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The Advocates 2024: LGBTQ+ ally Jean Smart

The Advocates 2024: LGBTQ+ ally Jean Smart

<p>The Advocates 2024: LGBTQ+ ally Jean Smart</p>
courtesy NBC Universal

In her life and work, the Emmy-winning Hacks star has always used her platform to push the needle forward for LGBTQ+ people.

Jean Smart’s allyship to the LGBTQ+ community has gone hand-in-hand with her amazing four-decade-plus career on stage and screen. In fact, her first New York theater credit was playing a lesbian in the play Last Summer at Bluefish Cove. And years before her current Emmy-winning role on HBO Max’s Hacks — playing the fictional comedy legend Deborah Vance who has a complicated relationship with her bisexual writing partner Ava (played by Hannah Einbinder) — Smart became known to the world as Charlene Frazier-Stillfield on the 1980s sitcom Designing Women. The popular series was one of the first to address the topic of HIV/AIDS on network television, an issue close to the actress’s heart.

Jean Smart and costar Hannah Einbinder share a laugh onstage at the 'Hacks' Los Angeles FYC Event at Television Academy's Wolf Theatre in May 2024.Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic for HBO

When Smart was honored for her dedication to the queer community earlier this year by the Human Rights Campaign, she spoke of a close friend who had died at the height of the AIDS crisis. She was living in Los Angeles at the time and traveled to New York to be with him during his final days and recalled being shocked and saddened that his own mother had refused to see him. “I sat with him, and I held his hand,” she said. “He was barely conscious, and he was on oxygen. And I really didn’t think that he knew that I was there. But later I learned from his dear friend that after I left, he whispered, ‘I feel so loved.’”

In her acceptance speech Smart added that “in a world where children are starving and dying because of war, it seems insane and beyond understanding that any of us should be concerned with someone else’s sexuality.”

Smart also commented to The Advocate on her relationship to the LGBTQ+ community: “I have had gay friends for a very, very long time — some of the most important people in my life. My career began playing a lesbian. The fact that these people are still misunderstood is not right. But it’s changing — slowly, but it’s changing.”

The Advocates is an annual feature celebrating 10 artists, activists, advocates, and others who strive to make the world a better place for all. Click here to read about our other honorable Advocates, including cover star Cyndi Lauper!

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