Private dick meets public honors
Actor Chad Allen to receive an SF GLAAD Media Award
by Adam Sandel
An age-old Hollywood rule states that if an actor comes out publicly as gay, his career is over. Chad Allen not only broke that rule, he smashed it to pieces. His acting career has thrived since he came out, in roles both gay and straight, and some of his best opportunities came along specifically because he's gay.
Allen will be honored for his groundbreaking work at the 20th Annual GLAAD Media Awards on Saturday night, May 9, at the Hilton San Francisco. The event will be hosted by comedian Chelsea Handler of E! TV's Chelsea Lately. Oscar-winning Milk screenwriter Dustin Lance Black will receive a Special Honor, and Mayor Gavin Newsom will present a Local Hero Award to San Francisco filmmakers George Callan and Mike Shaw for their film The Pursuit of Equality.
Special guests include finance guru Suze Orman, Sex and the City hunk Jason Lewis, Queer as Folk's Robert Gant, Milk producer Dan Jinks, Calpernia Addams, Megan Cavanagh, Gabrielle Christian, Michelle Clunie, Laverne Cox, Wilson Cruz, Mandy Musgrave, Simon Rex, Eduardo Xol and TV's Judge David Young. Musical performances will include violinist Nadja Salerno Sonnenberg with the New Century Chamber Orchestra, and out gay singer Matt Alber.
Allen has been in the public eye since he was five years old, starring on TV's St. Elsewhere and then on the hit series Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. He admits that being splashed across teen magazines and idolized by teenage girls was a bizarre experience as he was first coming to terms with being gay.
At the height of his popularity, the 21-year-old actor was photographed kissing a young man at a pool party. The young man and his friends sold the photos to a tabloid, and Allen found himself splashed across The Globe. "It was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life to be that age, on a top 10 show, never wanting to do anything but act, with people telling me that if I came out, that dream would have to die.
"I remember sitting down with the show's producers, network executives, managers, agents and publicity people, all talking about my sexuality and what did I want to do. Should I come out and be on the cover of the Advocate, or should they get me a girlfriend and build a story around it? It was overwhelming and terrifying for me as a 21-year-old kid."
He ultimately decided to do nothing, but began receiving letters from closeted young men across the country who'd been harboring secret crushes, saying, "I heard a rumor that you might be gay and I think I might be gay, too, and I don't know if I can live this way, and it would be so amazing if you were gay, too." The letters really worked on Allen, who made the conscious decision to come out (in the Advocate ) regardless of the impact it might have on his career. "It was the best decision I ever made."
For a long time, Allen paid a price for his honesty; CBS refused to consider him for any television role. "It was a very fear-filled time in entertainment for gay and lesbian people. But over the past decade, largely because of organizations like GLAAD, who've been out there making sure that representations of us are fair and positive, we've watched it change. Now I see actors come out and it's just a fact of their lives. I think, 'Job well
Allen did trigger a storm of controversy playing Christian missionary Nate Saint in the 2005 film End of the Spear. "So many people were upset that a gay actor would play this famous religious straight man. One of the great articles about it was in The New York Times, which said, I don't understand what Christians are so upset about. Chad Allen is just doing what they've asked us to do for so long – act straight.'"
Despite the protests and death threats that followed, Allen was surprised to see positive commentary from other voices in the Christian community, indicating that his performance had changed hearts and minds. This caused him to re-think the relationship between Christianity and the gay community, and it informed his decision to produce and star in the film Save Me.
An exploration of life in an ex-gay ministry, Save Me received a GLAAD Award nomination this year. Allen stars with Robert Gant and Judith Light in the film, which is complex and even-handed as it depicts a gay man who finds both God and love with another man, in an environment that seeks to suppress homosexuality.
One opportunity that came Allen's way because he's an out gay actor was the Donald Strachey Mystery Series on the here!TV network. As a gay private detective in the series that includes Third Man Out, Shock to the System and last year's On the Other Hand Death and Ice Blues (both of which are GLAAD Award nominees), Allen and Sebastian Spence play one of the few monogamous gay couples on television.
"First and foremost, I love their relationship," says Allen. "We took a lot of inspiration from the Thin Man series, plus a lot of kitschy noir films. One of the things I hear most is that the relationship between Donald and Timothy is the part that people love the best. They have a lot of fun together, and it very much mirrors my own relationship."
This year's GLAAD Media Awards mark what's been a banner year for Allen. In addition to receiving the Davidson/Valentini Award, which honors an openly LGBT media professional who's made a significant difference in promoting equal rights for our community, the actor has seen three of his films nominated as well.
"Having three films that mean a lot to me nominated in the same year and being honored with this fantastic award is a very humbling experience. There was a time in my life when I craved this kind of attention, but that time has long since passed. I receive it very humbly and gratefully, but most of all I'm happy that the films are getting the attention they deserve. It's like they're my kids, and I'm just so proud of them."
20th Annual GLAAD Media Awards, Sat., May 9, 5 p.m., Hilton San Francisco, 333 O'Farrell St., SF. Tickets ($100-$400): (877) 519-7904, www.glaad.org/mediaawards.