Sean Hayes' mom wrote him a 10-page letter after he came out. It wasn't too nice.
Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images.

Sean Hayes is often celebrated as a gay trailblazer in Hollywood, bringing to life the hilarious and unashamedly queer Jack McFarland in "Will & Grace." But Hayes' own coming out story reflects a dark side of the LGBTQ experience fans don't always get to see from his character on the hit NBC sitcom.

In a new interview with People magazine, Hayes opened up about his mother's rejection upon learning her son was gay at 18 years old. “It was 1988 when I came out,” he explained. "It’s so cliché that it was during Thanksgiving weekend."


"My mom said I needed to go see a therapist," he continued. "She wrote me a 10-page letter, both sides on legal pad-size paper. 'This is not what God' — you know, the whole uneducated view of it."

Photo by Krista Kennell/AFP/Getty Images.

Hayes had suspected his family may not take the news well. He'd even hidden the fact that he performed in high school plays from his brothers, fearful his participation in drama club would out him as "different."

"Theater was for gays, and it was for sissies, and things like that," Hayes said. "Things that you were taught to be ashamed of."

Fortunately in the decades since, Hayes' mom came around to accepting him for who he is.

“She became educated and had friends who [were] gay people,” Hayes told People. “She was like, ‘Oh I see. You’re just like me,’ and all that. It became fine and wonderful, and then she became so supportive and awesome.”

Sean Hayes (right) and his "Will & Grace" co-stars. Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images.

Hayes' evolving relationship with his mom mirrors a societal shift for the better on LGBTQ issues. 57% percent of parents today say they would not be upset if their child came out as gay — that's up from 9% in 1985, according to Pew Research.

But how intersectional and inclusive has that progress really been felt across the community?

Although Americans' perception of queer people has changed remarkably throughout the past decade overall, there's still a lot work to be done — particularly when it comes to the other letters beyond just "L" and G" in LGBTQ.

While marriage equality has been legalized nationwide along with the expansion of same-sex adoption, the blowback to such progress has been alarming, often harming the most vulnerable within the queer community. 

Hate crimes targeting transgender people, for example — and in particular, trans women of color — are on the rise, according to FBI statistics released in November. Research suggests half of transgender people will experience sexual violence at some point in their lives; a figure far higher than the general population. Significant stigma remains for bisexual men and women as well — people who routinely see their identities sexualized, questioned, and erased.

The Trump administration continues to undermine progress for the LGBTQ community — more than it already has. Trump rescinded bathroom protections for trans students in schools, surrounded himself with homophobic and transphobic officials with huge sway over policy, and emboldened anti-LGBTQ movements across the world.

But to Hayes, who's currently starring in the revived "Will & Grace" series on NBC, it's important to remember things have gotten better.

A more inclusive world means more positive coming out experiences for LGBTQ kids everywhere.

"If you don’t have the words to explain [your sexuality] to your family, you can say, ‘Like, 'Will & Grace,’ or 'Like Ellen DeGeneres,'" he said. "There’s so many more examples now to help people and give them tools to communicate to kids and their families that being gay is as normal as being straight."

True

When Molly Reeser was a student at Michigan State University, she took a job mucking horse stalls to help pay for classes. While she was there, she met a 10-year-old girl named Casey, who was being treated for cancer, and — because both were animal lovers — they became fast friends.

Two years later, Casey died of cancer.

"Everyone at the barn wanted to do something to honor her memory," Molly remembers. A lot of suggestions were thrown out, but Molly knew that there was a bigger, more enduring way to do it.

"I saw firsthand how horses helped Casey and her family escape from the difficult and terrifying times they were enduring. I knew that there must be other families who could benefit from horses in the way she and her family had."

Molly approached the barn owners and asked if they would be open to letting her hold a one-day event. She wanted to bring pediatric cancer patients to the farm, where they could enjoy the horses and peaceful setting. They agreed, and with the help of her closest friends and the "emergency" credit card her parents had given her, Molly created her first Camp Casey. She worked with the local hospital where Casey had been a patient and invited 20 patients, their siblings and their parents.

The event was a huge success — and it was originally meant to be just that: a one-day thing. But, Molly says, "I believe Casey had other plans."

One week after the event, Molly received a letter from a five-year-old boy who had brain cancer. He had been at Camp Casey and said it was "the best day of his life."

"[After that], I knew that we had to pull it off again," Molly says. And they did. Every month for the next few years, they threw a Camp Casey. And when Molly graduated, she did the most terrifying thing she had ever done and told her parents that she would be waitressing for a year to see if it might be possible to turn Camp Casey into an actual nonprofit organization. That year of waitressing turned into six, but in the end she was able to pull it off: by 2010, Camp Casey became a non-profit with a paid staff.

"I am grateful for all the ways I've experienced good luck in my life and, therefore, I believe I have a responsibility to give back. It brings me tremendous joy to see people, animals, or things coming together to create goodness in a world that can often be filled with hardships."

Camp Casey serves 1500 children under the age of 18 each year in Michigan. "The organization looks different than when it started," Molly says. "We now operate four cost-free programs that bring accessible horseback riding and recreational services to children with cancer, sickle cell disease, and other life-threatening illnesses."

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