Following a revelation that only 57% of gay actors felt that they could be open about their sexuality with their agents, the actors’ union Equity has launched a new initiative to support those LGBT actors who choose to come out.

Max Beckmann, the equalities officer for the union, told the Guardian that it was about “giving members the confidence to come out, and if they do, that we’ll be there to offer them support.”

“If actors experience homophobic bullying we would be able to raise that with the employer or if there was a case of member discrimination we would offer them legal assistance,” she added.

In the original survey, while 81% were open about their sexuality and/or gender identity, more than a third had experienced some form of homophobic bullying or harassment at the workplace, half of it from other performers.

Chris New, whose recent film Weekend was a critical success, said he knew of a gay actor in Los Angeles, who is “taking very visible steps to go back to the closet.” He also told the Guardian that many had warned him about being open in America. “They say: ‘Maybe you should back off from playing too many gay roles’ and ‘Don’t do too much gay press’.”

In response to the initiative by Equity, gay actors Antony Sher and Sophie Ward have both said that sexuality would only cease to be an issue when more actors come out of the closet. This, of course, is in marked contrast to what Rupert Everett said in 2009. ”It’s not that advisable to be honest,” he had said. “I would not advise any actor necessarily, if he was really thinking of his career, to come out.” To which Sher responded today by saying that although he was sorry for the way Everett felt, he didn’t think the latter had done all that badly by playing “outrageous and camp characters.”

Meanwhile, New, who was turned down recently for the part of Jesus in a US television show and suspects that this was on account of his sexuality, he says actors shouldn’t be quick to cry homophobia for not getting cast in coveted roles. Equally, he thinks that gay actors shouldn’t be obsessed about playing heterosexual leads. ”I have played quite a few gay roles but they’ve been really good. Weekend is a really good gay role. Bent is incredible. Obviously I do get sent scripts which have pretty rubbish gay roles. All you can do is say yes to the things you want to do and no to the things you don’t,” he said.

Malcolm Sinclair, the president of Equity, thought that being honest about sexuality and gender identity would impact an actor’s work only positively. “Acting at its finest is about telling the truth, so being honest about yourself is always going to benefit your craft,” he said.