Photo: Getty

While accepting a Trailblazer honor at Outfest’s Legacy Awards on Sunday in Los Angeles, Sean Hayes, best known for his portrayal of the endearingly effete Jack on Will & Grace, expressed regret for not having come out sooner. Hayes came out publicly in an Advocate profile in 2010, when he was 39—almost four years after Will & Grace wrapped its eight-season run. And while it’s hard to remember a time when Hayes’s sexuality was officially ambiguous, much less hold it against him, his time in the closet is clearly still on his mind.

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Hayes said during his acceptance speech, via The Hollywood Reporter:

[The Legacy Awards press release] said that I took the stereotypical gay sissy and made him human, lovable, flawed and real. While this may be true, I think you should’ve led with flawed because at the time, I was a young closeted actor having his first taste of a little success and unfortunately, in my mind, my lucky break was inextricably tied to me thinking that I had to stay in the closet in order to keep moving forward. Looking back at my choice to stay silent, I am ashamed and embarrassed. What was I thinking? As If any of you had any doubts. I mean, right, could a straight actor ever do this...

...When it comes to nights like tonight and honors like this, I’m consumed with what I didn’t do. 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. 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.

Coming out is a process, and everyone’s timeline is different. One thing that frequently restores my faith in humanity, however fleetingly, is that people, by and large, tend to forgive whatever minor deceptions that once helped obscure a person’s sexuality after that person has come out of the closet. All the insignificant bullshit tends to burn off in the light of the truth.

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Footage of Hayes’s speech can be streamed here: