Hugh Sheridan shows being gay is no longer a career killer
Hugh Sheridan shows being gay is no longer a career killer

Hugh Sheridan shows being gay is no longer a career killer

That's odd: I thought Australia was supposed to be homophobic. But that's not the story I read in Hugh Sheridan's coming out.

Sheridan, the Logie-winning star of Packed to the Rafters, says he finally has the courage to tell fans he's gay - or bi. Or maybe just "human".

But the best bit of this "confession" is the reason he gives for not having said so years ago.

Says Sheridan: "The way it was explained to me was that women wouldn't want to pay to see a movie or TV show if they knew they couldn't have sex with the leading man."

Nor was this a law laid down by homophobic male bosses: "The two mentors who told me this were openly gay."

That's why Sheridan hid his boyfriend, even though it "made me angry": "It had taken me that long to meet a guy I liked that I didn't want to hide it."

And the reason he gives for hiding where his heart lay was purely a commercial one: women might otherwise not dream they could sleep with him, thus stopping him from getting big roles.

(On that score, Sheridan hastens to reassure them: "I ended up in a relationship with a girl … Maybe this is also my way of letting people know that I'm still single." Dream on, ladies!)

So Sheridan, according to his account, did not face a hatred of gays. He just had a dilemma common to every actor: making sure their public personality is not so overwhelming that audiences can't imagine them as some other character.

When Sheridan famously appeared on the original Packed to the Rafters, he did not discuss his sexuality publicly
When Sheridan famously appeared on the original Packed to the Rafters, he did not discuss his sexuality publicly

Could Jane Fonda ever play a kind and thoughtful conservative? Could Mel Gibson be taken seriously playing a rabbi? Wasn't it too sickly patronising for Tom Hanks to play a gay in Philadephia?

That's the great news: Sheridan's hurdle was not that most women hate gays. They just don't fantasise about bedding them. I assume the feeling is mutual.

True, there are still homophobes, but they don't figure in Sheridan's thoughtful essay on his sexuality, written for Stellar magazine.

Nowhere does he complain that people think gays are evil, sick or sinister.

In fact, he's come out during promotional shoots for his new Back to the Rafters show. What once seemed a publicity disaster could now be a publicity asset.

That's not to say Sheridan is exploiting the sexuality he once hid, but the timing suggests being gay, or bi, is no longer a career killer.

The counter examples are growing, and not just in the entertainment industry (Ellen DeGeneres, Josh Thomas, Hannah Gadsby, Peter Hitchener, Tom Ballard).

Even cultures said to be macho or conservative have had openly gay prime ministers and presidents (Ireland, Serbia, Sicily).

But for me, the clearest evidence that homophobia is now a social disease is the failure of some on the hypocritical Left to destroy broadcaster Alan Jones by appealing to the homophobes they imagine crawl over Sydney.

In 2006, ABC journalist Chris Masters wrote a taxpayer-funded hitjob on Jones called Jonestown, clearly assuming that exposing Jones as gay would turn his "Struggle Street" audience against him.

As Masters said in his book, heavily promoted by the Sydney Morning Herald: "The lie (sic) that Alan Jones maintains is, I am sure, more for the sake of preserving a dishonest power base than it is about protecting personal privacy."

When Ellen DeGeneres, with partner Ann Heche, came out in 1997 it was considered career suicide
When Ellen DeGeneres, with partner Ann Heche, came out in 1997 it was considered career suicide

Even more disgustingly, Masters on TV played on the sick stereotype linking homosexuality to paedophilia, making baseless insinuations about Jones' early career as a teacher: "I'd be astonished if you could come to any conclusion that there's not a connection between the disguise of his sexuality and this constant habit of playing favourites."

What, only gay teachers play favourites?

Good news. This disgraceful attack flopped. Jones's audience could not care less. He continued his unbroken run as Sydney's most popular broadcaster until his retirement this year, and is now a successful and respected colleague on Sky News.

Of course, I don't know for sure whether Jones is gay. But perhaps he agrees with Hugh Sheridan: why reduce your being and your complexities to one label?

Sheridan says he doesn't want to say he's gay or even bi: "For now, 'human' is the word that best fits me - it's inclusive and ever-changing …

"I recognise now more than ever our pressing need to celebrate our common humanity." So true.

Some people say you are what you are. But when it comes to character, you are what you do.

Gay or straight, black or white - who cares?

 

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Originally published as Hugh Sheridan shows being gay is no longer a career killer



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