The “Will & Grace” star said he was 18 when he told his family the news in 1988.
“It’s so cliché that it was during Thanksgiving weekend,” Hayes said. “My mom said I needed to go see a therapist. She wrote me a 10-page letter, both sides on legal pad size paper. ‘This is not what God …’ You know, the whole uneducated view of it.”
Despite his mom’s initial reaction, Hayes said she’s now extremely supportive of him.
“She became educated and had friends who [were] gay people,” he said. “She was like, ‘Oh I see. You’re just like me,’ and all that. It became fine and wonderful, and then she became so supportive and awesome.”
In 2010, Hayes came out publicly. He later apologized to his fans and supporters for “coming out too late.”
“I was so young,” Hayes said of playing a gay character on “Will & Grace” years before that. “It made me go back in the closet [with the media] because I was so overwhelmed at 26 or 27. I didn’t want the responsibility, I didn’t know how to handle the responsibility of speaking for the gay community. I always felt like I owed them a huge apology for coming out too late.”
While accepting the Trailblazer Award at Outfest’s 2016 Legacy Awards, Hayes said he was “ashamed and embarrassed” that he hadn’t come out sooner.
“Looking back at my choice to stay silent, I am ashamed and embarrassed. What was I thinking?” he said in the speech.
“I know I should’ve come out sooner, and I’m sorry for that, especially when I think about the possibility that I might have made a difference in someone’s life,” Hayes said, adding, “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, so hopefully life is as much about what we do after we learn those lessons.”
Still, Hayes is proud of the work his show, “Will & Grace,” has done and how it can be a frame of reference for someone who is coming out.
“If you don’t have the words to explain it to your family, you can say, ‘Like “Will & Grace,”’ or ‘Like Ellen DeGeneres,’ or whosever out,” Hayes said. “There’s so many more examples now to help people and give them tools to communicate to kids and their families that being gay is as normal as being straight.”
Hayes revived his “Will & Grace” role as Jack McFarland in 2017 when NBC brought back the series after an 11-year hiatus. Even before the new episodes premiered, the network ordered a second season of the show.
Head over to People for the rest of Hayes’ interview.