Sean Hayes

To fans of the sitcom Will & Grace, it always seemed like a given that Sean Hayes was gay. How could he not be? He was just too good at playing Jack McFarland, the flamboyant, out-and-proud neighbor who often stole the show from the series’ nominal leads. But off-screen, the Emmy winner — who’s about to start his run in a Broadway revival of Promises, Promises — bristled at the idea of being labeled gay or straight by Hollywood and always refused to comment on his personal life — until now.

In this month’s Advocate cover story (by erstwhile EWer Ari Karpel), Hayes finally opens up — a little. While he never quite gives a “Yep, I’m gay”-style soundbite, the actor does make a few terse comments about his sexuality. “I am who I am,” Hayes tells the mag. “I was never in, as they say. Never.”

He also has a few choice words for the gay media — including The Advocate itself — which has long criticized his decision to stay silent: “I feel like I’ve contributed monumentally to the success of the gay movement in America, and if anyone wants to argue that, I’m open to it,” he says. “What more do you want me to do? Do you want me to stand on a float? And then what? It’s never enough.”

Through it all, Hayes sounds like he’s still very much upset over Hollywood’s inability to see him as anything beside Jack. But as a loyal W&G fan, I have to ask: Is that really so bad? It’s sad that the industry is still too close-minded to cast actors in roles regardless of sexual orientation, but Hayes still ought to be awfully proud of his biggest pop culture accomplishment: creating one of the funniest, most memorable characters in TV history. For eight years, the series provided a showcase for his world-class comic talents — not to mention singing and dancing chops. He earned an Emmy and four Screen Actors’ Guild awards, along with legions of fans, and (we’re assuming) plenty of nice paychecks. It was an opportunity that most actors can only dream of. And while there’s no doubt that Hayes’ talents go beyond the limits of just that one character (his turn as Jerry Lewis in 2002’s Martin and Lewis showed off a neglected knack for drama), we’ll still always appreciate him for giving us Jack. Just Jack.

What do you think, PopWatchers? Was Hayes right to keep quiet about his personal life all these years? And would you like to see him in more mainstream parts in the future?