PHOTOS: Gay Actors Who’ve Played Gay Characters —Sometimes It Happens!


Last week we reported that out British actor Russell Tovey (right) had been signed to play — gasp! — a gay character alongside fellow out actor Jonathan Groff in HBO’s upcoming original series Looking. This inspired us to look back in time to see which others openly out actors were OK with taking on the role of a gay character. While audiences and critics are often quick to offer kudos, Oscars and generous applause when a straight guy can “transform” on the screen to play a gay role, people are seemingly astonished to think a gay man could play it straight on screen (um, isn’t that what acting is all about?).

Hollywood is seemingly homo-resistant — or at least squeamish to the notion of a gay leading man — so many in our homo brethren are afraid to take on roles that represent the skin they really live in off-screen on TV and film for fear of being forever pigeonholed as “that gay actor.” Well, to hell with that! We’re offering our kind of kudos (ie. high-kicks, air kisses and raised mimosas) to praise some of our openly gay actors who’ve proudly played queer in TV and film.


Chad Allen

Although he was all over the tube as a child actor, Allen didn’t play gay onscreen until 2005’s Third Man Out which was the first in a series of TV-movies based on the novels by Richard Stevenson about a gay private dick.


John Barrowman

Though fanboys contested whether his character was actually gay our bisexual, openly gay Barrowman made gay (or bi) mainstream in sci-fi with his beloved Torchwood character.


Richard Chamberlain

Although not out until he was 69 (he announced his homosexuality in the biography Shattered Love) Chamberlain embraced his new peace in later roles by poking fun at his closeted persona in TV shows like Desperate Housewives, Will & Grace and the film I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry.

Fox 2012 Programming Presentation Post-Show Party

Chris Colfer

It’s a new generation for gays on TV, and Colfer became a role model (if not a reluctant one—at least initially) for countless kids and young adults when Glee debuted on Fox in 2009.

Wilson Cruz

Wilson Cruz

Though we all remember him from My So-Called Life it wasn’t until he grew older that Cruz capitalized on his gay caché. He’s played gay in a number of homo-specific films as well as more mainstream Hollywood fare like He’s Just Not That Into You.

Maison Martin Margiela With H&M Global Launch Event - Red Carpet

Alan Cumming

The bisexual actor (who lately identifies as gay — if we insist on a label) has embodied so many “is-he or-isn’t-he?” characters throughout his long and varied three-decade-long film and stage career. But he played unequivocally gay in last year’s 1970s-set Any Day Now which tackles issues about adoption and homophobia in a decade of supposedly free love.


Guillermo Diaz

Always open about his sexuality, Diaz might be most familiar for playing an assortment of thugs and drug dealers (most notably Weeds) but he never was shy about portraying gay. He embodied a drag queen in the 1995 film Stonewall and a gay nurse in the short-lived NBC series Mercy.

Rupert Everett

Rupert Everett

Now, unfortunately, he’s mostly famous for being a bitter queen, Everett was a pioneer of sorts when it came to playing gay before being gay was popular in roles like The Next Best Thing and My Best Friend’s Wedding.

68th Annual Golden Globe Awards - Arrivals

Jesse Tyler Ferguson

This ginger had a couple of short-lived series (playing straight) under his belt before he exploded on the scene with his straight-laced-gay-lawyer role on the comedy hit Modern Family.


Robert Gant

Now you can see him on that grating Nicole Scherziner Herbal Essences commercial, but this swoon-worthy stud made many of us stand at full attention during his stint as Hal Sparks’ love interest on Showtime’s Queer as Folk.


Neil Patrick Harris

Probably best known nowadays as hetero Lothario Barney on How I Met Your Mother, the man who was Doogie did play gay before being “officially” out of the closet—most memorably as an ex-gay (wink! wink!) on Will & Grace and as another “gay friend” in The Next Best Thing.

"Will & Grace" 100th Episode Celebration

Sean Hayes

Although his Jack McFarland character was über-gay on Will & Grace, the star didn’t officially come out until years after he exited his Emmy-winning role.

22nd Annual GLAAD Media Awards - Arrivals

Maurice Jamal

You might recognize the the triple hyphenate writer/actor/director from Logo’s gay-themed Ski Trip or its 2008 sequel, but the openly gay actor is probably best known for the playing not gay in his 2006 comedy Dirty Laundry with Loretta Devine and Jennifer Lewis.


Leslie Jordan

The unapologetically flamboyant comedian might be diminutive but he always makes quite the impression on screen whether recurring as Karen Walker’s  arch-nemesis, Beverly Leslie, on Will & Grace or in Sordid Lives or the upcoming American Horror Story: Coven.

"Take Me Back To Manhattan" Roundabout Theatre Company's Spring Gala

Nathan Lane

You can think of so many of his roles and wonder whether he was playing gay (The Lion King’s Timon, anyone?), but in something like The Birdcage nobody would protest since his gayness in that role could be seen from space.

Luke Macf

Luke MacFarlane

Most recently he had a short stint on Smash, but you probably remember his handsome mug from the Sally Field soaper Brothers & Sisters where he played boyfriend Scotty to one Field’s onscreen sons.


Sir Ian McKellen

Gandolf is as out an proud as they come and his Oscar-nominated role in Gods and Monsters proves that sometimes (just sometimes) critics can recognize a fine gay actor in a transformative homo role.


John Cameron Mitchell

The writer-director-star of the film version of Hedwig and The Angry Inch was nominated for a Golden Globe for this role, arguably his finest and most famous.

Darryl Stephens

Darryl Stephens

Though not “officially” out during his initial run as the titular character on Noah’s Arc, the handsome actor never denied being gay and he never shied away from gay roles in films like Boy Culture and Another Gay Movie.

John travlta

John Travolta

While he’s only played gay in…oh, wait. Wrong list. Sorry.

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  • Lefty

    Russell Tovey has played gay characters on UK TV twice before.
    On one episode of “Ashes To Ashes” and as a recurring character on “Rob Brydon’s Annually Retentive”.

  • TrekBear

    @Lefty, Russell Tovey also played a gay character in two small roles on Doctor Who.

  • EdWoody

    @ Strictly speaking, Tovey’s character was never identified as gay in DW. In his first ep there was no mention either way, and in his second the Doctor seemed to think he and Jack would hit it off but it remains to be seen if they did or not.

    And that pic of Luke McFarlane makes me want to die. Just imagine if he and Matt Bomer had babies. Oh, and Brian J Smith.

  • tdx3fan

    Way to go… You managed to “prove” that gay men can be out and have fulfilling careers by posting a bunch of “has beens” or “never was” actors that are primarily acting in stuff no one has ever heard of (unless they are gay).

  • EdWoody

    @tdx3fan: Sir Ian McKellen is a has-been or a never-was? What exactly have you done that’s better than any man on this list?

    Anyway, to add to the list, there is also:
    * Zachary Quinto, who played gay in So Notorious and American Horror Story.
    * Wentworth Miller, who played gay in Popular.
    * Matt Bomer, who played gay in The New Normal.
    * Andrew Rannells, who played gay The New Normal and Girls.
    * Denis O’Hare, who played gay in True Blood.
    * BD Wong, who played gay in Law & Order.
    * Tom Lenk, who played gay in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
    * John Glover, who played gay in An Early Frost.
    * Sean Maher, who played gay in The Playboy Club.
    * Cheyenne Jackson, who played gay in United 93.
    * Derek Jacobi, who played gay alongside Sir Ian in Vicious.
    * Ben Whishaw, who played gay in Brideshead Revisited.
    * Tuc Watkins, who played gay in Desperate Housewives.

    And an endless number of others.

    So go on, tdx3fan, tell me again how none of these people matter and nobody has ever heard of them.

    Seriously, whenever I need reminding that ‘gay’ does not mean ‘happy’ anymore, I just come and read the comments on Queerty.

  • AnitaMann

    @tdx3fan: One of the dumbest and most inaccurate statements you’ve ever made on this site and that’s an amazing thing considering your portfolio of ridiculously stupid comments.

  • Katbox

    One thing Queerty fail to mention…

    Luke MacFarlane is currently playing STRAIGHT in Canada’s Satisfaction series.
    *He has implied sex three times in the first episode with a woman.

  • GlitterKidder

    @EdWoody: You are so right! You said all the things I was thinking.

  • Pup

    @EdWoody: Dude, he was getting matched with Captain Jack. Who WOULDN’T try to at least make a go of one night? :D

  • tdx3fan

    @EdWoody: I am not an actor. I do stuff that actually does matter. Nice list of b-stars in b-movies. My point still stands. I have no problem with promoting gay actors, lets just not turn Hollywood, both gay and straight, into some sort of overarching achievement. Many on this list are bigger sell outs to the community than Elton John, and the only reason we readily champion them is because we want to bang them.

  • tdx3fan

    @AnitaMann: Thanks! I always try to top myself. Hopefully, I can do better next time.

  • AnitaMann

    @tdx3fan: I have no doubt that you will. Cheers.

  • yaoming

    @EdWoody: Great list. Thanks for sharing. You’re doing Queerty’s work for them.

  • Sohobod

    Rupert Everett lives near me (Dean Street) actually looks worse than he does in the picture. Horrible; but that’s who he is.

  • Persa

    A lot of very recognizable gay actors play gay and straight characters. They just don’t get the coverage of NPH or Cheyenne but they have just as many roles.

    Gerald McCullough
    Michael J. Willett
    Denis O’Hare
    Michael Carbonaro
    Jonathan Slavin
    Christopher Sieber
    Sam Pancake
    John Benjamin Hickey
    Jeffrey Self
    Sebastian La Cause

  • greggher014


  • greggher014

    my friends aunt just got an awesome metallic Chrysler Town and Country Minivan only from working parttime off a home computer… imp source ….

  • stranded

    Guillermo Diaz is gay? wow.

  • balehead

    You all sound jealous…once again

  • seggerman

    Dirk Bogarde in Victim – from 1961

    Ben Daniels in Death at the Bar – British TV
    Simon Callow in Four Weddings and a Funeral
    Anthony Sher in Torch Song Trilogy
    – and Harvey Fierstein in the same role

    has Alec McGowan played gay – Hadrian VI?
    Derek Jacobi as Alan Turing

  • seggerman

    Patrick Breen played opposite Luke McFarlane in The Normal Heart on stage in DC – the sadness of the closetedness of the characters seemed happily dated – what with 2 out leads

    how about Billy Porter in Broken Hearts Club?
    the other actors in Queer as Folk? Peter Paige, Randy Harrison and Jack Weatherall

    Mark Lamos in Longtime Companion
    Matt Bomer and Jim Parsons are also in a production of The Normal Heart – or is it the movie, finally getting made

  • Alan down in Florida

    Is there really someone named Sam Pancake?

  • LadyL

    @seggerman: I’m afraid I have to take issue with Dirk Bogarde on your list, at least if we’re using Queerty’s description of the actors being openly gay when they took on gay roles.
    Yes, Sir Dirk was gay, but he was also terribly closeted, refusing to allow even those closest to him to acknowledge his 40 year open secret marriage to manager Tony Forwood for what it clearly was. He was a gifted writer whose witty, literate memoirs completely ignored any truthful mention of his orientation, and even resorted to burning his letters and other revealing correspondence before his death in an obvious attempt to take his “secret” to the grave.
    Not until his death could a fuller and more oompellingly honest account of Bogarde’s life be offered (in various recent books including actor John Fraser’s 2004 memoir “Close Up: An Actor Telling Tales,” and the 2001 BBC documentary “The Private Dirk Bogarde” among other sources).
    I think Dirk Bogarde tends to get credit he doesn’t quite deserve as an “out” gay man because of his intriguing film roles–he was much braver in movies like “Victim” than he ever managed in real life.

  • LadyL

    Clumsy fingers–meant “compellingly” honest account

  • LadyL

    And…does Sean Hayes really belong on this list? He seemed pretty out to me around the time of “Billy’s Hollywood Screen Kiss” but then walked himself right back into the closet and slammed the door during the “Will & Grace” years, which was extremely irritating given the refreshingly eff-off-and-die-if-you-can’t-deal-with-it character he played on that show. Just saying.

  • villagefan

    what to you mean wrong list? you have John Travolta on the right list.

  • 1EqualityUSA

    Though I have never seen him before, Darryl Stephens is so handsome, in a relaxed, confident kind of way. Sean Hayes has nicely shaped teeth and the color of his eyes are beautiful too. What a lovely bunch of men.

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