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."