Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman made a bold choice a decade ago: He would be both an actor and openly gay. While this may not seem as bold a move in 2016, Bowyer-Chapman said things were different for actors when he started out.
“I had examples from a very young age of gay actors or personalities coming out in late 90s and early 2000s who faced a lot of backlash and didn’t have a lot of support and risked ruining their careers," he told NBC OUT.
In spite of that, Bowyer-Chapman made the decision to proudly and openly be himself. “I came to the decision at a very young age that that could not be my story. That could not be my path, so it was very much a no-brainer to just be out.”
That decision has paid off, and Bowyer-Chapman now stars in Lifetime's hit drama, "UnREAL" - where his character happens to be openly gay.
“As an actor, it was important to me to play gay characters, because growing up it was something I never really saw done on television and in film, and I was questioning why there weren’t more people like me."
"UnREAL" centers on a fictional dating show, titled "Everlasting," where there's as much drama behind the scenes as there is in front of the camera. Bowyer-Chapman's character is a producer on the "reality" show.
“When [the executive producer] called me and told me they were rewriting the character of Jay to be an openly gay man, and reflect me essentially, that was a dream," he said. "I always knew this day would come. It’s always been my intention to play a strong, openly gay character on television and film."
"UnREAL" was a critical hit in its first season and had serious steam going into its second season, which was multiplied when it was reported the show was introducing an African American suitor – something ABC's "The Bachelor" has never done.
“I didn’t realize there has never been a black suitor or bachelorette or any person of color in that position on reality shows," Bowyer-Chapman told NBC OUT. “People of color – without question – should be included [as] leading love interests in reality shows, scripted television and film.”
"UnREAL" was renewed for a third season before its second season premiered on June 6, and Bowyer-Chapman said he's excited about what's to possibly come.
“We could potentially have a transgender suitor, and I think that would be interesting ... because Jay as a gay man would be an ally to a transgender suitor," he explained.
Whether it's through his acting, writing or producing, Bowyer-Chapman said he is deeply committed to telling stories about people of color and those in the LGBTQ community "in ways that have not necessarily been told in mainstream media."
He is also committed to pulling up others who aspire to work in the industry and has started a scholarship for LGBTQ-identifying actors of color.
“I hope ... this scholarship will ignite ... a new passion within the LGBTQ community across America to take the power back into our own hands and change the narrative.”
"UnREAL" airs Mondays at 10 p.m. (9 p.m. CDT) on Lifetime.