‘Playboy Club’ and ‘Firefly’ Actor Sean Maher: I’m Gay

Sean Maher, an actor best known for his role as Dr. Simon Tam in Firefly, and now the recently-premiered NBC drama The Playboy Club, tells Entertainment Weekly that like his closeted character on the show, he's gay:

Maher “I’ve never discussed it publicly…I’ve never been asked about it publicly, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t paint a different picture."

Maher said that when he moved to L.A. in '97 for a short-lived cop role, he was told by the Hollywood machine to stay in the closet:

"I’m 22, I move to L.A., and it’s such a cliché, but the day I arrive, publicists from the show took me out to The Ivy for lunch…They’re telling me, ‘You know, gosh, we’d really appreciate it if you could keep your girlfriend on the side because we want to appeal to the female demographic of the show.’ …At that moment, I didn’t think to say, ‘Oh, I’m gay,’ because right before I left New York [where he went to college at NYU], I had my manager tell me: ‘You need to get a girl on your arm or people will start talking.’ I remember telling him: ‘I’m gay.’ He had no idea. And he said: ‘All the more reason to get a girl on your arm.’ My agent was also like, ‘It’s best if you keep your options open. Maybe bisexual?’”

Maher admits that the decision was ultimately his:

“It was so exhausting, and I was so miserable. I didn’t really have any life other than work and this façade I was putting on. So I kept my friends from college [where he was out] separate from my work friends, and that was very confusing. I just kept going on and on painting this picture of somebody I wasn’t. I didn’t have time for a personal relationship anyway. And you just don’t realize that it’s eating away at your soul.”

And Maher's role in The Playboy Club, as a closeted husband, is not coincidental:

Maher decided to use his role on NBC’s The Playboy Club — a character coincidentally also named Sean, a closeted man who’s married to lesbian Playboy Bunny Alice (Leah Renee Cudmore) – to finally engage in a dialogue about how being closeted has strained his life in Hollywood. “I was working on other stuff, and then this role came up, which was like a light bulb going off,” Maher remembers. “I was like, This is perfect. I want to do this, and I want to use it as a platform to come out.”

As viewers saw in the premiere episode on Sept. 19, his character is involved with launching the Chicago chapter of the Mattachine Society, an underground gay-rights group from the ’50s and ’60s.

If I get my hands on the clip (I saw it last night), I'll post it.

Read the much-longer interview with Maher at Entertainment Weekly.


  1. says

    you had better WERK!
    YAY! Another Vanguard!

    I tip my hat to the men and women who realize that as long as we pretend that Coming Out is a “personal choice” that being gay will continue to be see as something shameful to be hidden and denied.

    Help Out, Come Out.

    Thank you, Sean!

  2. Francis says

    Congrats to Sean on taking this step! And I fully co-sign what Kiwi has to say. Hollywood isn’t the gay-friendly haven many think it is so he definitely deserves total praise.

  3. SFShawn says

    Congrats Sean.
    Telling the truth sets you free.
    Let chickenshits like Anderson Cooper,Oprah Wimpfry and all the other self-loathing,fear-driven,shame-focused closet cases(especially religious ‘leaders’ and politicians)live forever in their miserable closets until the day they die with their obvious “secret”.

  4. Jon says

    My gaydar always pinged since Firefly too, but since he regularly tweets about his daughter, I was a little confused. Is she his natural daughter (apologies if that’s not the right terminology)? Or has he adopted?

  5. RyanInSacto says

    @Anon: This is actually an even bigger deal than if he was already a big, well-known star. He is risking ever becoming a big star by coming out. People who already have well-established careers are arguably risking less when they come out than Sean Maher is risking. That’s why this matters.

  6. ohplease says

    SFShawn, there is no closet in the post-Internet world. The proof of that is that you know that all the people you list are gay, which you couldn’t know if they were in your fictional closet. The only reason you didn’t know Sean Maher was gay was not because he was in a no-longer-exists closet, but because he’s not famous enough to be talked about.

    If this closet you think still exists doesn’t, at the very least, make somebody being gay a secret, then what is it supposed to do, exactly?

    Good for Sean Maher (who I’d never heard of until today). This won’t impact his career at all and every little bit helps.

    And, BobN, Google Mattachine Society and your question will be answered (hint: the answer is yes). The closet did, indeed, exist then. Society made it and gay people were forced into it, hence the term “coming out of the closet”. It was something a gay person had to make a choice to do, against society’s will. Gay people today don’t have that choice because the closet no longer exists. There’s not only no way to pretend that nobody is gay, there’s also no way for a gay person to pretend that everybody else doesn’t already know.

  7. ohplease says

    Jon, gay people have children they’re genetically related to all the time, either through old-fashioned heterosexual intercourse or any number of alternative high-tech methods. And, also? Gay people just have children in general and have for a very long time. Since the beginning of time, actually.

  8. Zlick says

    Wow, my gaydar actually worked for a change? Or, well, did once upon a time when Firefly was on. (Actually, he telegraphed GAY pretty loudly. My gaydar otherwise sucks.)

  9. Bryan says

    His quotes are very telling, though it’s not really anything new as most people already know execs tell actors to beard, but at least there’s now confirmation that it DEFINITELY happens from someone who has been through it.

  10. marshallt says

    I guess the writers of the show don’t have the internet. The Mattachine Society had a chapter in Chicago as early as 1955. Eight years before the show is set. The character might join the chapter but he would not be launching it.

  11. BobN says

    “The closet did, indeed, exist then.”

    You miss my point. I’m fairly familiar with the history of the Mattachine Society and have never heard that any, let alone a significant number, of its founders were closeted, married men. Of course, they were closeted. Duh. It was the 50s (60s, 70s).

    Given that early names of the group included the word “bachelors”, I just don’t like Hollywood presenting the “more interesting” idea of married founders (to lesbian playgirls of all things) when the bravery of even remaining a bachelor in those days is really more interesting.

  12. mike128 says

    Good for him! And CONGRATS!

    The Hollywood industry is so horrible about this. I get it – it’s about the bottom line with so-called middle American – but it’s just keeping us back as a culture, and it’s terrible on gay and lesbian actors.

    Please keep exposing the machine!

  13. Sancho says

    The EW interview is very moving and honest. I’ve liked Maher since the quickly-cancelled Ryan Caulfield in 1999 (there was a very hot pic in TV Guide that I still have a totally clear mental image of!), and I’m still grouchy about Firefly not running as long as Buffy did.

  14. jason says

    Hugh Hefner promoted the bisexual double standard. The bisexual double standard is where liberals – such as Hugh – attempt to make bisexuality socially acceptable for women but not for men. The aim is to encourage women to align their sexual fantasies with that of the straight guy, such as their husband or boyfriend. This includes encouraging women to engage in girl-girl action for HIS benefit. It’s a very degrading, paternalistic, patronizing and sexist philosophy.

    The bisexual double standard operates at a level that is above the legal system. It’s a form of social convention that is pushed or promoted by those who have an interest in turning women into fantasy objects.

    Hugh and his cronies at Playboy have consistently pushed and promoted the bisexual double standard throughout their careers. Don’t labor under the illusion that Playboy has helped gay rights by publishing occasional and – in my view – tokenistic pro-gay articles.

    Hugh’s aim has always been to create a two-tiered society in which women in the mainstream are bisexual and men are strictly straight. In this model, male-male sexuality is confined to the fringes within the “gay” paradigm.

    It has always been the aim of liberals to create this selectively homophobic social model under the guise of “progressiveness”. Don’t fall for it.

  15. Pete says

    I’m really tired of hearing that “the Hollywood machine” and “publicists from the show,” and “my manager” and “my agent” made me stay in the closet. How come these people never have names?? I’d love to hear Ricky Martin or Shawn Hayes or NPH or somebody have the balls to say, “Well, in a meeting on XYZ date, Mr. So-and-so from Universal” or “Ms. Whatserface from ABC… told me that i should stay in the closet.

    It’s great that these performers have come out, but IMHO they protect the sycophants who put them there.

  16. Jon says

    @Ohplease: exactly why I was confused. I hadn’t heard anything concrete about his sexuality before this, so I didn’t know if he had already been open and raising a family, or been with a woman and raising a family, raising as a single dad, or what have you. Whatever way, I’m happy he has children, and I wholeheartedly agree that if Playboy Club doesn’t work out, he’d fit in perfectly on White Collar! He could be Neal Caffrey’s long-lost brother!

  17. Dan says

    @bobn: Considering the fact that Harry Hay (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harry_Hay), the founder of the Mattachine Society, was married up until 1951 and the first official meeting of the Society was in 1950, I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a few more married men in the Society at that time. Especially when one considers the cultural expectations during this period of history.

  18. BobN says

    “I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a few more married men in the Society at that time”

    That’s quite a leap and one that doesn’t match recounts of the people involved in founding the group. BACHELORS.

    Yes, Hay was still married at the time, but I do not believe that he was living the life of a closeted, happily married man with a gay life on the side. And even if his wife was unaware of his real life — which I do not concede — his situation was not typical. And he certainly wasn’t married to a playboy bunny.

  19. Jeff R says

    @Oh Please: “This won’t impact his career at all?!?” You know this because you’re a powerful agent/manager/producer/director/publicist/casting director, right? I strongly suggest that you speak with closeted/semi-closeted and/or “discreet” WORKING actors – not necessarily stars or male starlets – before you erroneously pontificate. This could seriously impact his career and it takes balls. Kudos to Sean!
    @Pete: LA is a company town. Biting the homophobic hand that feeds you could seriously damage or end a career. One can easily be labelled “difficult,” “problematic” and a “troublemaker.” NPH is not Brad, Angelina or George Clooney. Matthew Bomer’s alleged partner is incredibly powerful and yet he’s still walking on eggshells. The magazine featured Sean rather than formerly out, now suddenly closeted, UK actor Luke Evans who’s being heavily promoted by the “Hollywood Machine.” Now that, rather than the coming out of a regular on a failing new series, would be a hard hitting expose of homophobia in Hollywood. Only a major star could take such homophobes to task and survive with their career relatively intact. Re: Ricky Martin – two excellent sources (one still a major player) told me years ago that when Ricky was considering coming out to Barbara Walter three MAJOR players sat him down and told him not to. I’m amazed that he came out now and respect him for it. Best, JeffR

  20. Ted B. (Charging Rhino) says

    The problem with Mattachine was that some of it’s leasing figures were also Communists or advocates of what today we might refer to as the NAMBLA Agenda. Both positions politically-compromised Mattachine as a proto-Civil Rights organization later in the 1960s….

  21. says

    I loved everything about Firefly and he was no exception. He brought a remarkable compassion to his role that really made the relationship between he and his sister work, and added to the dynamic of the entire crew.

    I’m very happy he came out. I think actors, particularly on TV, are finding out that the old stigma — that if they’re out, they can’t find work — just isn’t true anymore. TV has so many great gay characters these days, and a number of actors and actresses who are out of the closet and very successful. Ellen and Neil Patrick Harris are the best examples, but not the only ones.

    I’ll have to give his show a shot. If it’s half as good as Firefly, it’s worth it.

  22. says

    Well, I just watched the pilot. It felt a little too forced, basically putting together a season or half a season’s worth of material in one episode, but all the pieces are there for it to be decent. I wish shows would figure out that pilots are better when they’re simpler and don’t feel as though they have to give *every* character a big story line, instead of just letting them interact.

    In any event, hopefully the whole Mattachine story line will be an interesting one.

  23. Bruce Wayne says

    Sean and Bill Maher…..such a lovely couple!
    Kidding! Have always had ‘special’ thoughts for Sean, just knew he was gay from day-one of Firefly. He was also good as the partner of John Stamos in ‘Wedding Wars.’


  24. Steve Dore says

    YES!! YAY!!

    WOOHOO! I’m so glad. I love his acting, I want to see more of it–just in front of a camera as a character, and one he’s comfortable with.

    Fantastic, Mr. Maher

  25. Keithy says

    Good for him. He pinged my gaydar in Firefly. I’m going to watch Playboy now. Every time an actor in his 20s comes out as gay, I know that we are beating the bigots.
    One day, we’ll look back on this period and be like “wtf was that all about anyway?”

  26. Swine says

    Maybe I need to get a clue, but I never heard of this guy. Well, good for him on coming out. It sounds like he had a hard time of it. Takes courage to do what he’s doing. Tom Cruise or Will Smith could never do this. Hell, even Anderson seems cowardly at this point. Guess it’s easier for a not-that-well-known actor to do it than someone who thinks they’re risking big bucks by coming out.

  27. Chuck Mielke says

    It seems that managers for these actors are out of touch with the broad public, to whom gay is no longer an issue. Of course, for those managers, it’s not a matter of personal happiness or even of morality; it’s a matter of selling a commodity (the actor in question) to as many buyers as possible. So, really, it’s the casting directors and publicists who need to understand that gay is no big deal. Or, better yet, that gay is a fantastic opportunity to create hot properties.

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