The accidental activist
BY John Barrett
July 04 2000 12:00 AM ET
“It’s like we are best friends and are completely relaxed around each other,” Danny says about Paul. “It’s just so sickeningly perfect.”
Melissa, the 23-year-old housemate to whom Danny first came out on the show, says he was “100% successful” in his effort to dispel stereotypes of gay people, adding, “I’m a fan of the show and have watched [previous seasons], and I’ve been just a little put off by the portrayal of some of the gay characters because they feed into a stereotype that is unfair.”
Nowhere in the house is Danny’s influence more obvious than with his housemate Julie, a 20-year-old Mormon who called homosexuality “disgusting” during her audition for the show.
“When [Julie] learned I was gay she had to completely break herself down and change her views,” Danny says. “And by the end of the show, she did a 180 and was completely as antihomophobic as it gets.… I want the public to have the same reaction as Julie.”
But that’s as far as Danny wants his activism to go for now. His and Paul’s participation in the show has introduced millions to an issue many gay people consider one of the biggest obstacles in the struggle for equality—gays in the military. But after five months in front of the camera, Danny just wants to focus on their relationship—in private.
“I would like to speak out [against “don’t ask”],” says Danny, who eventually wants to start his own youth-oriented travel business. “But the more I would bother with that, the more I would piss the military off and give them a reason to find out [Paul’s] identity. That’s the last thing I want to happen.”
Aside from the publicizing of the show that’s expected of cast members, Danny says he and Paul are going to “stay low.” “We’re going to live [together] in a fairly small town in a random place,” he says, adding that he now plans to go by his first name rather than “Danny”—which is his middle name—to create an extra layer of privacy. “Obviously there is a fear that people are going to recognize me, put two and two together, and automatically know who [Paul] is. I want to avoid that as much as possible.
“The way I look at it is that when we go out in public places, we have to think about where we’re going [and] who’s going to be there,” Danny says. “We need to try to avoid places where the crowd that will be watching the show would hang out in large numbers.”
Despite all the precautions he and Danny are having to take, Paul, who breaks his silence for the first time with The Advocate, has little bad to say about the military or about “don’t ask, don’t tell.” “It’s not the policy [that’s the problem]; it’s the people who are part of the military—like the American public—who are just not very accepting of that kind of lifestyle,” he says.
Reluctant to give too much information about himself—other than to say that he was already in the military when he realized he was gay 312 years ago—Paul says he will probably leave the service in about a year. “They tell you the rules, and if you don’t want to follow them, they find a nice, easy, safe way of getting yourself out,” he says, adding, “It was never my intention to fight military policy.”
Nine seasons into The Real World, Murray has seen cast members deal with everything from HIV and AIDS to abortion and alcoholism. Now that Danny has “humanized” another issue, Murray isn’t surprised to see him and Paul shrink a bit from the spotlight.
“People will probably look at them and try to turn them into advocates, but I don’t know if they’ll want to do that,” he says. “The gay men and women in the military are asking to be able to do their jobs and, when they’re not at work, be able to live their lives openly. And I think that’s all [Danny and Paul] are trying to do as well.”