Thom Bierdz has lived a life that’s nearly as dramatic as that of the character he portrays on “The Young and the Restless,” Phillip Chancellor III.
An openly gay actor playing an openly gay man in a top-rated daytime drama is a relatively new development for any network, but CBS has embraced Bierdz and shown support for his character. Bierdz is more than a handsome leading man and has overcome great personal tragedy.
In 1989, his youngest brother Troy, a paranoid schizophrenic, beat their mother to death with a baseball bat and in May 2002, his other brother Craig committed suicide after being plagued with depression. The events of Thom’s life led him to write his account of this very dark time of his life giving his memoir the title “Forgiving Troy.” Bierdz used this as a vehicle not only to cope with his own past but to help those who read his deeply profound work heal their own wounds. Bierdz is the recipient of the Best Autobiography Award from USA Book News for “Forgiving Troy” and the Visibility Award from the Human Rights Campaign for his contributions to charity work for human rights, through his art, his acting and his writing.
Bierdz works closely with the national nonprofit “Out for Work.” The mission of “Out for Work” is to function as a “complimentary component in the total educational experience of LGBT students, primarily in the development, evaluation, initiation and implementation of career plans and opportunities.” Catch Bierdz creating a painting to be auctioned off to support Out for Work on Saturday, March 6, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Mova Lounge (formerly Halo) at 1435 P St., N.W. Bierdz will also sign copies of “Forgiving Troy” Sunday, March 7, at the Books-A-Million, Dupont Circle location from 3-5 p.m.
DC Agenda talked recently to Thom about “Forgiving Troy,” being an out gay actor and his support for “Out for Work.”
DC Agenda: How has sharing your story aided your own healing process?
Thom Bierdz: There are stigmas to mental illness and I want to be able to give a voice to individuals and families who deal with this every day. I hope that by sharing my story that some of the shame, guilt and loneliness that often accompany these issues will be lessened for those that read “Forgiving Troy.” I believe that healing is possible no matter what the circumstance is. It’s amazing how much my brother has transformed from the time that he killed our mother in 1989 to who he is today, which is beautiful for me to see such a change for the good. This was a story I just had to share because the one who forgives is the one who benefits most.
DC Agenda: How has your family dealt with the healing process?
Bierdz: I think my family feels it is better left buried, but this is consistent with my personality. I want to talk about it, which is why I’m an out gay actor, because I’m not comfortable with secrets. I want everyone to know everything about everybody.
DC Agenda: Describe your involvement with “Out for Work.”
Bierdz: Their mission is to promote workplace equality for LGBT people and the reason that fits so well with me is because right now, after 20 years I’m back on CBS — a gay man playing a gay character. My character on “The Young and the Restless,” Phillip Chancellor III, is a multi-dimensional man, dealing with family issues, he’s a father, an ex-husband, and a son. The cast and crew have been so supportive of me, personally and business wise. Everyone deserves the kind of acknowledgement and support that I am getting from CBS. That is why I support “Out For Work” because everyone deserves that kind of support from every business. The way that I’ll be offering my support is by coming to DC and painting an original work during the event that will be auctioned off at the end of the night for the organization as well as the community center.
DC Agenda: Do you feel CBS has been supportive all along or did you have to work hard for a change in attitudes?
Bierdz: Overall I would say CBS has been as supportive as any other network out there. The Young and the Restless has had 37 years on the air without a gay character and now they do so this is very exciting. I love the head writer in charge and the producers; it’s all really great and very supportive.
DC Agenda: What was your coming out process like?
Bierdz: I had a conversation with God right before I turned 18 and I said “I feel like I’m going to be a famous person and I’m gay. Is that OK? If not, send a sign and stop me.” Well nothing happened so I felt I had God’s permission. It’s interesting because it’s 30 years later now and now is when I’m really beginning to do what I wanted to do since I was 17 and that is make gay rights and activism my priority. I was closeted in Hollywood for a while, I know most actors still are and that’s their career choice but I want to show other actors that there is support and opportunity for coming out and still being successful. I work with some closeted gay actors and it’s not my place to speak for anyone but myself but all gay people should know that the support is there and will continue to come more and more all the time.