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How Dan Savage's TV Show Found Its Gay Star

Noah Galvin

A law protecting gay actors from employment discrimination almost prevented ABC's The Real O'Neals from finding a gay lead.


A television show inspired by the life of Dan Savage encountered a snafu when it sought to cast a gay actor for the part of a gay teen.

Todd Holland, a producer of The Real O'Neals, was alarmed to learn that he is prohibited from asking actors about their sexual orientation. As the Associated Press notes, such a practice is forbidden by a California law meant to protect gay, lesbian, and bisexual actors -- as well as straight ones -- from employment discrimination based on their orientation.

"It was very important to me [to cast a gay actor], and I was in a panic," Holland said.

Ultimately, the ABC show, which premieres March 4, did find a gay actor for the role: the 21-year-old Noah Galvin. The AP reports that Holland had a "sense" that Galvin was gay and that he overheard the young man speaking about coming out to his parents.

"As a gay man, this is a landmark role on network television," Holland said. "It should not be played by a straight man pretending to be gay."

This is the first television show for Galvin, who comes from a theater background in New York. He also acknowledged the importance that the role of the gay character, Kenny, go to a gay person, as it may require speaking from experience about gay rights issues.

"It was important to me that they have someone who is gay and is out and is willing to be a spokesman for it," Galvin said.

Dan Savage is a gay activist and columnist known for his romantic advice in "Savage Love." He is also a founder of the It Gets Better Project, a nonprofit that aims to prevent suicide among LGBT youth.

The series, like in his real life, features a Catholic family with a father who is a Chicago policeman. In the show, the family has a seemingly perfect exterior, which is challenged when the son comes out as gay.

Since its inception, The Real O'Neals has attracted controversy. Last year, right-wing groups protested the involvement of Savage, an executive producer of the show, before it was picked up by ABC.

Written by David Windsor and Casey Johnson, the show also stars Jay R. Ferguson, Martha Plimpton, Matt Shively, Bebe Wood, and Mary Hollis Inboden. In addition to Savage, David Windsor, Casey Johnson, Brian Pines, and Dan McDermott are executive producers.

This situation where a gay actor is actively sought for a gay role is an uncommon occurence in Tinseltown. A recent survey conducted by the LGBT committee of SAG-AFTRA found that 31 percent of respondents believe that casting directors are biased against LGBT performers. In addition, 37 percent believed that producers and directors are biased.

Jason Stuart, a national cochair of this committee and an actor in Tangerine and the upcoming The Birth of a Nation, pointed out to The Advocate that even though casting directors cannot ask performers whether they are gay, lesbian, or bisexual, there is nothing to prevent them from researching actors online or discovering their sexuality through word of mouth, which may also influence a casting decision.

"It's not whether they ask or not, it's what they do with the information," he said, adding, "We're not able to compete in the same way" as straight actors.

Stuart has observed different rules being applied to transgender performers. Casting notices, which advertise acting roles, sometimes call for trans actors, a practice rarely done for their gay, lesbian, or bisexual peers.

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Daniel Reynolds

Daniel Reynolds is the editor of social media for The Advocate. A native of New Jersey, he writes about entertainment, health, and politics.
Daniel Reynolds is the editor of social media for The Advocate. A native of New Jersey, he writes about entertainment, health, and politics.