Sean Hayes expressed regret for not publicly coming out sooner in an acceptance speech at the annual Outfest Legacy Awards in Los Angeles on Sunday.
Hayes picked up an impressive seven Emmy nominations for his portrayal of Jack McFarland on the groundbreaking sitcom Will & Grace but didn’t come out publicly until 2010— a whole 10 years after he became the first actor ever to win an Emmy for playing an openly gay character.
“I know I should’ve come out sooner and I’m sorry for that,” Hayes told the room.
“Especially when I think about the possibility that I might have made a difference in someone’s life. I would probably be able to sleep a lot better than I do if I had acted sooner, but such is life. We learn our lessons only when we are ready.”
In his speech, Hayes admitted he’s “ashamed and embarrassed” for staying closeted publicly for so long.
“[Executive director Christopher Racster] said that I took the stereotypical gay sissy and made him human, lovable, flawed and real. While this may be true, I think you should’ve led with flawed because at the time, I was a young closeted actor having his first taste of a little success and unfortunately, in my mind, my lucky break was inextricably tied to me thinking that I had to stay in the closet in order to keep moving forward. Looking back at my choice to stay silent, I am ashamed and embarrassed. What was I thinking? As If any of you had any doubts. I mean, right, could a straight actor ever do this…?”
Hayes also delivered a spot-on reenactment of his iconic Cher impersonation before leaving the stage, The Hollywood Reporter reports.
“Today I stand before you as a proud gay man, and I humbly accept this award on behalf of all of us. This award is as much mine as it is yours,” he concluded.
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— Chris Gardner (@chrissgardner) October 24, 2016