay director Todd Holland issued a quasi-apology for telling an Outfest panel audience that young, gay actors should "stay in the closet," Queer Town received an email from Frontiers News Editor Karen Ocamb, the dean of gay journalism in Los Angeles and a highly-respected voice in the gay community. She wasn't entirely thrilled with Holland's carefully-worded statement:

"If (Holland) really wants to have an honest, thoughtful conversation about the significant barriers to being an out-actor, as he says -- well, then let's do it," wrote Ocamb. "Let's have a big blow-out conversation -- with out actors and agents and PR guys and studio heads. Let's get at the truth. We don't need a Hollywood version of 'Don't ask, Don't tell.'"

It's a provocative challenge, and seems like the obvious next step for finally smashing the closet in Hollywood. But how can this discussion take place? And what's the role of gay actors in ending this decades-old problem? Dale Reynolds, a 65-year-old, openly gay actor who fought homophobia in show biz in the 1980s, gave Queer Town his thoughts.

Rather than hide in the closet, Dale Reynolds, who played "Peason" in the 1984 cult classic Repo Man, came out as an actor in the 1970s and founded a support group called Gay Actors Rap in 1979. Soon after, Reynolds renamed the outfit the Alliance for Gay and Lesbian Artists, which turned into a watchdog of sorts and worked with Hollywood producers, writers, and directors to promote a balanced portrayal of gays and lesbians in the movies and on television.

There are many different battles in the gay rights movement, but Reynolds, who's featured in a new documentary, On These Shoulders We Stand, that examines the extraordinary struggle gays and lesbians fought in Los Angeles in the 1950s through the early '80s and premiered at Outfest the day before Holland made his remark, believes the fight to end homophobia in Hollywood is an important one. "It's about imagery that influences Americans and people around the world," he says.

Reynolds sees an entertainment business that's still stuck in a time of pre-Ellen DeGeneres, pre-Neil Patrick Harris -- when it was assumed that Americans would reject openly gay actors and the TV shows or films they starred in, translating into millions of lost dollars.

"The industry is reacting to what it considers a perceived bias," explains the actor, "but what it ignores is a generation under 30 that doesn't care whether or not someone is gay."

To bring some forward thinking to Hollywood, Reynolds backs up Karen Ocamb's challenge for casting directors, studio heads and agents to hold a major pow-wow.

"It would be nice to have more symposiums where [people in] the industry can talk about their fears," says Reynolds, adding that such a forum needs to be safe for entertainment honchos to truly speak their minds.

Reynolds suggests that GLAAD, the gay, media watchdog with strong ties to Hollywood, and SAG, the Screen Actors Guild, can be pivotal players in making such a thing happen. He also believes that the Hollywood machine needs to take some risks, if they are really risks at all -- since most movies and TV shows are geared to the more tolerant under 30 generation.

"If you push the envelope far enough," the actor says, "you'll open it."

But Reynolds doesn't believe that studio execs and casting directors are the only ones who must take responsibility for tearing down the gay closet in Hollywood. "It needs good folk to do good deeds," says Reynolds, noting that big time gay actors must come out.

"I think people have to take risks to accomplish anything in this life," he says. "Someone has to step forward."

Contact Patrick Range McDonald at

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