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Is Hollywood 'gay' enough?

By Stephanie Goldberg, Special to CNN
"Modern Family's" Cameron (Eric Stonestreet) and Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) and their adopted daughter Lily.
"Modern Family's" Cameron (Eric Stonestreet) and Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) and their adopted daughter Lily.
  • The number of LGBT characters on scripted programs has doubled since 2005
  • LGBT characters represent more than 3 percent of characters on broadcast networks
  • It doesn't matter if an LGBT actor plays an LGBT role, said GLAAD's Jarrett Barrios

(CNN) -- Whether they're raising their adopted baby girl, dodging homophobic quips from their fraternity brothers or teaching the "Single Ladies" dance to the football team after glee club, it seems gay characters are becoming a vital part of prime time TV.

With characters like "Modern Family's" Mitchell and Cameron, Calvin from "Greek" and Kurt from "Glee," the number of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) characters on scripted programs has just about doubled since 2005, according to the Gay and Lesbian Alliance against Defamation.

And characters will continue to identify as LGBT as time goes on, such as "Ugly Betty's" Justin, who recently had his first same-sex kiss. But Jarrett Barrios, president of GLAAD said, "We still have a long way to go before we're fully represented [on] TV."

In addition to the increasing number LGBT characters on scripted shows, which currently represents a little more than 3 percent of all leading and supporting characters on broadcast networks, there are also more openly gay actors and producers working in Hollywood, says Barrios.

Actor Jesse Tyler Ferguson plays the character Mitchell on the ABC prime time show "Modern Family." Like his on-screen role, Ferguson himself is openly gay.

"The opportunity to play not only a well developed gay character, but a dad, a son and brother was really appealing to me. ... I chose to play him very close to myself and I think that truthfulness was appealing to the creators," Ferguson told CNN.

However, Ferguson says his sexual orientation does not make him any more qualified to tackle a gay role than Eric Stonestreet, his straight co-star who plays Mitchell's partner Cameron.

"As a gay man and as someone who is an advocate for equality, truthfulness and fairness, I want to see more gay roles go to gay actors," Ferguson said in an e-mail. "But then on the flip side, as an actor, I want to still be given the opportunity to play roles that are straight."

In a recent interview on The Joy Behar Show Video, Stonestreet said he's excited he has been given the opportunity to portray one half of a committed gay couple raising a child -- a first, he said, for broadcast TV.

"Our goal is to make people laugh, but while we're making people laugh, if we can open a couple minds here and there, that's also an added benefit," he said.

And while shows like "Modern Family" are working to open peoples' minds about same-sex parents, the "L" and the "T," of LGBT, are still waiting for their TV time, said Hollywood casting director Tammara Billik.

It's very common for female characters to be portrayed as bisexuals instead of lesbians, she said.

"I wouldn't say it's because of a discomfort with lesbianism, it's just an interest in bisexuality," Billik said. "[People] think it's hot, and it gives characters a wide variety of storylines."

And as far as the "T," she said, "transgender people are not represented in our daily lives with the same frequency that gay and lesbian people are. It's harder to find an audience that will embrace a transgender character."

Sean Smith, the executive producer of ABC Family's "Greek," said he has loaned some of his own experiences as an openly gay man to the show. And when casting, an actor's sexual orientation does not come into play.

"When you're in casting, it's not appropriate or legal to say, 'Hey, are you gay?' Whether they're gay, straight, from the South, British or from Mars, it doesn't matter. The best person who captures that character gets the job."

And for Smith, straight actor Paul James was the best person for the role of Calvin Owens, a gay member of Omega Chi, a fictional fraternity on "Greek."

James said he doesn't think twice about the intimacy between him and the three actors he's made out with on the series. His girlfriend doesn't either. It's just acting, he says.

But with the exception of Neil Patrick Harris, who came out in 2006, playing a straight character on "How I Met Your Mother," straight actors are more often tapped for gay roles, rather than the other way around. Or so it seems.

"Many gay actors, who are not out in Hollywood, are afraid (coming out) will compromise their ability to get roles," Barrios said. "But [LGBT] actors need to feel as if they can be who they are and still make it in Hollywood or homophobia wins."

Both Ferguson and Smith identified themselves as gay before beginning careers in Hollywood, but Smith said he understands why some people are apprehensive about coming out once they're in the spotlight.

"People want to succeed and avoid any potential pitfalls, and coming out is definitely one that can draw attention to you that might make other people in this town fearful of hiring you," said Smith. "For me, I've never really questioned it. I've worked with great guys. For them it wasn't an issue, but I'm aware of other parts of this industry."

People want to watch characters they can relate to, said Smith, who was very excited to welcome "Modern Family" into his living room.

"Jesse and I ... get so many compliments from gay couples and lesbian couples that want to introduce us to their kids and thank us for representing them on TV for the first time," Stonestreet told Behar.

But still, "Modern Family" isn't hitting viewers over the head with Cameron and Mitchell's physical intimacy.

"We're the perfect show to just build it in naturally, not draw a bunch of attention to it," Stonestreet said.

For Ferguson, it's a non-issue.

"I want the viewers to know Mitchell and Cameron's sex and love life is just fine," Ferguson wrote. "They also have regular bowel movements, but that is something you don't see either."