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Zane Phillips is the future of gay Hollywood and an inspiring reminder of how far we’ve come

Zane Phillips
Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images

PRIDE’s Grand Marshal opens up about the pains and joys of being out in Tinseltown, coming out to his family, and how he’s fighting for his community.

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Zane Phillips may be a modern queer actor on the rise with breakout roles in Fire Island, Legacies, and Glamorous, but with his classic, chiseled good looks, he could just as easily be mistaken for an actor from the classic Hollywood era.

Like his Tinseltown forebears — Rock Hudson, Clark Gable, Tab Hunter, Montgomery Clift, and James Dean — Phillips has all the makings of a heartthrob, but with one major difference: unlike those actors, he is out and proud. In fact, he has never been in. Phillips serves as a reminder of the power — and that fight — for Pride that began in 1969 and continues today, and that even when it feels like the struggle is endless, we are making progress and we are winning.

James Dean, Montgomery Clift, Rock Hudson, and Zane Phillips

James Dean, Montgomery Clift, Rock Hudson, and Zane Phillips

Film Star Vintage; Public Domain; Courtesy of Netflix

Hollywood is littered with tragic stories of stars who had to live double or secret lives, who lived in terror of exposure, or knowing that being outed would mean the end of the careers and dreams they had worked so hard to achieve died in the closet. Unlike Hunter, Gable, Dean, and the rest, Phillips has been able to talk and live openly, sharing his queer joy and, most importantly to Phillips, with authenticity.

“Pride, for some people, means success. Pride, for some people, means visibility. Pride, for some people, means freedom from any of the bullshit. And I agree with all those things. But my particular journey with Pride has just been living a life of integrity,” Phillips tells PRIDE. “It was something that I felt like I had to learn, and I had to do it in some really difficult ways. But every time there’s a question of ‘oh god, am I making the right decision?’ Especially with being out in this industry...for me, I always just go back to the idea of integrity and that alignment of words and actions.”

For most queer actors who experience a similarly meteoric rise, there’s a moment when they have to decide whether or not to come out publicly. For Phillips, that moment never came because he’s always been out professionally, which he credits to his coming up in the theater scene in New York.

“There’s not really as much... of a culture of secrecy or culture of privacy. It’s the New York theater so it’s very gay,” he explains. When he made the move to film, the project again intrinsically enabled him to be out. “My first big thing out of the gate was Fire Island, and a big part of that film’s selling point was it was an all queer cast.” What that meant for Phillips is he never had to make that horrific decision that’s plagued so many actors over the decades — of whether to be out or risk being successful — something he’s incredibly grateful for. “I never really thought about it and no one ever came to me and were like, ‘Hey, might be time for you to go in the closet now.’ Nobody came to me with that, which I’m grateful for,” he says. “Because I do think, if I’d had that option, I might have considered it and I might have been in a much worse headspace, I think than I am now.”

But it’s also meant that Phillips is one of the young actors out there blazing a trail and setting the standard for what being out in Hollywood looks like. This comes with both risks and rewards. “There’s not really a model, a set pathway to be a young, out actor. I think we’re all just kind of finding our own way through it. That’s what I’m currently doing. I am really grateful for the opportunities I’ve been given,” he says.

Zane Phillips

Alberto Rodriguez/Variety via Getty Images

That’s not to say that Phillips hasn’t faced his share of struggles in Hollywood. “It’s funny... I’m not getting offers out the wazoo. It’s still a daily hustle,” he shares. “I’m like, alright, let me get back into the work. Let me not think about myself so much. And let me actually focus on my craft.”

Returning to his love and passion for the craft of acting as a way to center and ground himself has been a pattern in his life. Discovering the craft as a closeted teen proved to be a lifeline for Phillips. He was born and spent his childhood in Denver, Colorado, but as an adolescent, his family moved from the relatively progressive city to a small town in Texas called Fredericksburg, which came with plenty of culture shock. However, it was finding a local acting group and theater camp that would open up the world for him like never before.

“That was the first time that I’d really met a number of other queers around my own age. Of course, I wasn’t out at the time but there were a couple of guys who were. I remember being so drawn to the way that they carried themselves, and the openness,” he recalls. “I remember the way we were just so stupid, in the way that I guess straight boys are stupid with each other in their own kind of way, but I never really accessed that... but just being stupid in a very, I don’t know, specific way. I think that became the whole reason that I even wanted to start living life openly, was because I was like, ‘Oh they have fun. This is fun. It’s a fun way to live.’”

Zane Phillips in Fire Island

Courtesy of HULU

Finding that community was invaluable for Phillips, who reflects on how different and less fulfilling his life could have been had he not found it. “Acting brought me to a supportive community. It helped me to come to terms with myself because, without it, I wouldn’t have met a lot of the people who guided me to this place of being confident in myself and being and being okay with myself,” he says. “There’s a very real chance that I could have been, like, a math teacher in Texas, still not sure of what my identity is.”

“[There’s a] Socrates quote — I’m butchering this and any philosophy teacher that I’ve ever had would be pissed at me,” Phillips continues. “But there’s something about the idea of what a tragedy it would be to get to the end of your life and not know what your body is capable of. To me that extends to everything, like, what a pity it would be to get to the end of your life and not know what you’re capable of. I think I’m exploring what I’m capable of right now. And I don’t think I would have had the courage to do that otherwise.”

That early experience and the lessons it taught him about life, and how to get through hard times, resonates just as powerfully today for Phillips. “We can get so complicated with our own lives, we can get into like, ‘Oh, like, what is gonna make me money? And what is gonna make me successful?'” he asks. “I do think about my middle school self discovering this way of storytelling, and this way of engaging with the outside world, and it feels so simple and so pure. It’s a great grounding thought to have a great grounding focus to have.”

(L-R) Zane Phillips, Froy Gutierrez, Matt Rogers, and Eugene Lee Yang attend as Vanity Fair and Instagram Celebrate Vanities: A Night for Young Hollywood at Bar Marmont on March 06, 2024 in Los Angeles, California.

Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for Vanity Fair

While Phillips didn’t have a grand public coming out announcement, he talks about the profound and moving moment he came out to his father. “This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot. It just came on the one year of my dad’s passing, the first person that came out to my family was my dad,” he shares. Growing up, Phillips recalls that FOX News was often heard playing in his conservative home, though he describes his father as a “learned man” with a more nuanced approach to his conservatism.

“I remember just being with him in a hotel room in Asheville, North Carolina, and he just asked me, ‘Is there anything you want to tell me?’ and I was like, ‘You talking about the gay thing?’” he recalls. “The thing that really stood out to me was the fact that he started crying a little bit, and he was just so heartbroken that I had to go through this alone. To me, that’s the model for how we should love our kids. We don’t want X, Y, or Z for them. We just want them to know that we’re there. And we just want them to know that we’re there for them. It’s like a model that if I ever have kids, that’s what I want to take into it.”

Phillips recalls receiving the same kind of reflexive love and acceptance from his mother when he came out to her as well. “She was like, ‘If I have the choice between loving my children or keeping to some sort of dogma, of course I’m gonna choose loving my children.’ I’m really blessed to have the family that I do,” he says with a wistful note.

Zane Phillips at The Los Angeles LGBT Center Gala held at Shrine Auditorium & Expo Hall on May 18, 2024 in Los Angeles, California

Alberto Rodriguez/Variety via Getty Images

Part of Phillips’ gratitude no doubt stems from knowing how differently coming out could have gone, both personally and professionally, because queer people today are still facing discrimination and isolation. And as we head into an election year, it feels especially poignant and, frankly, fragile. However, Phillips has hope and is facing these next several months with a determination to fight for and alongside his community.

“The fact is that I’m a cis, white man in this country. Ultimately, if things are going to be bad for the queers, they’re not gonna be bad for me first, you know what I mean? So, identifying the ways in which we have power, utilizing that power, and solidifying that power around the people who may not have that — I think that’s the thing that we need to remember,” he counsels.

Zane Phillips attends Pier59 Studios' opening party for New York Fashion Week at Chelsea Piers on February 08, 2023 in New York City.

Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images

“This fear isn’t unfounded for a lot of people... so I think being able to protect each other should be the first order of business. Fear can be very paralyzing and I think taking action, making sure that you’re involved, locally or with your community, trying to give back ... that’s how we make sense of these things,” he adds.

One way that Phillips does this every day is simply by living his life out loud, visibly, boldly, and proudly queer. “I think it was Andrew Scott who said being queer is one of the greatest joys of my life and it's true,” he says. “To know queer people is to love them. To know the reality of who we are is to understand us and fall in love with us. I really do believe that.” We couldn't agree more.

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Rachel Shatto

EIC of PRIDE.com

Rachel Shatto, Editor in Chief of PRIDE.com, is an SF Bay Area-based writer, podcaster, and former editor of Curve magazine, where she honed her passion for writing about social justice and sex (and their frequent intersection). Her work has appeared on Elite Daily, Tecca, and Joystiq, and she podcasts regularly about horror on the Zombie Grrlz Horror Podcast Network. She can’t live without cats, vintage style, video games, drag queens, or the Oxford comma.

Rachel Shatto, Editor in Chief of PRIDE.com, is an SF Bay Area-based writer, podcaster, and former editor of Curve magazine, where she honed her passion for writing about social justice and sex (and their frequent intersection). Her work has appeared on Elite Daily, Tecca, and Joystiq, and she podcasts regularly about horror on the Zombie Grrlz Horror Podcast Network. She can’t live without cats, vintage style, video games, drag queens, or the Oxford comma.