While the stars from your favorite daytime dramas were getting all gussied up to the nines last weekend to attend the Daytime Emmy awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, a Daytime Emmy winner himself, The Young and the Restless Greg Rikaart (Kevin) was attending another big awards presentation. The out activist and television star was in New Orleans last Saturday to receive the Human Rights Campaign Visibility Award for his efforts and work on behalf of the LGBT community and equal rights. HRC is the largest LGBT civil rights advocacy group and political lobbying organization in the United States.
As daytime fans know, Rikaart came out publicly last June when the Supreme Court struck down a key part of DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act), by tweeting a selfie of himself with partner and television comedy writer, Robert Sudduth. During his HRC award speech, Greg related what transpired that led to the moment that he posted the picture – some wine … history being made with DOMA and being in a celebratory mood … washing his dog with tomato juice after it was skunked … and more! In addition, Rikaart related to the HRC audience that he was both the bullied and the bully at times during his younger years, and how he came to terms with it years later by apologizing to the guy he hurt.
On-Air On-Soaps caught up with Greg during Y&R’s on-set celebration for their 9 record breaking Emmy victories! When we bantered about what the future may hold for Kevin Fisher now that Elizabeth Hendrickson has left the building as Chloe, it would seem the time could not be more ripe for Greg’s activist and professional career to collide, and for Y&R to make the character of Kevin gay; which would in turn give the number one soap opera a mainstay central character that can represent a very under-represented segment of the population on daytime soaps. Will it ever happen? Time will tell! But for now, here’s what Greg had to share about his Y&R pals, if he were given the opportunity to play gay in Genoa City, and most of all some insight into the talking points said in his inspiring HRC speech! (You can watch Greg’s speech in the video following the end of this interview)
So you were not at the Daytime Emmys because you were receiving an incredible honor! When you learned that Amelia Heinle ((Victoria) won Outstanding Supporting Actress, what did you think? She beat out two other heavyweight talents you have worked with: Elizabeth Hendrickson (and you were part of her Emmy reel) and Melissa Claire Egan (Chelsea)!
GREG: All three of them are great. Frankly, I would have been happy to see any of the three of them win. They are all so talented. I think what Amelia said in her speech was true: we all helped tell that story together. So seeing anyone of us getting an award for it is wonderful.
How was it for you on Elizabeth’s last day on set? It had to be very difficult. You two spent so much time together, and created such a unique relationship between Kevin and Chloe.
GREG: It was really sad. We had a tough time saying goodbye. She was a big part of my experience here at Y&R for the last five years. So seeing her go was losing a friend, losing a scene partner, and partner in crime.
So now are you looking forward to what the future holds for Kevin? Hopefully, there will be major story for him!
GREG: Let’s hope so! Frankly, I didn’t feel professionally that the character of Chloe needed to leave for Kevin to have story, but since she did, I am grateful for the opportunities that may lie ahead for me and Kevin with Y&R.
Have you given the writers any suggestions of what you would like your next story to be? Hint-Hint!
GREG: That’s not my job to do that, but I think the writings on the wall for what people want to see.
I think so, too. So you would like to tell the story of Kevin being gay? Would you have any reservations with it?
GREG: I would welcome it whole-heartedly. Whether or not they want to tell that story is up to them, and not up to me, but I would so welcome that challenge.
I had interviewed former Y&R head writer Maria Bell for a piece for Pride Magazine a few years back, which was about gay characters on soaps, or the lack thereof. When I asked her about if she would have a major character on the show be gay, she said she would love to do it, but that the show got feedback from viewers which said otherwise when they expressed: “We don’t mind a gay character, but just not on our show.” And since that interview with Maria, there has still been no change at the number one daytime drama in terms of a LGBT central character.
GREG: Amelia Heinle and I were just in Monte Carlo, and that was the one question that all the reporters asked me. And, my go-to answer is my partner Rob’s. Rob is a comedy writer for TV, and whenever that question comes up about whether there will be a gay character on Y&R, he says, “It’s 2014, and why doesn’t the number one daytime show have a gay character?” Frankly, I think it’s far more interesting to do that with a character that the fans already know than to bring on a gay character that no one knows of. The fans view the characters like family. So if there is a “family” member that suddenly revealed something about themselves that no one knew about before, it mirrors what happens in real life. I think the powerfulness of that message to the audience of this show would be way more profound than just introducing a new character that just happens to be gay. The audience would go on the same journey that a family member would go on.
If they already care about the character then it makes it more palpable…
GREG: That is exactly my point … we are on the same page.
In your HRC Visibility Award speech, you talk about a young classmate years ago named Josh who you had bullied. The story takes a touching turn when you reveal you reached out to Josh many years later to say you were sorry for how you treated him. What prompted the decision to get in touch with Josh?
GREG: I was sharing with some people that experience, and how sad I was. And somebody said to me, “Have you ever thought to apologize to him? Have you ever thought about how healing that could be?” I thought, “Wow! That is a great idea.” And so I did. He could not have been any more kind and well-receiving of my apology. And so again, even though it brings up some sadness for me, the story has a happy ending and I like sharing it. Furthermore, two people at the HRC event in New Orleans came up to me and shared their story, and had similar experiences, and had reached out and apologized years later.
You were very honest in your HRC speech about how it felt when you were bullied as a kid, and how you to survive, in turn became the bully.
GREG: That is why the cycle is so vicious. When you are a child you are trying to survive, and you don’t know the correct tools, so you think that maybe if someone is making you feel bad, then it’s making them feel good. Then, you repeat the cycle with someone you think is weaker, or more of a target than you are. I was most excited for my sister to watch the speech with my nephews who are eleven and twelve. I don’t know if that’s been their experience, but if anything like that has been, then hopefully this will help to take the air out of that for them.
OK, please elaborate from your HRC speech: how did it come about that you made the decision to tweet the picture of you and Rob that basically told the public that you were gay?
GREG: Literally the day DOMA was struck down, it was the end of the night and the dog did get skunked, and Rob and I were feeling celebratory, and we had some wine. Coming out publicly was something that I always anticipated happening at some point because I wasn’t closeted; and then I just made this bold move. I think in my own way just being who I was, and even when I tweeted that photo, it got back to me that some friends took me to task a little bit for not saying, “I’m gay”, which I think is unfortunate because again, I don’t think anyone has any obligation to do, or say, or not say, what they don’t want to. I think I was pretty clear in what I was doing. Again, pick your battles. I am not the enemy when I am one of the people who I hope is helping things get better.
In that moment, did you ask Rob what he thought about you making the decision to tweet the photo of the two of you?
GREG: Actually before the Rose’ wine, I said, “Hey, I was thinking about maybe doing something tonight in celebration of DOMA being overturned!” He said, “Great, I support you in whatever you want to do.” As always, I had his full support.
Have you ever been concerned then, or worried, how it would be perceived if you came out publicly as a gay man, and how it would go over with the fans of Y&R? I would think you must have.
GREG: Sure. I had someone who was a casting director say to me drunkenly at a party that she would never knowingly cast a gay actor in a straight role. So there is absolutely a fear for self-preservation. Then you get to a point where you grow up and mature, and you realize that you have more confidence in what your value is, and what you bring to the table. And for me, personally, my life is about more than my job, or my career. I think being an actor and an activist are two things that are important to me, and rather than see the two of them in conflict with one another, I am going to make them work for one another. Things that I say politically, or to further the Equal Rights Movement, have more weight because of what I do professionally and what my career is. Again, rather than have those two things fight each other, I decided I wanted to have a way to have the two of them work together and so far … so good.
What was the response you received when you came forward with the photo of you and Rob from the fans?
GREG: I would say it has been overwhelming positive from the Y&R and soap fan base. There are a few people who would like to hide behind their religion as a veil for their bigotry. But for the most part, people are, and have been incredibly supportive. I am really glad that I did it.
Watching your HRC speech, it brought up some issues that the LGBT youth still face today. I could not go to grade school for like seven months or so because as I was bullied so badly. I applaud the work you are doing with the organization, GLSEN because of what they do for children and teenagers to help them continue their education in a safe place without fear of feeling different, or being harmed. I grew up decades ago and in the Midwest, where there was no one to turn to at that time in the school system that would help. How did you feel as a kid in the school system?
GREG: I didn’t ever feel I had an advocate at my school that I could ever talk to. I have learned that you may not be able to completely wipe out bullying, but any kid that is being bullied and knows that they have a voice, and that somebody is listening to them, could be the difference between life and death.
You got into a huge Twitter feud with Days of our Lives Melissa Reeves (Jennifer) over the Chick-fil-A controversy, and you seem to keep other people on their toes and are willing to take people to task for their opposing opinions via social media! But you are also very intelligent and know how to go toe to toe on political and social issues! Did you know when you sent out that tweet about Melissa it would cause such a big stir?
GREG: For me it’s about: Let me challenge someone on their beliefs and see if I can get them to move a little bit. If somebody can give me an argument that supports a belief that I don’t believe in, I am always up for that if it’s well thought out and reasonable. Then, I will consider it. The whole Chick-fil-A situation felt so aggressively hateful, and it was an issue I had been following, and then after I saw that tweet that Melissa Reeves sent out I wanted to say something about it. Then following that someone had asked if I would give a more detailed response to that, and I was happy to. Then I started to write it and the more I wrote, the more impassioned I got. Then I thought, “I don’t want to give this just to the person that was asking. I would rather have this try to reach a bigger audience.” So I sent it to a friend at the HRC and they were able to get it more visibility than I would have been able to get on my own, and that’s how it all started, I guess.
So coming back to full circle here to Kevin on Y&R, it would seem that if they were to make the character gay it could provide great drama for the show!
GREG: Yes, and even have different points of view from people in Kevin’s life. Maybe there is a character that doesn’t support it, and has a tough time with it, because there will inevitably be people in the viewing audience who can relate to that character and that character could take the journey of understanding and full acceptance, and love and support. In turn, that could help someone in our audience that might need that kind of guidance.
Have there been any talks at Y&R that you know of about making Kevin gay?
GREG: Not that I know of. If it’s not a story they want to tell, then they are not going to tell it. I don’t think it’s the only avenue that Kevin could go down, but it certainly would be interesting … in my opinion.
Watch Greg’s speech as he receives his HRC Visibility Award below! Then, let us know, do you hope The Young and the Restless make the decision to make the character of Kevin Fisher gay? And what did you think of Greg’s touching and important speech? Share your thoughts below!