Sean Hayes: ‘I Always Felt I Owed the Gay Community an Apology for Coming Out Too Late’

Sean Hayes tells the L.A. Times that early controversy over his Will and Grace character Jack McFarland being "too gay" made him go back into the closet with the media:

HayesI was so young. It made me go back in the closet [with the media] because I was so overwhelmed at 26 or 27. I didn't want the responsibility, I didn't know how to handle the responsibility of speaking for the gay community. I always felt like I owed them a huge apology for coming out too late. Some people in the gay community were very upset with me for not coming out on their terms. They don't stop to think about what's going on in somebody's personal life, and the struggles that they're having. It was all very scary. We got death threats. It was a really rough time for me, but I was also having the time of my life.

Hayes eventually came out publicly in March 2010.


  1. warmsun says

    That explanation makes no sense – He was out even earlier way back in Billy’s Hollywood Screen Kiss days – so several YEARS later he goes back in? Whatever dude – still not watching your lame sitcom.

  2. GregV says

    I don’t blame Sean at all. In his case, waiting may have been the best decision not just for him but for gay rights.
    He and Eric McCormack were playing the two most visible gay characters on TV from late 1998 to 2006. The fictional version of Ellen had been the most visible gay character for 1997.
    Ellen probably could not have made the same impact if she had come out as gay earlier (because she would not have been given a chance as a gay actress or to create a character who was known to be gay from the start. She established a following (some of which started out as homophobic), and THEN came out once the viewers knew and loved both her and the character. Some people think tgat the dhow didn’t last much longer because at that time a gay character played by a gay actress doing gay storylines was too much “gay” in one show for Americans who were just only starting to realize that gay people exist.
    Likewise, two gay characters on Will and Grace was enough to make half of the South’s heads explode in 1998. We didn’t need to add a gay actor onto W&G’s credentials for it to make its impact.

  3. Joseph Singer says

    People should be able to come out on their own terms. It’s nobody’s damned business but their own. I’m really tired of “they need to come out to inspire young people.” Leave people alone to be who they want to be in the place that they are.

  4. colin says

    Cut him some slack. I can believe he was getting death threats for being on “Will & Grace.” Oh, and since when is every gay actor – closeted or not – required to be a spokesperson?

  5. Eric says

    As others have pointed out, he was out before he was in. When he could have spoken out, he had money and resources to get all of the psychological help he needed to deal with any issues he had.

    Remember, Will & Grace was on for EIGHT years.

    The only reason he’s speaking out now is to try and get us behind him to help keep his show on the air.

  6. alex says

    Sadly, many gay people have no empathy. Not everyone is mentally and emotionally able to handle being an activist. Colin is right…being an actor (or an Olympic athlete) does not mean a person has to become an activist.

    We’ve come a long way in a short time. Perhaps people forget that. If Mr. Hayes were out during “Will and Grace”, his orientation would have the topic of every interview. (It’s important to note that interviews are part of an actor’s job…so, that’s a situation he could not avoid.)

    Through work, I’ve met quite a few actors. Many have seemed quite insecure, which is not a good trait for an activist. Leave activism to people that excel at it: folks like Dan Choi or Chris Kluwe.

  7. Mike Ryan says

    I love the guy. He is incredibly talented. The writing and delivery on his new show is top-notch. I know when a show is good when I laugh and keep laughing. I want the show to work, to continue so we see more of Sean. He has a wit that comes along only every once in a while. He never had to come out to me – he was always out.

  8. Michael says

    Sorry but can he just fall off the media radar?

    I lost all respect for him when he tried to blame NBC for his flailing sitcom. Take some responsibility Sean. Your sitcom sucks. Stop trying to pass the buck to someone else.

  9. Markt says

    I love the holier-than-thou on here. Guys who have nothing at stake are acting as if they are superior for being out (if they really are). Although I was out in 1974, I would have done exactly what he did – and what he did was great for the gay community. Sometimes when I read these comments I totally undestand where zombie movies come from.
    No one thinks about results or solutions but just how to judge someone else and feel superior. Whenever you’re feeling superior stop and think – you’re probably missing the point.

  10. Bigun says

    Who cares…really?

    When wasn’t he an out obviously GAY MAN?

    Billy’s Hollywood Screen Kiss and Will & Grace wasn’t even acting.

    Gurlina please…the gay lisp out of his mouth and fem mannerism were not acting either…they are and were a part of his personality and who he is and who he always has been….A GAY MAN!…geez…DUH!

    This just sounds like PR crap to get attention for his new failing boring lame ass show.


  11. Christopher says

    Everyone needs to come out on their own terms, in their own time. When someone comes out, there is nothing owed to anyone else, it’s a journey of self.

  12. bozemanmontana says

    Good on ya, Sean – I don’t think anyone could comprehend the ride you and the others were on during W&G. I believe you did the best you could at the time.
    But your new show sucks. You need to put a stake in it and start over.

  13. Lymis says

    I don’t recall any incidents of him ever saying anything negative about being gay or about other gay people. I only have problems with closeted people who use their non-out status to attack or work against gays or gay rights.

    He’s fine. Nice of him to share this now, though. It’s not required, but it’s classy.

  14. says

    “Everyone needs to come out on their own terms, in their own time.”

    So how does tat work with him? He was out when he made “Billy’s Hollywood Screen Kiss” then when he was cast on “Will & Grace” he was in the closet. Now with this new failed sitcom he’s out again.

    Some “terms”!

  15. says

    It may seem silly now but W&G premiered the season after Ellen came out and then her show tanked, got canceled, and her career imploded. She came out of that okay but it took awhile. Meanwhile no doubt everyone around him was telling him not to be out. Actors are still being told that coming out will ruin their careers. It’s easy for me to second-guess what he should have done but I’m not sure I wouldn’t have done the same thing.

  16. Ulu says

    A lot of people including myself lost a great deal of respect for him when he lied about not being gay after staring in a long-running hit show playing a gay character. It was a missed opportunity in which instead of being an example of self-esteem, he showed shame for being an effeminate gay man.

    Effeminate guys are just as hot as the masculine ones, I’m sick of all this shaming out there. It’s worse when gay men enforce this shame upon each other.

    Also, I agree 100% with Richard’s comment: “What you have to realize about celebrities is that it’s always — always — about them.” SO true.

  17. Fox says

    I always take “a walk in my shoes” attitude about such things. What happens after someone comes out is far more important, because then you have the potential to be a role model for a whole new generation.

  18. says

    I like Sean but seriously… at 26 or 27 he didn’t want the responsibility? Sure glad the teenagers standing up for themselves and other LGBT aren’t waiting until they’re middle-aged to take some responsibility.

  19. GregV says

    @Ulu: You look like you’re basing your opinions on some comments made by some anonymous poster who was making assumptions.
    I have never seen ANY believable source claim that Sean has claimed not to be gay or has belittled effeminate men of any orientation.

    I also find it very telling that the critics who say a celebrity is not “out” enough are almost universally people who speak anonymously.
    A commenter who is unwilling to sign his/her posts with a real first and last name with a link to his/her own Facebook profile or blog has no business telling someone else that he is too closeted.

  20. jrex says

    People forget how controversial Will and Grace was at the time. I’m not surprised there were death threats. At 27 I had just barely “come out” to myself, I can’t imagine the pressure of Hollywood with a career just taking off and threats on top of that. I don’t see any reason to second guess Sean Hayes for making the choices he did at the time.

  21. Paul R says

    I’ve met him and seen how he treats people, and I don’t care about whether he was out. He was just a jackass. About the rudest celebrity I’ve ever seen.

  22. Chris says

    I guess half the people on here weren’t even alive, or at least not paying attention when Will and grace premiered. The changes in the world since then are drastic. This show was a BIG deal! a gay male character had never headlined a network show before. There were protests, and boycott campaigns, and general hysteria…except the anti gay sentiment was much more prevalent (as a percentage of population) than it is now. To be honest, a lot of progress made in attitudes towards gay people has some source in Will and Grace. people underestimate the impact of a funny show, being welcomed into the homes of millions of people, can have on public opinion.
    We, as a community, owe a little bit of gratitude to everyone involved in that show. They tolerated a lot and took a lot of risks to be part of it, the were activists, just by appearing in the show. I understand Sean’s desire to have the focus on the show, and not his personal life. It would have changed the dynamic from a show about a gay man, to the show with the gay actor…and I don’t know if that would have played as well.

  23. emjayay says

    His new show is as bad as W&G was good. It’s misconceived and horribly written and directed. It’s not the fault of the actors, including Sean. Except that he thinks it’s great and it’s all NBC’s fault for not publicising it or having other weak shows or something.

    W & G deserved the criticism it got for Will being a kind of not gay gay guy with a primary relationship being with a woman. But that’s how they got people to watch it. It ended up in the top ten for years. It had lots of gay material anyway and it was sharp and funny and everything worked. And geing popular it was very important in the progress of gay people in the US.

    Oh, and the reason Ellen’s show’s ratings went in the toilet after she came out is that the show went in the toilet. Over the first seasons it changed a lot, new characters introduced and others gotten rid of etc, and really improved. It was interesting to see how it changed – like a new play in rehearsals and previews with a good director and the writer working on it.

    Then the character came out and she left the apartment and maybe the bookstore (a sitcom like that needs central places for various characters to interact) and it became all tedious stuff about being a gay woman. Not that that is necessarily tedious, but it was.

  24. brett says

    Sean’s character in Will and Grace was too camp, not too gay. Maybe we were offended by the stereotype of the gay court jester designed to ridicule male homosexuality. Breeders loved him for that reason.

  25. Mark says

    He was “26 or 27″ when “early controversy” about his W&G character hit?

    I’ll say this for Sean — he’s a lot funnier as himself than he ever was on TV.

  26. says

    So many ridiculous comments I don’t even know where to start. Yes, there are brave teenagers today…but times, while still difficult, are marginally easier to come out young as it was in the 1980’s.
    And my name is Sean…I attended Illinois State University-same school, class as Sean Hayes..I vaguely remember him. I also grew up in the same region as Sean. It was the 80’s, there were not that many people in the Midwest that were out. And like Sean, I waited until only a few years ago to come out publicly. And like Sean, it wasn’t really a surprise to anybody, so what’s the matter here?
    No, I’m not a celebrity, but I also was overly concerned with my own reputation. Celebrities don’t owe me anything-the people closest to me do.
    Like Sean, I regret it, but it was my personal decision and is not for anyone else to judge-I can judge myself pretty harshly on my own, thank you.

  27. jamal49 says

    Don’t worry, Sean. We do what we gotta do. It probably was overwhelming and many of us don’t want to be a “spokesperson” for a community whose own diversity is so great that it is nigh impossible for there to be “one voice” that can speak for us all.

  28. RichB in PS says

    Agree in part with awesome posting and quoted

    “He owes no body an apology for when he decided to came out. It is a personal decision and anyone saying he should have come out … ” previous post by Michael Oct 26


  29. Clem says

    I can understand not being out when the show was first on. But once it was an established hit, and Sean hit his 30s, there was no reason to stay in the closet. And it wasn’t just a glass closet, he held himself out as a straight man playing a gay character.

  30. Carl says

    Selfish is not him deciding when he was ready to come out (whether it be a personal, professional, or financial reason). Selfish is other people acting as the moral compass of when and why people should come out. Mind your own business and let people live their own lives like you want anti-gay people to mind their own business when it comnes to you.

  31. says

    I never understood the criticisms of Jack McFarland being “too gay” – Will & Grace was a show I watched as a teenager. Know what I saw in Jack? What I wanted to be – a gay man who lived and experienced everything with an ebullient sense of joy; bursting from his every pore. That’s what I saw. Not a caricature. Not a mere “Stereotype” – but a gay man living his own gay life on his own gay terms, no concessions to the world of anti-gay bigots and their baseless illogical demands for behavior or appearance.

    Some people see a stereotype and have a knee-jerk negative response to it. As a teenager, I saw what I wanted to be: someone who burst with the life I was at the time trying to hide.

  32. Herman says

    I am sick and tired of the gay community putting pressure on people to come out as if this will make people like us. Really, really like us.
    Also the old stand by that gay youth will feel empowered.
    The problem is and will always be the church and their teachings and individuals who use gay people to get ahead in politics.
    I find many gay people to be suspect in urging others to come out. It’s as if they think they have a disease and they want to find comfort in others who suffer the same faith or they are resentful that someone wants to be a success in their chosen career.

  33. EdA says

    A. What is Billy’s Hollywood Screen Kiss? Although I’ve been out for a few decades and have had a television for a good deal more, I’ve never heard of it. I suspect that I am not the only gay person who heard that Sean Hayes was out in it.

    B. Regardless of the fact that Sean Hayes chose not to come out, I suspect that most people did assume that he was gay. As long as someone is not trying to hurt others, when, how, and to whom s/he wants to come out isn’t really anybody else’s business, IMHO. I’m frankly much more concerned, and pissed, that Elton John, Johnny Weir, and various newspeople are giving de facto support to the homophobic Russians. They all know better, and none of them even have the lame excuse of they need the money.

  34. Cam says

    1. He was closer to 30 when Will and Grace came out.

    2. He has NEVER EVER attacked homophobia or bigots, just constantly attacked the gay community.

    3. He only seems to engage the gay community when he has a show in trouble. He came out when his Broadway show was not going well, and now his show is in trouble and suddenly he reaches out again. Nice timing.

  35. Jean says

    I realy like Sean Hayes. I don’t care one way or another about his sexual orientation. I am an 83 year old woman and I have never been asked if I was gay or strait. Not because I married and had two sons, but because no one cared and that’s how I feel. It’s no ones business but your own.

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