Flashing rainbow lights.
Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way.”
A giant rainbow bow pinned against a tight ponytail of beach-blonde hair.
In true Gen-Z fashion, “Dance Moms” alum and international superstar JoJo Siwa came out to the public on Jan. 20 via TikTok. Later on Twitter, she sealed the deal when she posted herself in a shirt that said, “Best. Gay. Cousin. Ever.”
Coming out stories aren’t anything new. As someone who grew up in the time of Troye Sivan, Connor Franta and Hannah Hart, I’ve seen firsthand the way social media has changed the world of coming out. Seeing those 20-somethings and young adults be their true selves on YouTube brought a wall down for many teens in my generation — coming out was no longer the nerve-wracking, impossible task it used to be.
But YouTube in itself has always been questioned for its legitimacy in the entertainment world. The celebrities who found fame on the platform are often thought of as inferior to “real” celebrities in Hollywood or New York.
YouTube stars are not the only ones who have broken down the barriers of LGBTQ+ representation in the media. Even before my time, Ellen Degeneres was both a successful TV host and openly gay woman. She paved the way for a whole generation of LGBTQ+ individuals.
That generation, though, came out in the time of “The L-Word.” A queer show largely not appropriate for children.
That’s why Siwa’s coming out story is so significant.
Siwa is 17 years old, and her fanbase is almost exclusively younger than her. She signed a contract with Nickelodeon back in 2017 and has been a brand ambassador for the company ever since. As much as the world has expanded to accept a more diverse population, I convinced myself her career was over. Too many parents don’t want their children seeing influencers who normalize being queer.
Siwa did what Disney Channel was never able to do.
Not too long ago, multi-billion dollar behemoth aired its first gay couple on TV — the show was “Good Luck Charlie,” and it was a big step in the direction of inclusivity for the brand (although it wasn’t even gay children who were presented, they were adults). But the episode, “Down a Tree,” was the penultimate episode of the entire series.
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Representation matters when you have a seat at the table, but it doesn’t mean much when you’re just thrown in the room.
Some attribute Disney’s 65-episode rule as to why the show ended. But Disney aired the episode with essentially no stakes. The show was ending regardless, so the backlash didn’t matter.
Siwa could have lost a lot. She has a huge fanbase, but with the audience being mostly children, groups such as One Million Moms could have destroyed her. Instead, Siwa took the plunge, living her authentic life and giving LGBTQ+ youth a place on screen.
In an Instagram Live, Siwa encouraged her fans with a simple message.
“It’s OK to not be normal, it’s OK to be a little different, it’s OK to be a little weird, it’s OK to be a little strange…” Siwa said. “And I think a lot of people are afraid of being different, and that’s something we should never ever ever be afraid of; it’s something we should be proud of and that we should celebrate because we all get to be so different, and it’s so cool and so awesome!”
Her story also goes to show how much the world has changed. In the past, a public figure like Siwa would have been disowned by their brands at the first signs of showing their sexuality. Celebrities like Miley Cyrus, Bella Thorne and Hayley Kiyoko were particularly stuck in their Disney Channel lives.
Coming out is still not easy or safe for everyone, but Siwa said the general atmosphere around it has improved.
“I think coming out has this stigma around it that it’s a really, really, really scary thing, but it’s not anymore,” Siwa said. “There’s so many accepting and loving people out there that it’s OK.”
Everything hasn’t been calm for Siwa following her announcements, though. Shortly after she came out, Siwa’s house was swatted; to get her outside, the press called in a fake police report to Siwa’s house to force her outside for paparazzi pictures. Not only is this action illegal, but it proves the work is not yet over.
A 17-year-old girl should not have to face 50 police officers for simply living her life.
Despite the disturbance, Siwa has expressed nothing but happiness across all her social media platforms.
“Everyone that I’m close to is commenting right now that they’ve never seen me so happy, which is so true,” Siwa said in her Instagram live. “I’ve just never been so happy. Thank you guys.”