His grown-up Christmas list

Actor-producer Chad Allen opens up about his good works, why boosting gay causes is especially important at the holidays, and the blessings he’s received since coming out two years ago

BY Advocate.com Editors

November 25 2003 12:00 AM ET

Chad Allen
didn’t ask to be on the cover of this magazine.
“Part of me really wants to tell you about all
the great things that I’m doing so you can tell
me what a good boy I am,” Allen says, grinning with
sarcasm, but it was The Advocate’s idea
to make him a pinup for good works during the
holidays. Allen simply played along, taking advantage of an
opportunity to focus more attention on the causes near to
his heart.

He has a lot of
them. The 29-year-old started working with charity groups
early in his acting career, which he says was at first more
about capitalizing on his teen heartthrob status
during six seasons of the TV series Dr. Quinn,
Medicine Woman
(1993–1998). At some
point—Allen is not entirely sure when—he
discovered that being of service in other
people’s lives profoundly changed his own. He began
pouring his energy and time into myriad causes,
including the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, which
helps elect openly gay candidates nationwide, and the Trevor
Project, which sponsors a toll-free, round-the-clock suicide
hotline for GLBT teens).

In the two years
since he came out on the cover of The Advocate,
Allen’s career has blossomed as well. An accomplished
theater producer—he brought Terrence
McNally’s controversial Corpus Christi to Los
Angeles—he’s also trying his hand at movie
moguldom. His company, Mythgarden, is currently
developing the same-sex romance Save Me,
costarring Allen, Judith Light, and Queer as
Folk
’s Robert Gant, which Allen hopes to
start filming in the spring. He’s also taking night
classes toward a degree in psychology and volunteering at
shelters specializing in serving runaway youths, many
of whom are on the street simply because
they’re gay. Coincidentally, his latest film as an
actor, Downtown (due out later this year), is
about a homeless-youth program in New York City.
“I play a junkie [who’s] really nasty,”
Allen says. “People will hate me.”

Do you think working for good causes is especially
important during the holidays?
Everybody gets so damn emotional around the holidays.
All of a sudden it becomes about family and
“Oh, I’m alone, and I’m not supposed to
be alone for the holidays because the commercials tell
me I’m a loser if I don’t have a
boyfriend or a girlfriend.” So in that sense it might
be especially useful to make yourself of service
during the holidays. Certainly if you’re
lonely. My goodness, there are so many groups that are
going to be celebrating Christmas and the holidays with the
kids who are in their facilities. I keep saying
“kids” just because that’s my
frame of reference; that’s where I’m active.
But it certainly isn’t just relegated to
children. I mean, there are so many organizations out there
serving adults.

Have you experienced more people reaching out to you
since your coming-out?
Absolutely. There’s a fan Web site, and
that’s become the epicenter for people,
especially gay kids, who want to communicate and know about
my story. Every E-mail that gets sent there eventually gets
passed on to me.

I spend a lot of
time, more time than ever, working with young people,
especially in the arena of drug abuse and dependency, people
in chemical recovery programs—those issues and
sexuality, and the way that those two go hand in hand
so often, especially in our community. I think it’s
one of the issues that’s worth us taking a look
at. It just means the world: being on the cover of
The Advocate, coming out officially, being
willing to talk about it in the public arena in my work. It
just means a lot to a lot of people.

Is that part of why you’ve been so involved with
gay causes?
I think that I’m involved with those causes
because I think there’s work to do, you know?
That’s the bottom line. At a time that those of us
who are blessed to be in cities like Los Angeles and New
York—where we rarely have to think about the
idea of homophobia or the idea of kids being abused
because of who they are—we need to work harder than
ever to make sure that those kids are being taken care
of and that we’re taking care of each
other.

Do you think your need to get involved has any connection
to your Catholic upbringing?
[Pauses] It’s a really good question. I can
credit, certainly, my education. I can credit the
people who taught me along the way, my family and my
teachers. I went to Catholic school for 12 years. I
wouldn’t go so far to say that it’s a
Catholic thing, but I did receive a very good sense of
community and of service, the idea of being of service.

I also spent a
good amount of time completely messed up on drugs and
battling that. I think the truest sense of my sense of
service came from the battle to overcome addiction.
Because being of service and being useful and helpful
became vital to my sobriety and vital to my life. I am
clean and sober today as a result of making myself useful to
others. Period.

When service
becomes that vital to your survival, you’re going to
be darn sure that it’s going to be important to
you—so important that I’ve launched a
really big, cool new theater project we’re doing in
New York and L.A. right now. I’ve got a group
of actors in both cities, and for the last eight
months they’ve been aggressively volunteering, being
of service, and we’ve been documenting how that
has changed their lives.

I consider actors
to be at times the most selfish people that I know.
We’re extraordinarily self-centered. I wanted to put
[these actors] in a position of having to get outside
of themselves. There’s always this component of
selfishness and self-centeredness that goes along with being
philanthropic, of being useful. That’s an interesting
idea to explore. Can we ever truly be of service
without having ourselves be in the way? Is that OK? I
don’t know. But we’re looking at it.

It’s interesting that you bring that up, because
there is a perception that some gay men are
particularly self-involved, so much so that they
don’t really care about doing any kind of
service. Do you think that’s a deserved reputation?

[Leans into microphone] It’s my
perception— [Interrupts himself] And
I’m sure that this will get me in trouble, but
understand that I make this statement as a member of the gay
community, as a gay man who is very proud of who I am.
But I believe that this community is very young. I
believe that this community in many aspects is very
immature. We’re a little bit like teenagers. I mean
that in the communal sense: What do we want to be when
we grow up? You slap on these big issues that have
been handed us like AIDS and marriage, and I think
there’s a segment of the community that says,
“But we’re teenagers. We just want to
have a good time!”

[Pauses] Is it a
deserved reputation? I know this: I’m blown away by
some of the examples in the gay community in terms of
spiritual development and the leaps forward that
we’re taking, helping society as a whole to
develop. At times we’re messy and we run around and
we do immature things. And we hurt each other too. But
I don’t think the answer is to deny it and
pretend that we’re anything except who we are. The
answer is, take a good look at who we are, be grateful
for it all and accepting of it all, and continue to
help each other the best that we can.

What do you consider a good day when you’re
working for good causes?
When you connect with a kid. It’s hard to
explain. It may not be like something great happens to
the kid or that he ends up all of a sudden getting
accepted to Stanford. It’s not a postcard like that.
It’s hard sometimes. You’ll be working
with these kids, and they’re there one day and
gone the next. And it certainly can’t be about going
in there and trying to change them. But it’s
just that connection, that usefulness, that sudden and
powerful click that happens with two people who can
connect.

Speaking of connecting, people have got to know: Did
being on the cover of The Advocate help you
get a boyfriend?
Well, I guess so, ’cause I have a boyfriend now
[laughs] and I didn’t then. I’ll
tell you this: He absolutely loves that shot from the
last Advocate cover when I had no hair. He came
across a copy of it somewhere in my files or
something, and he was like, “I want that!” So
he kept it. So yeah, I guess the answer would be yes.
[Laughs]

Glad we could be of help! Tell me a little bit about
Save Me, the movie you’re
developing from Craig Chester’s original screenplay.
[It’s] about the “ex-gay” movement.
I read the script and at the end I was crying, because
I thought it was the best love story between two guys
that I’d ever read. Simultaneously, it explores this
ex-gay movement from a place where it doesn’t
need to make the Christian right out to be the bad
guys. I play a [gay] boy who’s bottomed out in his
life. His family takes him to [an ex-gay ministry],
and he genuinely wants to give it a try. In the
meantime, Robert Gant is this reporter who goes
undercover [into the same ex-gay ministry] to get the scoop,
and he and I fall in love. It’s a beautiful,
beautiful story.

You’ve spent over 20 years of your life working as
an actor. Do you think you’ll still be
doing this 20 years in the future?
I don’t know. I don’t really care.
I’ll be honest: I could be just as happy
running my little theater—I say that, but I’m
not sure it’s entirely true, because while I
was doing that I might feel like, “Oh, well, we
have to take this show to Broadway!” I know that I
can’t not act right now, so who knows? Twenty
years from now I’ll go wherever I’m most
needed—or, in a spiritual sense, where I’m
supposed to be. And since, in my spiritual
understanding, I get to decide what that looks like,
I’m going to have my cake and eat it too.
I’ll do it all. I’ll work with kids,
I’ll finish my degree, I’ll use my passion for
human behavior to be a great actor and, maybe, survive
myself. So you know, I think we can really have it
all. [Laughs]

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