The Walking Dead‘s newest star wants to use his emerging fame for good.
Daniel Newman, who first appeared on the hit AMC show last season, is opening up for the first time about being gay and how he hopes to inspire others who are struggling to be themselves.
“I don’t want to be hidden and have to dodge the question,” he tells PEOPLE of publicly revealing his sexuality. “I’m proud of who I am.”
“I grew up in a very conservative southern Georgia home, and it didn’t really matter what your sexuality was — it just wasn’t open conversation,” Newman says. “It was always, ‘Don’t talk about your private life,’ so I was so used to that. I didn’t really think about it really as hiding. I never thought of myself as being in a closet or hidden. It just was that I didn’t really feel like talking about my private life.”
“I’ve seen such a revolution in the last five years of the LGBT community — it’s been such a transformation. It’s gone from something that was a negative thing before to something that is so celebrated and a part of our culture now,” he continues. “Even though I felt before that I couldn’t talk about my private life, I was like, ‘You know what, this is something that everyone should be comfortable with, being 100 percent themselves and authentic.’ ”
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Newman knew it was time to be upfront when “I started doing a lot of volunteering and helping out the LGBT youth shelters and I remember helping some kids and one said, ‘It’s so sweet of you to be an ally and support gay and lesbian kids,’ ” the actor recalls. “And I was like, ‘What? Why is it so sweet of me?’ They said, ‘Well, because you’re straight.’ ”
“I said, ‘I’m not straight,’ ” Newman continues. “Then they said, ‘Well, why haven’t you ever said that in public? I’ve never read that anywhere.’ That was just a big wake up call for me that these kids need every role model that they can get.”
Landing a recurring role on The Walking Dead has changed Newman’s other ways as well.
“It’s been insane,” he says of joining the cast. “The fan base is just massive. They’ve only shown my character a little bit so far, and people are already recognizing me. I now have a million fans on social media. It’s been a huge blessing. I couldn’t be on a greater show. It’s the most eclectic group that celebrates all walks of life: white, black, Asian, gay, straight … every single diversity they just celebrate it all and highlight people. It’s the greatest experience I’ve had in my career.”
“The Walking Dead has given me a huge platform with social media. Now when I put a tweet out we get huge donations for these programs,” he says. “It’s important to be in touch with what’s going on in your neighborhood and communities and to give back to people who are destitute and who need somebody to be there.”
In fact, Newman hopes to inspire others the way open LGBT performers have inspired him.
“It’s fine to keep your private life private if it doesn’t affect anybody, but when there’s all these kids out there that are still needing remodels and needing people to look to to know that they’re not alone. Being open and public about it will help so many people. It’s just so essential,” he says. “You really are making a huge difference in other people’s lives by doing that. I know looking at other actors and performers, them being open and honest about LGBT has been life-changing for me.”
“I have an incredible boyfriend now. He’s amazing. So, yeah, I’m gay,” Newman adds. “I think it’s really important in our culture, at this time, that everybody is just honest about who they are. It’s such an amazing community and it doesn’t make sense to hide who you are.”
The Walking Dead airs Sundays (9 p.m. ET) on AMC.