This profile is part seventeen of Queerty’s 2020 Out For Good series, recognizing public figures who’ve had the courage to come out and make a difference in the past year, in celebration of National Coming Out Day on October 11.
Name: J. August Richards, 47
Bio: Richards grew up in Maryland where he showed an early interest in the fine arts. After graduating high school, he relocated to California to attend the University of Southern California on a dramatic arts scholarship. It didn’t take him long to break into acting, racking up a series of roles in television series, including The Cosby Show, The West Wing, The Practice, and in the miniseries The Temptations. He scored a major breakout with his performance as the vampire hunter Charles Gunn on The CW series Angel, beginning first as a recurring character before joining the show full time in the second season. He renewed his stardom in 2013, landing the part of the reluctant hero Dethlock in Agents of Shield on ABC, a recurring role throughout the show’s run. Richards then acquiesced to drama, starring in the NBC series Council of Dads.
Coming Out: Richards made nationwide headlines during the promotion of Council of Dads when he spontaneously came out of the closet during an interview. In the series, he plays a father married to another man trying to navigate life. His voice quivering, Richards finally spoke his truth.
“If I think about why I got into this industry, it was to combat oppression,” he said. “I knew how I was affected by the people of color I saw on television, or didn’t see on television. So this being a married gay man with a family, I realized that, on television, I don’t take anything I do lightly. You have an opportunity to put an image into millions of homes. I wanted that image to be honest, and I wanted it to be correct. It required me to show up fully in a way that I don’t always when I’m working. I knew that I could not portray this gay man honestly without letting you all know that I am a gay man myself.”
Breaking Down Barriers: For people living under the spotlight of celebrity, coming out is never easy. For Richards to come out so frankly, and at such a delicate moment in his career took real guts. Fortunately, with guts come glory.
By coming out as a leading man, Richards signaled to other closeted performers that the time has come to air their closets. Moreover, as Richards explained to Queerty, he wanted to send a powerful message about the intersectionality between being a gay man, and being an African-American.
“I jokingly say ‘I was too busy being black to be gay,'” Richards said of his time as a closeted actor. But the industry has shifted enough to where there’s more LGBTQ representation and more black representation. And I just wasn’t mature enough as a human being to walk through life as a black gay man. Now, at 46, I have the confidence and the wisdom and the knowledge to be able to take it on. The reason I ended up talking about it publicly was that I saw a huge opportunity to be observant in a meaningful way, and I just could not pass it up. It was a very personal decision. I wouldn’t be true to myself if I didn’t take the opportunity to continue a dialogue—it was started way before me. Black gay men, gay families—I would not have been happy with myself if I had not chosen to talk about it.”
We’re so glad he did. By coming out, J. August Richards trailblazed a path for other performers and other black men to come out, live honestly, and take pride in themselves. We take pride in his coming out too.