UCLA and SAG-AFTRA recently released a condemning report that shows LGBT actors believe they still face discrimination in the workplace, particularly by casting directors, directors, and producers.
“The survey results show both progress and indications that more work will be necessary to make the workplace an equal and fully welcoming place for LGBT performers,” says UCLA researcher and co-author M. V. Lee Badgett in a press release.
The first report of its kind backs up what L.A. Weekly found four years ago in its cover story “The Secret Lives of Queer Leading Men,” in which gay actors complained that Hollywood executives are stuck in a mind set that befits the 1970s rather than 2009.
According to the report, which was conducted by the UCLA gay think tank Williams Institute and the actors' union SAG-AFTRA, “one-third of all survey respondents believed that casting directors, directors, and producers may be biased against LGBT performers.”
In addition, researchers found that “almost half of lesbian and gay (LG) respondents and 27 percent of bisexual respondents, for example, strongly agreed that producers and studio executives think LG performers are less marketable.”
Researchers also found that “SAG-AFTRA members provide a supportive environment for LGBT performers; and many lesbian and gay respondents said they would encourage others to come out.”
In 2009, the Weekly noted: “Public-opinion surveys reveal that Americans' acceptance of gays and lesbians has dramatically increased since the 1970s. Adolescent boys and girls are coming out during middle school in such places as rural Arkansas and Texas, far from the gay urban enclaves of San Francisco, West Hollywood and New York City.
“But the Hollywood machine — studio heads, agents and casting directors — is a surprisingly conservative entity. Its power players think Americans can't handle gay actors in straight-leading man roles. Their greatest fear is not some sort of social upheaval but that audiences would be uncomfortable seeing a known gay actor like Cheyenne Jackson kissing or fondling Kate Winslet, and box-office earnings would nose-dive.”
Money, in other words, is the bottom line, and Hollywood executives think paying audiences won't spend their dollars on a movie with a gay actor playing straight, causing a box-office dud.
Yet public attitudes have changed even more dramatically between 2009 and 2013, and surveys continue to show that Hollywood's key demographic — 18 to 34 year olds — don't care one whit if someone is gay.
A recent Gallup poll showed that 69 percent of American 18 to 34 year olds support same-sex marriage in all 50 states.
The UCLA report shows that Hollywood power players, who appear to be basing their box-office concerns on anything but hard data, are still stuck in a time warp.
UCLA and SAG-AFTRA would probably help LGBT actors by conducting another survey of the general public in which researchers ask moviegoers, especially 18 to 34 year olds, if they would avoid a film with a gay leading man playing straight or with a gay leading character.
That's a survey we'd like to see, and may help the cause of queer SAG-AFTRA members. Of course, moviegoers may say they have problems with gays playing straight, but we have a hunch that won't happen.
Patrick Range McDonald is a contributing writer to L.A. Weekly.