When Gay News (Or Crisis) Hits Hollywood, Gay Public Relations Guru Shines

You may not recognize the name Howard Bragman, but you certainly have heard of some of his Hollywood clients, including Chaz Bono and basketball player John Amaechi. Many of his clients have something in common: they all recently came out of the closet as being gay. After 30 years in the industry, Howard Bragman represents celebrities from all walks of life, but has also made a name for himself as one of the go-to public relations people for stars who want to come out of the closet. Host Michel Martin speaks with Bragman about being gay in Hollywood.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

You may not recognize the name of Howard Bragman, but you certainly have heard of some of his clients. Chaz Bono, former basketball player John Amaechi, as well as Meredith Baxter and Isaiah Washington. Bragman represents all kinds of famous people, but hes also become one of the go-to public relations specialists for stars who want to come out of the closet while living in the limelight, as well as celebrities like Washington who have offended the gay community. He joins us now to talk about his work and his book, Where's My Fifteen Minutes?: Get Your Company, Your Cause, or Yourself the Recognition You Deserve. And Howard Bragman joins us now. Welcome, thank you for joining us.

Mr. HOWARD BRAGMAN (Public Relations Specialist; Author, Where's My Fifteen Minutes?: Get Your Company, Your Cause, or Yourself the Recognition You Deserve): Thanks, Michel. Its great to be here.

MARTIN: I think some people might question, is it really still a big deal for somebody to come out of the closet?

Mr. BRAGMAN: It really is still a big deal because, number one, theres a great deal of fear out there. Number two, I think weve lost almost every gay marriage vote that has ever been on the ballot. And so, we still have a lot of hills to climb. So, yeah, it is a big deal. And its particularly a big deal when youre an actor and when youre a public figure.

MARTIN: See, thats the part of Im puzzled by. Why is it particularly a big deal if youre an actor?

Mr. BRAGMAN: Because actors get work on their ability to be whatever you want them to be. And as much as it pains me to say this, theres a huge double standard in Hollywood, whereas Tom Hanks can play a gay man with a lot of creditability and win an Academy Award for it, God forbid they say, well, a gay guys gonna play a straight guy? Nobody is going to buy it. And that double standard exists and we have to get beyond that. And I think we are in a lot of ways. My dear friend Cheyenne Jackson, whos a Broadway star, and he is now on the show of 30 Rock, is a very openly gay man...

MARTIN: Hmm.

Mr. BRAGMAN: ...and playing a very, very heterosexual man very effectively on 30 Rock. Neil Patrick Harris is doing the same thing. Hes playing not just a heterosexual but an aggressively heterosexual man on his show. Its things like that that are changing the dialogue and changing peoples mindset, but we still have hurdles to overcome.

MARTIN: Is there a difference for men and women, do you think? Do you think that theres a different...

Mr. BRAGMAN: Absolutely.

MARTIN: ...standard for men or for women?

Mr. BRAGMAN: In this male-dominated society, a lot of heterosexual males think, well, I think chicks are hot. Im sure chicks thinks chicks are hot, too.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BRAGMAN: And its less of a hurdle to overcome, whereas the thought of two men isnt something that they may assimilate quite as well. That being said, I just worked with Meredith Baxter, who I took out of the closet, and that was quite a shocker, but again, met with a great deal of acceptance.

MARTIN: And what about the idea of sex reassignment? You recently advised Chaz Bono, who initially came out as a lesbian and then has undergone a medical process to transition to being a man, and I know she gave an interview on the "Today Show"...

Mr. BRAGMAN: He, he.

MARTIN: ...he, forgive me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Forgive me.

Mr. BRAGMAN: I do it sometimes too.

MARTIN: Okay.

Mr. BRAGMAN: And he smacks me in the arm.

MARTIN: Did that present special challenges, or was the groundwork...

Mr. BRAGMAN: Absolutely.

MARTIN: ...laid because Chaz was already a public figure in a certain way?

Mr. BRAGMAN: Well, the vast majority of people who go through gender transitions do it discretely. Its a long process, and its been described to me as akin to going through puberty because of the number of years it takes in terms of the hormone therapies, etcetera. Chaz recognized that, again, having been a public figure since his birth, he didnt have the option of doing it privately.

MARTIN: Umm-Hmm.

Mr. BRAGMAN: So, when he first mentioned to me that he was going to go through this transition, we recognized that he had a very important role because he was going to be the most famous person in the world ever to make this transition and not only did we have to do it right, we had to do it in the public eye.

MARTIN: Hmm.

Mr. BRAGMAN: And, it was tough, and its sort of a step beyond taking people out of the closet.

MARTIN: That makes sense to me as you describe it from a representational standpoint, from a role model standpoint, but for - what about other figures, why do they feel they have to discuss these issues?

Mr. BRAGMAN: Everybody has a different reason. There was an NFL player I worked with named Esera Tuaolo. He wanted to live what he called his truth. John Amaechi had a book coming out. Meredith Baxter had just gone on a lesbian cruise, and the press started calling, so we realized this was going to get out there and we had to get ahead of it. Everybody has their own very personal reasons, but in the end, most people want to live their truth, and they dont want people to make assumptions that are necessarily wrong.

MARTIN: What about people who are out of the limelight, as it were, I guess thats the part I think is confusing. You can see where a sports figure in a very macho field like the NFL might hesitate for all kinds of reasons, but once he is retired, why is it our business?

Mr. BRAGMAN: You know, its their business that they choose to do it. And, I think in most cases the people I work with, their motivations were pure, that they wanted to advance the dialogue and show that the stereotypes that we have always associated are not accurate. And some of the most macho people in society are indeed gay, and theyre living wonderful, productive, happy lives.

MARTIN: In fact, the NFL player who you were telling us about - I think you mentioned in your book, that part of it is he and his partner were raising children together...

Mr. BRAGMAN: Exactly.

MARTIN: ...and he wanted to let people know that they were functioning and healthy family and he wanted to represent, as it were.

Mr. BRAGMAN: Well, he told me about the time he was on a trip with his husband and the kids and, you know, he is mumbling about how to introduce them, you know, just being able to say, hey, this is my partner and these are our kids. These little things add up and they make a big difference in society.

MARTIN: If youre just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Were speaking with Howard Bragman. He's one of Hollywoods best public relations experts, and he is the guy many stars go to when it comes to coming out of the closet. He's also the author of a book called "Wheres My Fifteen Minutes?: Get Your Company, Your Cause, or Yourself The Recognition You Deserve."

You are also openly gay. Have you...

Mr. BRAGMAN: Oh, my God, now you outed me.

MARTIN: I know, I've outed you. Well, its in your book. So I figured it wasnt a secret.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BRAGMAN: Yes. Ive been out for 30 years.

MARTIN: I was going to ask you, were you ever in the closet?

Mr. BRAGMAN: You know, I was dealing with it when I was in college, but as soon as I graduated from college and for my first job, I told my parents more than 30 years ago, and coming out of the closet is a metaphor for living an honest life. You may have to come out of the closet about the fact that - Michael C. Hall did. The star of "Dexter" recently talked about the fact that he had cancer.

MARTIN: Hmm.

Mr. BRAGMAN: Or you may want to talk about an illegitimate child, John Edwards. You may want to talk about quitting, getting fired, whatever it is. Understand its only a metaphor at this point.

MARTIN: Sure, and I understand what youre saying, but to your point about some fields where your mutability is highly valued, or where not being perceived to have any particular allegiances like journalism, for example, is highly valued - or in some branches of journalism, lets put it that way.

Mr. BRAGMAN: Right.

MARTIN: Is there any right time to come out? Do you ever advise someone not to because you say, well, its just at this stage of your career not worth it?

Mr. BRAGMAN: I did. I had a former NFL player, and he wasnt ready in his mind. He hadnt told his parents, he hadnt told his employers. And I said, before you come out to the public, you have to do the foundation-work of talking to your family, talking to your employers, and making sure that youre a hundred percent comfortable because once you flick that switch theres no going back.

MARTIN: On the other side of the equation, youve represented some clients who are controversial in the LGBT community, because theyve been perceived as making offensive remarks or engaging in...

Mr. BRAGMAN: Offensive behavior.

MARTIN: ...offensive behavior. Im thinking of Isaiah Washington, who some people feel made disparaging comments towards gays. I dont know that he thinks he did, and then Doug Manchester, whos a hotel owner, who is one of the biggest contributors to Proposition Eight, but you represented both of them. Talk to me about that.

Mr. BRAGMAN: You know, we are human beings, and by definition human beings are screw-ups, and we are going to make mistakes. And in the case of Isaiah Washington, in the case of Doug Manchester, both of them have stood up and said, we made mistakes, were going to make amends to correct this mistakes, and were going to promise never to do it again, which both of them have done. And as soon as we are not willing to forgive people, we become as a society and as a gay and lesbian community something thats really not as attractive, because again, I see mistakes everyday. I've made plenty of mistakes, but I really believe in the concept of true forgiveness for somebody who is truly contrite and acknowledges that they made a mistake.

MARTIN: Howard Bragman represents celebrities from all walks of life. His PR company is known as Fifteen Minutes. He's the author of a book called "Wheres My Fifteen Minutes?: Get Your Company, Your Cause, or Yourself the Recognition You Deserve," and he was kind enough to join us from NPR West. Thank you so much for speaking with us.

Mr. BRAGMAN: Thanks. Appreciate it.

MARTIN: Dont be a stranger, we hope to talk to you again.

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