Actor’s Union SAG/AFTRA Stands With Its LGBT Members
"Old Dogs New Tricks," a popular web sitcom about middle-aged gay men navigating the dating pool in the gay mecca of West Hollywood CA, is Leon Acord's pride and joy. Acord is the series' creator, writer, and star. Old Dogs, covered by SFGN last February, has become a mini-phenomenon, having recently been sold for DVD release in the USA and for broadcast in Canada.
As the series enters its third season, Acord couldn't be happier. Yet he freely admits that the series might never have been created were it not so difficult for out, LGBT identified actors to work in Hollywood. Acord, a former San Francisco resident, created Old Dogs New Tricks in part out of a need to provide work for himself.
"I had no problem getting cast in San Francisco," Acord tells SFGN. "I did three plays a year, just as many independent films. I now do a play every three years."
He recalls, not too happily, a review he got for one particular show he was in. "I portrayed a straight male in a play called 'Salsa Saved the Girls,' " he said. "A theater critic wrote that I 'played a straight stalker which is hard to believe given his personal orientation.' "
In spite of the success and popularity of stars like Neil Patrick Harris, Jim Parsons and others, many LGBT identified actors in Hollywood have faced the kinds of issues Acord speaks of. In a business more cutthroat and competitive than most, LGBT actors often face rejection on the basis of their "labels." Acord has been told by several casting agents that he comes across as "too gay."
"The biggest problem is opportunity," said openly gay comic/actor Jason Stuart. "The idea that we are limited to only playing certain kinds of roles. My goal is to open the conversation so we can create more work for the blue collar actor."
Stuart, who came out in 1993, is working with SAG/AFTRA, the union which represents film and television actors, to create a safe and supportive environment for its LGBT members.
"Some of us are able to make a living and even play straight characters," Stuart said. "But we are not yet in the fabric of what's shown in the media, even though we exist in the real world. Actors still feel there is work to be done in order to create equality with their straight counterparts."
On September 27, 2013, SAG/AFTRA released "Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Diversity in Entertainment: Experiences and Perspectives of SAG/AFTRA Members," a groundbreaking study which concluded that even today, LGBT identified actors experience discrimination in the workplace. In that study, thirty percent of SAG/AFTRA members surveyed, including heterosexual members, said that they believed that LGBT actors faced on the job bias.
On October 3, the union passed a historic resolution at their national convention. The resolution promises that the issues of LGBT actors would be addressed and that LGBT identified SAG/AFTRA members would be supported.
"If you are working on or interviewing for a SAG/AFTRA production and you believe that you have been or are being discriminated or sexually harassed, you should call SAG/AFTRA," said union spokesperson Gwen Walker. "Your call is kept confidential and we can help you determine the most appropriate course of action, and if any immediate or emergency needs to be taken, particularly if you believe you are in danger of physical harm."
Walker said that members should not be afraid to speak up.
"Neither discrimination nor harassment is your fault," she said. "When you see or become a victim of discrimination or harassment, don't ignore it and don't pretend it didn't happen. Every action you take against this kind of behavior means is less likely to be repeated. You have a responsibility to yourself and your fellow union members to see to it that all performers are treated with respect in the job search and in the workplace."
Transgender actors would not be forgotten, promises Stuart. "Being a trans actor is a new frontier, and we are working to see what we can do support their specific issues, which are often different from LGB issues. My hope is that the stars will support the working actors to move on to the next level of their careers."
More information can be found at: www.SagAftra.org/EEOdiversity