Millennials and Gen Zers are celebrating today because a beloved character from our youth has finally been confirmed as gay.
When the Disney Channel announced they’d be tackling their first coming out story ever in 2017, many of us remembered another character who could have gotten there first. The juggernaut film series High School Musical was a sensation for Disney and its followers. The series created several stars like Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens. But it’s Lucas Grabeel’s Ryan Evans who caught many gay eyes for his particular fashion sense, love of theatre, and aromantic existence in the film trilogy.
Then yesterday, director Kenny Ortega finally confirmed what we’d all been assuming for any years now. Ryan Evans was gay.
According to Variety, Ortega, who’s known for directing not only the HSM trilogy but Hocus Pocus, Newsies, and more, talked openly about the power of LGBT representation. In the interview, Ortega first gave the message of “Continue to carry the torch” to any LGBTQ youth willing to listen.
“There have been lives lost in the quest for change and acceptance, and many soldiers that have spent years working to create a world where we can walk freely and without discrimination,” he noted. “So, just don’t forget the history and what it’s taken to get to where we are, and that we need to get further. It’s up to our young people to continue to carry that torch.”
The conversation then transitioned to Ortega’s legacy and the queer aesthetic within it. This, naturally, led to a conversation about the Ryan Evans character.
“I put a lot of who I am into my work,” Kenny Ortega confessed. “I mean, really all the way back from the earliest work that I’ve done, even as a choreographer in film and television. And I think, yeah, that it’s just there, and whether it’s screaming at you, or whether it’s just sort of quietly there, it’s there.”
“The character of Ryan [played by Lucas Grabeel] in ‘High School Musical,’ Sharpay’s twin brother, we decided he’d probably going to come out in college. It was less about coming out and just more about letting his true colors come forward.”
But could Evans have been openly gay when he first appeared on Disney Channel screens in 2006? Ortega says, “Not likely.”
“I didn’t think at the time — and Disney is the most progressive group of people I’ve ever worked with,” Ortega confessed.
He then added, “I was concerned because it was family and kids, that Disney might not be ready to cross that line and move into that territory yet. So, I just took it upon myself to make choices that I felt that those who were watching would grab. They would see it, they would feel it, they would know it and they would identify with it. And that is what happened.”
But as stated above, the Disney Channel did eventually get to the point of depicting a gay character and coming out storyline. In 2017, the show Andi Mack had, now openly bisexual actor, Joshua Rush’s character Cyrus come out as gay to his friends. For former High School Musical fans, that moment was a long time coming. And we all acknowledge that Kenny Ortega and Ryan Evans walked so Cyrus and Disney Channel could run.