My fiancé and I are five months away from getting married. We are celebrating Pride Month by watching one of the queerest shows ever created, Netflix’s “Sense8.” One of the main eight of the ensemble cast, Lito — played by Miguel Angel Silvestre — is a Mexican movie star famous for his gratuitously violent, overtly sexual and overall machismo-perpetuating films. Spoiler alert: He is also a gay man living a closeted life until he is accidentally outed in the latter half of the first season. After his outing, his publicist and agency tell him it would be smarter to continue to lie about his sexuality because coming out will ruin his career.
The reactions from his agency and publicist are all too real for the queer community. This is why it is so crucial to discuss how the media, and the world, have reacted to young entertainers like Lil Nas X, Joshua Bassett and, most importantly, JoJo Siwa, coming out as LGBTQ+.
To truly grasp the importance of Siwa, Lil Nas X and Bassett, we must first take a trip back to April 14, 1997. Time Magazine released a print cover with a bright red border, white background and bright red letters reading “Yep, I’m gay” on the left-hand side; comedian and actress Ellen DeGeneres is center framed in all black with white shoes. Ellen took many risks in coming out: her show’s cancellation after her character also came out, multiple sponsors pulling out of the episode’s airing, an incredible amount of hate mail, death threats and a bomb threat sent to the studio.
For so many years, LGBTQ+ celebrities choosing to come out publicly meant taking the risk of ruining everything they had worked for — so, hoping to continue living their dreams, many had to live a lie. During his time as an NSYNC member, Lance Bass was told to pretend to be straight so he wouldn’t ruin the band’s image as teen heartthrobs. Gay actor Colten Haynes told the Huffington Post, “I would be at a party…. And I’d see Lauren Conrad… my old manager at the time was like, ‘Oh, take a picture with her.’” He went on to explain how his manager planted a story on how the pair were dating for roughly six months just to keep gay rumors away.
A lot of the discussions about sexualities and celebrity status revolved around the brand you were tied to. Disney Channel star Raven told lstudiopresents that there were, on average, “…15 people dictating what I should and should not look like. If I did whatever I want, I’m not going to sell because it doesn’t go with the brand.” Which brings me to 2021, where we finally get to see queer celebrities come out without their careers being (immediately) ruined.
Lil Nas X
Lil Nas X made waves in mainstream radio with the success of his genre-bending country hip-hop banger “Old Town Road.” The song went viral on various social media apps and became Billboard’s Hot 100’s longest-running No. 1 song for 17 weeks. Lil Nas X surprised many by going to the Grammys in a bright pink crop top-styled Versace cowboy suit. The rapper then came out on the last day of Pride 2020 via tweet. What he did was genius: He had already established himself as a groundbreaking artist, and now he could use this momentum to expand his musical creativity and also finally accept himself.
This is exactly what he has done with his most recent singles, “Montero (Call Me by Your Name)” and “Sun Goes Down,” which are not only overtly queer love letters to his closeted self but also deep commentaries on internalized homophobia and racism. To see a young, successful gay Black artist expose himself, his shame and now his confidence in his sexuality — the same way heterosexual men and women have done for years — is a much-needed breath of fresh air. He is signed with Columbia Records and his first studio album should be releasing this year.
Unlike Lil Nas X, Joshua Bassett has spent most of his blossoming career amid multiple rumors of a heterosexual love triangle between himself and fellow Disney co-stars Olivia Rodrigo and Sabrina Carpenter. In the past, being part of the Disney label has usually meant you’d be prepped and primed as a pristine brand ambassador for the House of Mouse. Disney has slowly started to open its mind by incorporating a slew of subtle or queer-coded side characters within its projects, like the assumed gay moms in “Finding Dory,” Lefou in the live-action “Beauty and The Beast” or the groundbreaking character Cyrus Goodman on “Andi Mack.” (See the various “Disney has its first LGBTQ+ character for the 50th time” articles.)
When Joshua Bassett, during an interview with Clever News, spoke on what he admired so much about Harry Styles, he very cutely said, “I think that he’s just a nice guy that doesn’t say too much but when he talks, like, it matters. … Also, he’s hot. I guess this is also my coming out video.” Speculation of his sexuality began immediately, prompting Bassett to express to his fans that he isn’t fully aware of what he is, which is okay, and to remind everyone to “love who you love shamelessly.” Maybe it’s because Disney is growing as a brand, but there hasn’t been any backlash (that we’ve seen) for Bassett’s career and he seems to be happy that a part of his personality is no longer hidden.
Being an LGBTQ+ child entertainer has never really existed in the mainstream. LGBTQ+ people have faced discrimination forever, but its most insidious manifestation has been its unfair associations with pedophilia. Homophobic people love to equate non-heterosexual people to perverts, therefore deeming anything queer found near children to be sexualizing children in general.
This is defamation for those within the community and perpetuates hatred that lays the groundwork for anti-LGBTQ+ legislation within our society. Therefore, it was groundbreaking when the face of Nickelodeon, “Dance Moms” alumnus and double platinum recording artist JoJo Siwa posted a TikTok of her with the queer group The Pride House, dancing to the Paramore lyrics, “Now you’re one of us.” Speculation began immediately and Siwa saw. She officially confirmed the rumors when she posted another TikTok of her lip-syncing to Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” and a picture of her wearing a shirt with the words, “Best. Gay. Cousin. Ever.” She then finished with an Instagram live session expressing how happy she was being out.
Siwa has been in the limelight as a child entertainer since debuting on “Dance Moms” as one of its youngest contestants at just 9 years old. She then followed up with her single “Boomerang,” which only helped her celebrity status rise. She grew her empire with hair accessories (those giant bows), daily posts on YouTube and an eventual 2017 deal with Nickelodeon at only 13 years old. To say she is famous is an understatement; the only comparison is if Miley Cyrus stayed in costume as Hannah Montana 24/7.
The now 18-year-old has roughly 58.3 million followers across multiple platforms and her empire has only grown, with her clothing and accessories line making a little under $400 million in 2018 and her massively successful debut tour making $27 million in 2019. (My 6-year-old little sister-in-law had tickets for last summer during the pandemic; I’ll never forget how sad she was when we found out it was canceled.) It’s safe to say that Siwa, who has an estimated $14 million net worth, is a genius entrepreneur.
With Gen Z being the most openly queer generation ever (a Gallup poll found 15.9% of those aged 18-23 identified as LGBTQ+), it is so exciting to see not only young celebrities but someone of Siwa’s caliber become an instant LGBTQ+ icon overnight. She has faced backlash, however, stating in her coming out People interview how she made the mistake of looking at the comments and was surprised by how much hate was there: “The risk is the world is a scary place. … I don’t want people like that to watch my video [and] to buy my merchandise if they aren’t going to support not only me but the LGBTQ community.”
When asked about the risks of losing her career on Jimmy Fallon, Siwa doubled down on previous comments, stating, “… even if there’s a million people who don’t accept it…. There’s 100 million that do and always keep that in mind.” She talked about the risks she took, saying, “But if I lost everything that I’ve created because of being myself and loving who I want to love, I don’t want it.”
Siwa was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people of 2020. She, along with Lil Nas X and Bassett, has no desire to stop working anytime soon.