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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Hollywood's "glass closet" may not be shattered, but with stars such as Ellen DeGeneres and T.R. Knight openly out and shows like "The L Word" proving popular in recent years, insiders say being gay or lesbian is no longer a career breaker for celebrities.
The California Supreme Court on Wednesday gave a final approval for gay marriages in the state, clearing the way for talk show host DeGeneres and her girlfriend of four years, actress Portia de Rossi, to marry as planned.
Last week actress Lindsay Lohan, 21, was the subject of widespread talk in celebrity magazines that she was having a lesbian affair with friend Samantha Ronson, prompting some in Hollywood to encourage her to go public with the relationship.
If she did, it might not hurt her career, as it most definitely would have only a few years ago. In fact, say many gay Hollywood players, it has not hurt theirs.
"After publicly coming out, I haven't noticed a difference," "Grey's Anatomy" star T.R. Knight told Reuters at an event to celebrate gay marriage in West Hollywood.
But Knight, who was forced by a colleague to disclose publicly he was gay, noted he had a steady job, which cannot be said for others.
Actor Rock Hudson kept his homosexuality a secret for decades for fear it would hurt his ability to win leading-man roles. His death to AIDS-related illness in 1985 shocked Americans, and when DeGeneres publicly came out in the late 1990s it caused a media sensation.
But by early this decade, TV show "Will & Grace," about the lives of a gay man and straight woman, had become a critical and audience hit, a sign of increasing public acceptance.
Still, experts say a "glass closet" exists for some actors, but because many openly gay celebrities such as Knight, DeGeneres, De Rossi and Rosie O'Donnell are breaking barriers that have stood for years, that closet is cracking.
Ilene Chaiken, creator and executive producer of "The L Word," the popular lesbian-themed show on the cable channel Showtime, said Hollywood's attitude toward gay content has improved and that soon any gay "stigma" will be irrelevant.
"Our kids think it's absurd gay people can't get married, and by the time they are the dominant consumer culture, most of these issues are going to be non-issues," she said.
But some actors, especially men, still fear coming out.
Film and TV fans are more likely to warm to a lesbian actress than a gay actor, the experts said. Women are less likely to feel threatened by a lesbian woman. Some men see them as sexy, and gay men as challenging their own sexuality.
Howard Bragman, a veteran Hollywood publicist who is openly gay, noted that Hollywood still has no shining example of a megastar leading man who came out of the closet and thrived in his career.
Still, in recent years, a few gay actors such as Knight and Neil Patrick Harris, who plays a womanizing man about town on TV's "How I Met Your Mother," have remained high-profile stars since breaking out of the glass closet.
Compare that to actor Leslie Jordan, 53, of the former NBC program "Will & Grace" and author of the recently released book "My Trip Down the Pink Carpet," who faced steep adversity when he stepped off the bus in Hollywood more than 25 years ago.
Jordan has always been openly gay, but early in his career the word "gay" was not even part of the casting vocabulary, he said. Gay parts were called "mama's boy" or "Truman Capote" roles, but it was obvious who they were for, he said.
Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Cynthia Osterman