When Daniel Newman first appeared on AMC’s The Walking Dead, viewers grew transfixed by his brooding gaze and dazzling red hair. His roles in The Vampire Diaries, Homeland, and Sex and the City made us believe he was another straight cisgender male rising star. Behind the scenes, Newman kept his bisexuality hidden.
Growing up in a conservative southern Georgia household, talking about his sexuality had never been an option. After making the move to Hollywood and instantly landing leading man roles in action movies and romantic comedies, he learned quickly that show business had similar rules. Modeling for Calvin Klein, Christian Dior, and Louis Vuitton early in his career led to guest spots on teenage dramas like 7th Heaven, One Tree Hill, and Heroes, just to name a few. His fan base quickly grew, but under the surface there were still secrets.
Above: Daniel Newman at the 28th Annual GLAAD Media Awards at Beverly Hilton Hotel on April 1, 2017 in Beverly Hills
Newman knew how fast his popularity was growing, which is why he began to volunteer for LGBT organizations like GLAAD, My Friend’s Place, and Covenant House. It was at one of these events where he met a girl who would change everything.
“[She] thanked me for helping LGBT people,” Newman remembers. “I was like, ‘Why would you say that as if — ?’ And she was like, ‘Well, because you’re straight.’ I was like, ‘Well, I’m not straight.’ And she was like, ‘Well, why would you not say that?’ The message was loud and clear to me, and I literally had a flash of me at her age being like, ‘Why aren’t my heroes out? Why aren’t some cool NFL players or rock stars [out]?’” he recalls.
Then came an aha moment: “I don’t really want to participate in an industry where I can’t be myself and people of my culture aren’t celebrated for being themselves,” Newman explains. “I knew I didn’t want to talk to anybody that could sway my decision, so I didn’t talk to anybody. I just jumped on the cell phone and videotaped the video to put it [out] for kids out there.”
That turned into a YouTube coming-out video that Newman published in late March, which ended up going viral (with nearly 2.3 million views to date). But even after he came out, media outlets still didn’t honor his bisexual label and instead referred to him as “gay.”
“People magazine even said that I was gay,” Newman recounts. “I had just told the reporter about being bisexual and having girlfriends and things like that. She was like, ‘Oh, cool. Are you in a relationship?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, I have an incredible boyfriend.’ And she’s like, ‘Oh, cool. It’s awesome you came out as gay.’ And then the article got published around the world that I said I was gay, which, I mean, it’s totally fine. But it was interesting to me that … if you have a boyfriend, [people think] you’re 100 percent gay.”
People later corrected its piece, but only after numerous outlets picked up the story. His experience highlights just how often people disregard someone’s stated bisexuality, instead labeling them gay when they are dating someone of the same sex, and straight when they are not. Newman’s coming-out video ended up creating a national discussion about bisexual men, their invisibility, and the stigma they often face.
“I’m on the shoulders of all the people that have fought and died in the LGBT community,” Newman says. “Because, in the last five or eight years, we’re in a completely different world now. I grew up with [homosexuality] being so demonized … now it’s just celebrated, and anybody that’s homophobic is basically having to go in the closet. They’re having to hide their homophobia because if you are prejudiced, outwardly prejudiced and harmful to African-Americans or minorities or gays … you’re going to get punished.”
As far as the Hollywood game, Newman knows how to play it. After all, he’s been a rising VIP for nearly a decade. But while he’s grateful for the overwhelming acceptance of LGBT characters on film and TV, he says there’s a long way to go before we start being as honest on screen as we are off.
“What I would encourage Hollywood to do now is to lay off of the sob stories and the hardship stories [relating to LGBT folks], and move forward into incredibly positive, interactive stories where a gay character, a bisexual character, a trans character is just part of that reality, as opposed to highlighting so much anguish and struggle of the past,” he argues. “The world needs to see the seamless integration of the LGBTQ [person] now in society, because that’s the way it is. When I visit colleges, high schools, and groups, it’s like a different world now.”
Newman adds that Hollywood has done well representing just one aspect of the queer community, “which is the really funny, goofy, flamboyant gay character. And I love them. I think they’re wonderful and I celebrate them! But that does not represent hundreds of millions of LGBTQ people around the world. And what needs to really be highlighted now, I think, is all the diversity. Show the masculine football player guys; show the guys that are running these huge industries … the incredible out leaders.”
The actor believes Hollywood is starting to get the message. “Obviously, Hollywood is very aware of … all the youth loving all these stars,” he says. “Troye Sivan and Tyler Oakley and so many of them. That’s a huge power. That’s a huge, incredible influence for the community to have.”
Looking back, Newman says he now realizes that hiding in the closet taught him important lessons about “truth and honesty, and standing up for kids, and trying to be that role model that I wish I had growing up. For it to kind of transform into being a voice that’s taken place has been incredible. Having so many people behind the golden doors of Hollywood come to me and talk about Hollywood’s plans to make this more of a norm has been mindboggling! And I didn’t even realize my place in the whole process. So it’s been incredible.” (Instagram: @DanielNewman_)
Editor's note: Article updated on September 6 to correct Newman's social media accounts.