In the late ’90s and early aughts, at the height of NSYNC’s success, Lance Bass recalls being “scared shitless” that the public would discover that he’s gay.
“I didn’t want anyone to find out because I knew, especially in the year 2000, that if anyone found out that I was gay, NSYNC’s career would be completely over, and these guys would hate me for the rest of my life,” Bass told the Hollywood Reporter last year.
Coming out in the public eye has long been a fraught decision for celebrities, who often faced pressure from industry forces to keep their sexuality under wraps. Adam Lambert waited to officially come out as gay until his season of American Idol was over. Miley Cyrus came out as gender fluid five years after she released her last Hannah Montana album. And Bass waited five years after NSYNC released their third and final album to come out as gay on a People magazine cover.
Times seem to have changed for Gen Z’s stars. JoJo Siwa, the 17-year-old kid-friendly superstar who’s best known for her energetic personality in her bubblegum-pop music and YouTube videos, didn’t delay coming out. After posting a photo of herself on Twitter wearing a “Best Gay Cousin Ever” tee, Siwa confirmed on January 23 on Instagram Live that she was a part of the LGBTQ community.
“I want people to know that there is so much love in the world,” she said on the live stream wearing a TIME 100 hoodie and her signature side ponytail with a bow. “There’s so so so so much love and it is so incredible and so amazing. It’s wonderful.”
Siwa declined to specify a label when a fan asked, mainly because she says she isn’t sure yet.
“I think humans are awesome,” she said. “I think humans are really incredible people. Right now I am super duper happy and I want to share everything with the world, but I also want to keep things in my life private until they’re ready to be public.” On Wednesday night, she told Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show that she had a girlfriend who is “the most amazing, wonderful, perfect, most beautiful girlfriend in the whole world.”
Siwa may very well be at the height of her career. With 12 million YouTube subscribers, a sold-out nationwide tour scheduled for later this year, and her name and face on basically every piece of merchandise a kid could own, she’s larger than life. While other kid stars have historically been shunned for sharing anything about their sexuality, coming out now is as big a deal as it seems, especially for other queer kids.
Tia Dole, PhD and chief clinical operations officer at the Trevor Project, the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ youth, said in a statement to Los Angeles that according to their research, more than 80 percent of young people said LGBTQ celebrities “positively impact” how they feel about being LGBTQ.
“When LGBTQ young people are able to see themselves and their stories authentically represented, it can offer them perspective on how to cope with the real struggles they’re facing, while also helping them envision a brighter future,” she said in a statement. “Positive representation of LGBTQ people in media and pop culture also works to humanize LGBTQ people for those who are outside of the community, which can help spark dialogue and foster empathy and acceptance.”
This seemed to be the case when Drew Davis had a conversation with their daughter about Jojo’s coming out. On TikTok, Davis recounted their exchange, during which their daughter said she likes girls. “I think seeing someone she idolizes be gay opens the door to have a more open conversation about it,” Davis says.
Davis, who is queer, says they didn’t have a gay icon when they were young. “I wish growing up that I had someone who was in the spotlight that I idolized come out of the closet like that,” they say. “That way I could be like, ‘Huh, maybe I’m normal, too.’”
Priscilla Coleman isn’t sure if her seven-year-old daughter understands that Siwa is gay or what being gay means, but Coleman is happy to support the superstar in a way she doesn’t imagine her parents would have. “If I were seven years old and I looked up to someone that came out, I wouldn’t have gotten the support that I give my daughter,” she says.
Not all moms were quite so supportive. In response to Siwa’s coming out Instagram post, one women commented, “My daughter will never watch you again.” Siwa replied to the commenter, saying, “Okay!”
YouTuber Colleen Ballinger (aka Miranda Sings) talked about how proud she is of her friend in a recent vlog.
“To see teenagers be comfortable enough and confident enough in themselves and who they are to be who they are unapologetically publicly online is so shocking and surprising and beautiful to me. I thought I would never see that in my life,” the 34-year-old says.
During her Tonight Show appearance, Siwa told Fallon that she understands coming out was risky.
“Technically, that was a really big risk that I took posting that,” she said. “… But if I lost everything that I’ve created because of being myself and because of loving who I want to love, I don’t want it.”
Stay on top of the latest in L.A. food and culture. Sign up for our newsletters today.