When gay rights activist Robin McGehee told Queer Town that the gay community — especially gay filmmakers — needs to be “challenging the machine” that keeps gay actors stuck in the closet, we looked to longtime Hollywood insider Howard Bragman to explain a few things about it.

“There's still a lot of prejudice in this town,” Bragman told Queer Town right off the bat, and then proceeded to give us the cold, hard facts about how and why gay closets are still crowded in a city and an industry that are supposedly liberal meccas.

Bragman knows what he's talking about. The openly gay founder of Fifteen Minutes, a high-powered public relations firm based in Los Angeles, Bragman has been working in the entertainment world for 30 years, with such clients as Stevie Wonder, Ricki Lake and Benjamin Bratt.  His book about how the system works, Where's My Fifteen Minutes? includes a chapter dedicated to “coming out.”

“Casting is a red flag business,” explains Bragman, referring to the process by which actors are chosen for movies or television shows. “It's often a process of elimination, and what you don't want to do is give people one more reason not to pick you.”

So, Bragman says, many gay actors with eyes for big stardom, who are represented by agents and managers who themselves have eyes for big stardom for their clients — not to mention the millions of dollars that come along with it — believe they have no other choice but to keep their heads low, improve their odds to be cast in a major movie or TV show, and stay in the closet . . . much to their agents' relief.

“It's not in an agent's interest to tell a client to come out of the closet,” Bragman says, “They don't want to shake things up. Because, in the end, it's all about money, and they don't want anything to hurt the bottom line.”

But it's not just agents — gay and straight — who play a role in the closeting of Hollywood. According to Bragman, casting directors, the people who run the “red flag business,” are key figures in the entertainment machine. They're the ones who say someone isn't right for this movie or that TV show, and sexual orientation is part of their decision process.

“They won't tell you that,” says Bragman, noting that he's heard “horror stories” from gay clients about the way casting directors treated them because of their homosexuality.

Amazingly, Bragman says, “some of the biggest offenders” of this kind of institutionalized homophobia “are the gayest people in town.”

The public relations guru, though, counts Todd Holland — the openly gay, Emmy-winning director who caused a major controversy over the weekend when he revealed that he advises young, gay male actors to “stay in the closet” — as one of the “good guys” in Hollywood.

“He's always been there for gay causes,” Bragman says of Holland, who's not his client. “He's one of the good guys in the industry, and he's one of the good guys in the gay community.”

Yet Bragman doesn't dish out Holland's brand of advice. Over the years, Bragman has helped actor Dick Sargent, basketball stars John Amaechi and Sheryl Swoopes, and politician Sheila Kuehl come out of the closet, as well as many others.

“What I always tell young actors is that they have to follow their heart,” Bragman says. “My personal shoes is that I would rather be out of the closet and be happy.”

Bragman adds, “In all the time I've helped people come out, I've never had someone tell me they were sorry about it.”

The Hollywood insider thinks the public is far ahead of the casting directors, agents and studio execs in accepting gay actors as heterosexual characters on the screen.

“Girls don't look at Cheyenne Jackson and say, 'He's gay, I'm not turned on,'” Bragman explains. “They think he's hot. They don't care. We're in a whole different world.”

Bragman believes some day soon a talented, gay, male actor will take it upon himself to fight the machine, come out and, if he's not there already, land himself on the A-list with a hit movie — and remain on it.

“We will have our leading man, our action hero,” says Bragman. “It's coming. It's coming. Maybe it'll be Cheyenne. He has everything it takes to be a superstar.”

Contact Patrick Range McDonald at pmcdonald@laweekly.com.

LA Weekly