A survey of 5,700 SAG-AFTRA members has found that more than half of lesbian, gay and bisexual performers “have heard directors and producers make anti-gay comments about actors” and that “53% of LGBT respondents believed that directors and producers are biased against LGBT performers.” The study (read it here), conducted by UCLA’s LGBT think tank Williams Institute and funded by the SAG-Producers Industry Advancement and Cooperative Fund, will be presented formally tonight during simultaneous guild town hall meetings in L.A. and NYC.
The study also found that more than a third of respondents reported that they had witnessed “disrespectful treatment” to LGBT performers on the set. Almost one in eight of non-LGBT performers reported witnessing discrimination against LGBT performers, including anti-gay comments by crew, directors and producers.
“We found that LGBT performers may have substantial barriers to overcome in their search for jobs,” said the authors of the study, M. V. Lee Badgett, a Williams Institute Distinguished Scholar and Director of the Center for Public Policy and Administration, and Jody L. Herman, manager of Transgender Research at the Williams Institute, UCLA School of Law.
The town hall, titled “LGBT In Entertainment: Sexual Orientation & Gender Identity,” will be live-streamed tonight at 5:30 PM PT. In Los Angeles, the meeting is at the SAG Foundation Actors Center; in NY, it’s in the SAG-AFTRA board room.
According to the study, “gay men were the most likely to report they have experienced some form of discrimination, with one in five reporting an experience. Bisexual actors were about half as likely to report discrimination as gay or lesbian actors. Gender nonconforming gay and bisexual men were more likely to experience discrimination, as were men who were out professionally.”
Twenty percent of gay men and 13% of lesbians who responded to the survey reported that they had experienced discrimination in the workplace. The study found that 9% of gay and lesbian respondents reported that they had been turned down for a role due to their sexual orientation, while 4% of bisexual respondents reported that they’d lost jobs because of their sexual orientation. The study also found that LGBT performers are less likely than heterosexual performers to have agents, “which may put LGBT performers at a disadvantage when looking for work.
Even so, 72% of the LGBT performers who responded to the survey reported that coming out “had no effect on their careers, and many would encourage other LGBT performers to come out.
The most striking parts of the report are the first-hand accounts of anti-gay bias and discrimination:
· “I’ve seen gay men read for straight roles and when they left the room, the casting director indicated that they would not be taken seriously in the straight role because they were gay.”
· “A director told me to recast a role after he found out the lead was a gay male.”
· “An openly gay extra was fired because the lead character felt uncomfortable having him around. In fact, two were fired a week apart for the same reason.”
· “I’ve witnessed actors discarded following an audition as being ‘wrong’ for a role because of perceived sexual image. As in ‘he’s too fey to play it,’ or ‘she’s too butch to play it.’”
· “A friend almost cast a transgender actress and then found out and reconsidered because there would be a kiss with an actor and he did not know how the actor would feel.”
· “People referred to the [transgender] performer as a ‘tranny’ and made references to using prostitution to pay for the procedures, all behind the performer’s back.”
· “Female actress making a disgusted face and saying ‘he’s so gay’ towards a cast member. A general feeling of ‘I can’t talk too much to this guy’ from a TV crew towards an actor. All this needs to stop.”
· “A transgender person …[was] told not to use the changing room to change in, but given no alternative except the bathroom to change in. Most people from background to crew members treated them like an outcast.”
· “I was told by my agent that the casting director was afraid that I would come off as uncomfortable when put into a scene in the actual production with a female love interest. I wasn’t even given the opportunity to read opposite an actress at the callback for the part.”
· “I was cast in a commercial – although I have no proof, I believe that after I was overheard talking about marriage equality that the producers decided to fire me….I was pulled aside and told that they had made a mistake hiring me – that they had meant to hire someone else. I later heard from other actors that they were scrambling trying to find another actor to come to set to replace me.”
· “Director/writer fired me four weeks into rehearsal stating I wasn’t ‘masculine’ enough for the role as he’d conceived it, tho[ugh] this note had not been stated before. And this was shortly after I had come out (not come on) to him.”
The survey found that “while 53% of lesbian and gay actors were out to all or most of their fellow actors, only 36% are out to all or most agents they know, and only 13% of actors are out to all or most industry executives.” The survey also found that “bisexual men are the least likely to be out professionally among all LGB people, but these findings suggest that they still experience discrimination despite their attempts to keep their sexual orientation hidden.”
“Although our industry is heading in the right direction, there is clearly work left to do as certain attitudes and behaviors persist and continue to put pressure on actors to stay in the closet,” wrote Traci Godfrey and Jason Stuart, national co-chairs of the SAG-AFTRA LGBT Committee. “We are confident that this unprecedented study will have profound ramifications for the entertainment industry as a whole. By utilizing the data it contains as it reflects the realities performers face, we can identify the obstacles to equal employment opportunities and full inclusion.”