“This Is Personal”: Lance Bass On His Down Syndrome Society Work

The singer, along with NDSS Director Brandon Gruber, is collaborating to confront stigma with the Bridging the Gap Campaign

When Brandon Gruber, the part-time board Of directors at the met Lance Bass, he was wearing a newsprint vest he’d designed himself and a shirt emblazoned with the phrase, “Be Yourself.” Soon enough, Gruber had the singer and pop culture personality dressed in the black version of that same vest and was giving him pointers on how to walk a runway. When the two posed side by side for a photo shoot, Gruber held up a sign reading “I’m the Designer.” He’s quick to share that he’s a lot more than that, too.  

The collaboration was the product of a partnership between the National Down Syndrome Society and Fashion’s Fight, a production company formed in 2008 by model Shannon Rusbuldt with the intention of aiding nonprofits in creating celebrity-aligned PSA campaigns that have an impact. The campaign on which the two worked, Bridging the Gap, gave Gruber, who has Down Syndrome, the chance to style Bass, who tells LAMag that saying yes to the collaboration was an easy decision for him to make.

“This is personal,” Bass says while discussing his cousin, Amber Pullman, who has Down Syndrome. She is the namesake of a Special Education Endowment Bass established in 2003 and a major influence on the former member of N’SYNC. “​​I think one of the main misconceptions is that Down syndrome is a disease,” Bass says of the stigmas he’s hopeful campaigns like Bridging the Gap will help jettison, emphasizing that like many conditions, it’s often viewed as an illness. 

Brandon Gruber. Photograph by Teresa Renee.

Gruber, who is in his mid-20s, echoes that sentiment. He remembers the difficulties he faced in high school, struggling with the feeling that he was being shut out of key opportunities because people saw him as limited. But he persisted. “I wanted to make positive change for all,” he tells LAMag. “I fought for myself. I always show others what I can do and what I can’t do.”

Even then, art was a tool to which he’d turn and he began bridging gaps on his own. After he took up sewing, he made his mom a bag and an apron; he then used the “eye for color” a teacher first noticed in third grade and began selling his hand-made art cards, using the proceeds to start a foundation to fund attire, transportation, makeup, and more for those in need for his school’s winter formal and its prom; the young man then went on to establish scholarship funds and awards for under-resourced youth. 

“Anyone can help others,” Gruber says. “If they’re given a chance.”

Brandon Gruber’s artwork.

Gruber’s achievements only grew once he was given a chance: He went on to a crowning as his school’s homecoming king, earning The Diana Award for humanitarian work in 2019, performing in Allegiance with the Palo Alto Players, and debuting his Be Yourself Fashion line at 2021’s Pivot Fashion show in Santa Cruz, where he also hit the runway. 

“I felt bold,” Gruber says of his times under runway lights. This is the infectious passion that Bass picked up on while working with Gruber. The singer describes it as “pure love.” 

“Art is such a powerful tool,” Bass added and notes the universality of its relatability. “Art, music—it’s a universal language.” 

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