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Nathan Lane Praises ‘Birdcage’ Co-Star Robin Williams for Protecting Him Before He Came Out as Gay

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Nathan Lane came out of the closet to his mother and two brothers at age 21, and says he marched in Pride parades as far back as the late 1970s. But it wasn’t until he started playing gay roles and saw his career explode thanks to Mike Nichols’ 1996 film The Birdcage that he experienced rampant speculation about his sexuality.

“I certainly wish I had been braver at the time,” Lane said while accepting a career achievement trophy during the LGBTQ+ Celebration of Cinema & Television at Fairmont Century Plaza on Friday. “Like when Oprah Winfrey on her show asked me why I was so good at all that girly stuff in The Birdcage. If I could go back in time, the answer I wish I had given is: The reason I’m good at all that stuff is because I’m a wonderful actor but if you’re asking me if I’m gay, the answer is ‘yes’ and proud of it.”

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The actor, 68, eventually took the step to come out publicly after the murder of Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old gay student at the University of Wyoming who was beaten and left to die near Laramie on Oct. 6, 1998. “I’d already come out on a personal level, why not come out publicly now that I was the so-called public figure, if it might be meaningful to others in the struggle. I did, and I’m glad I did,” he added.

Lane was among a cadre of LGBTQ talent that took a spin in the spotlight during the inaugural event, presented by the Critics Choice Association. He shared a stage with showrunner award winner Abe Sylvia (Palm Royale), TV supporting performance award winner Carl Clemons-Hopkins (Hacks), TV breakthrough performance award winner Chris Perfetti (Abbott Elementary), rising star award winner Fernando Carsa, social justice award winner George Takei, industry leadership honoree Henry R. Muñoz III, TV host award winner Kristen Kish, breakthrough director award winner Luke Gilford (National Anthem), Vanguard Award honoree Michaela Jaé Rodriguez (Loot), breakthrough performance honoree Nava Mau (Baby Reindeer), TV director award winner Oliver Hermanus (Mary & George), TV writer honoree Shakina (Quantum Leap), producers award winners from Fellow Travelers, Ron Nyswaner, Matt Bomer, Daniel Minahan and Robbie Rogers, Trailblazer Award winners from RuPaul’s Drag Race, Fenton Bailey, Randy Barbato and Tom Campbell, and reality TV award winners from We’re Here including Johnnie Ingram, Stephen Warren, Peter LoGreco, Sasha Velour, Priyanka, Jaida Essence Hall and Latrice Royale.

Other notable names who attended and presented included Charlize Theron, Greg Berlanti, Paramount and CBS chief George Cheeks, Alan Yang, Charlie Plummer, Jeremy Podeswa, Ricky Martin, Ronan Farrow, Sheryl Lee Ralph and others. Sean Hayes had the honor of presenting to Lane, who also credited several of his famous friends for helping him make the transition to an out and proud public figure.

“I had expressed my fears beforehand to the late, great Robin Williams, who kindly said to me, ‘Don’t worry, Nathan. You don’t have to discuss it if you’re not ready.’ And he went on to protect me whenever he could, throughout the awkward moments,” Lane said of his Birdcage co-star who died in August 2014.

Lane praised Bette Midler for helping him shrug off the haters. “One of the first lessons I learned about being a public figure was to try to ignore what people write about you. As Bette Midler once said to me, angrily, ‘Don’t read that shit. You can go on the internet right now and find The Society to Assassinate Bette Midler. What are you going to do? Fuck ’em!’ She has a way of getting to the heart of things.”

The inaugural event — sponsored by Delta Air Lines, Fairmont Century Plaza, Fiji Water, Here Media, Milagro Tequila, NEP Sweetwater and Starz — was hosted by Sherry Cola. The celebration was presented by the Critics Choice Association, and is designed to honor achievements from the LGBTQ+ entertainment community in front of and behind the camera. Its part of the group’s efforts to shine a light on underrepresented talent with similar film and TV awards shows for Black, Latino and Asian Pacific creatives. The LGBTQ show will stream on HereTV on June 21.

See other moments from Friday night below.

The creative team from Showtime’s critically acclaimed hit series Fellow Travelers received a producers award. On hand to accept following a tribute from Greg Berlanti, far right, were the show’s star and executive producer Matt Bomer, creator and executive producer Ron Nyswaner, director Daniel Minahan and executive producer Robbie Rogers.
Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for Critics Choice Association

Charlize Theron, center, poses with (from left to right) Sasha Velour, Stephen Warren, Jaida Essence Hall, Johnnie Ingram, Priyanka, Latrice Royale and Peter LoGreco.
Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for Critics Choice Association

George Takei accepts a social justice award.
Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images for Critics Choice Association

Abe Sylvia accepts a showrunner award from Ricky Martin for his work on Palm Royale.
Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images for Critics Choice Association

Chris Perfetti accepts a breakthrough performance award from Emmy winner Sheryl Lee Ralph for his work on Abbott Elementary.
Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images for Critics Choice Association

Golden Globe winner Michaela Jaé Rodriguez accepts a Vanguard Award.
Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images for Critics Choice Association


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