An age-old Hollywood rule states that if an actor comes out publicly as gay, his career is over. Chad Allen not only broke that rule, he smashed it to pieces. His acting career has thrived since he came out, in roles both gay and straight, and some of his best opportunities came along specifically because he’s gay. He was recently honored for his groundbreaking work at the 20th Annual GLAAD Media Awards in San Francisco.
Chad Allen has been in the public eye since he was five years old, starring on TV’s St. Elsewhere and then on the hit series Dr.Quinn Medicine Woman. He admits that being splashed across teen magazines and idolized by teenage girls was a bizarre experience as he was first coming to terms with being gay.
At the height of his popularity, the 21 year old actor was photographed kissing a young man at a pool party. The young man and his friends sold the photos to a tabloid and Allen found himself splashed across The Globe. “It was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life to be that age, on a top ten show, never wanting to do anything but act, with people telling me that if I came out that dream would have to die.”
“I remember sitting down with the show’s producers, network executives, managers, agents and publicity people, all talking about my sexuality and what did I want to do. Should I come out and be on the cover of the Advocate, or should they get me a girlfriend and build a story around it…? It was overwhelming and terrifying for me as a 21 year old kid.”
He ultimately decided to do nothing, but began receiving letters from closeted young men across the country who’d been harboring secret crushes, saying, “I heard a rumor that you might be gay and I think I might be gay too, and I don’t know if I can live this way, and it would be so amazing if you were gay too.” The letters really worked on Allen, who made the conscious decision to come out (in The Advocate), regardless of the impact it might have on his career. “It was the best decision I ever made.”
For a long time, Allen paid a price for his honesty; CBS refused to consider him for any television role since he’d come out as gay. “It was a very, very fear-filled time in entertainment for gay and lesbian people. But over the past decade, largely because of organizations like GLAAD, who’ve been out there making sure that representations of us are fair and positive, we’ve watched it change. Now I see actors come out and it’s just a fact of their lives and they can move on and do the good work they’re meant to do as actors. I think, ‘job well done for all of us.’”
The fear that out gay actors could not be convincing in heterosexual roles has since been dispelled by actors like Neal Patrick Harris, who plays a womanizer on How I Met Your Mother. “And we certainly have no problem buying straight actors playing gay. No one batted an eye watching Sean Penn play Harvey Milk.”
Onward Christian soldiers
Allen did however trigger a storm of controversy playing Christian missionary Nate Saint in the 2005 film End of the Spear. “So many people were upset that a gay actor would play this famous religious straight man. One of the great articles about it was in The New York Times, which said, ‘I don’t understand what Christians are so upset about. Chad Allen is just doing what they’ve asked us to do for so long — act straight.’”
Despite the protests, bad press and death threats that followed, Allen was surprised to see amazingly positive commentary from other voices in the Christian community, indicating that his performance had changed hearts and minds. This caused him to re-think the relationship between Christianity and the gay community, and it informed his decision to produce and star in the film Save Me.
“If I was focused on what was going to make me the most quote un-quote ‘financially successful actor,’ then coming out was not the right decision,” says Allen. “But I have no illusions to the fact that my journey this time around was intended to be the coming out process, so I could bring my experience to this conversation — about God and spirituality.”
The private dick
One opportunity that came Allen’s way specifically because he’s an out gay actor was the Donald Strachey Mystery Series of television films on the here! network. As a gay private detective in the series that includes Third Man Out, Shock to the System and last year’s On the Other Hand Death and Ice Blues (both of which were GLAAD Award nominees), Allen and Sebastian Spence play one of the few monogamous gay couples on television.
“First and foremost I love their relationship,” says Allen. “We took a lot of inspiration from the Thin Man series plus a lot of kitschy noir films. One of the things I hear most is that the relationship between Donald and Timothy is the part that people love the best. They have a lot of fun together and it very much mirrors my own relationship.”
This year’s GLAAD Media Awards marked what’s been a banner year for Chad Allen. In addition to receiving the Davidson/Valentini Award, which honors an openly LGBT media professional who’s made a significant difference in promoting equal rights for our community, the actor saw three of his films nominated as well.
“To all of a sudden having three films that mean a lot to me nominated in the same year, and being honored with this fantastic award is a very humbling experience. There was a time in my life when I craved this kind of attention, but that time has long since passed. I receive it very humbly and gratefully, but most of all I’m happy that the films are getting the attention they deserve. It’s like they’re my kids and I’m just so proud of them.”
For more information on Chad Allen go to www.chadallenonline.com.
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Tags: Adam Sandel, Chad Allen, Donald Strachey Mystery Series, Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman, End of the Spear, Energy Talk Radio, gay actor, GLAAD, Ice Blues, On the Other Hand Death, Save Me, Shock to the System, Third Man Out