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LGBT Actors Face Discrimination in Industry Weighted in Favor of Men and Masculinity

by Jacob Combs
September 28, 2013 2:37 PM
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Hollywood may be famous (or infamous, depending on your point of view) for its liberal politics, but according to a new report, LGBT actors continue to face discrimination in the movie business, even as they see conditions improving. To put it simply, Hollywood is weighted in favor of men and masculinity. 

The report, released by the Williams Institute--a think tank at UCLA Law School devoted to the research of law and public policy pertaining to sexual orientation and gender identity--and the SAG-AFTRA actors' guild found that sizable portions of the LGBT performers surveyed for the purposes of the study faced anti-gay sentiments in finding work and heard anti-gay remarks on set. Here's a closer look at some of the numbers included in the report:

  • Nearly half of lesbian and gay respondents--and 27 percent of bisexual respondents--strongly agreed when asked if executives and producers find gay performers less marketable.  Nine percent of lesbian and gay respondents said they had been turned down for a part because of their sexual orientation.
  • More than a third of the survey's LGBT performers had observed disrespectful treatments towards an individual because of his or her sexual orientation or gender identity
  • One in five gay men reported personally experiencing discrimination, while 16 percent of LGBT respondents overall said they were the victims of unequal treatment.  Bisexual actors were around half as likely to say they'd experienced discrimination than gay or lesbian actors.

Not surprisingly, much of the unfair treatment reported by the survey's participants was tied to gender expectations and conformity: men who were gender nonconforming were more likely to face discrimination, as were those men who were out in their professional careers.

The issue of stereotyping carried over into the kinds of roles that LGBT actors chose to accept.  "Some study respondents felt that choosing to play an LGBT character limited future casting opportunities," said Jody L. Herman, Peter J. Cooper Fellow and Manager of Transgender Research at the Williams Institute. "Given LGBT actors are significantly more likely to play LGBT characters, these actors are disproportionately impacted by any casting bias based on prior LGBT roles."

In an industry where physical appearance and gender norms hold outsize sway, it is disheartening--albeit not shocking--to see that actors who belong to one set of sexual minorities or another face discrimination in their work and in their careers.  As the Williams Institute/SAG-AFTRA report shows, the industry--which no doubt en masse and on paper supports LGBT equality--has a ways to go towards becoming more accepting of its LGBT members.

It wasn't all bad news, though.  The survey also found that respondents felt that SAG-AFTRA provides a supportive environment for LGBT performers, and many lesbian and gay actors who were surveyed encouraged other actors to come out.  That, of course, would be a big first step towards creating a more supportive environment.

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More: LGBT, Studios


  • Christophe | September 29, 2013 5:11 AMReply

    "LGBT Actors Face Discrimination in Industry Weighted in Favor of Men and Masculinity"

    This headline sounds rather offensive since it insinuates that gay men aren't men enough or masculine enough to fit the Hollywood criteria of manliness. I understand from reading the article that it is the perception within certain circles of the industry, not necessarily the opinion of the author, yet the headline only reinforces that stereotype.

  • Luke | September 28, 2013 8:44 PMReply

    David, I think they mean LGBT actors are more likely to be cast as LGBT characters than as straight characters.

  • bob hawk | September 30, 2013 1:50 AM

    Oh . . . you mean like Neil Patrick Harris, Ian McKellan, Jodie Foster, Jim Parsons and Cherry Jones?? (Just to name a few out actors, not to mention the known-to-be-LGBT closeted actors cast in straight roles..) But I do believe the Williams Institute study probably (and sadly) reflects a rather accurate picture of what the average, journeyman actor faces today.

  • David Ehrenstein | September 28, 2013 3:37 PMReply

    "Given LGBT actors are significantly more likely to play LGBT characters, these actors are disproportionately impacted by any casting bias based on prior LGBT roles."

    In what alternate universe? Prime gay roles are snatched up by notoriously heterosexual actors, eg. Michael Douglas and Matt Damon in "Behind the Candelabra."

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