If you watched High School Musical as a kid, you probably recognised that the character of Ryan Evans (played by Lucas Grabeel) was heavily gay-coded.
He loved musical theatre, he was extremely flamboyant – need we say more than the duet he did with his twin sister Sharpay (Ashley Tisdale) entitled “Fabulous”? – and he was a huge fan of hats.
Now, that’s not to say every same-sex attracted man is into all of the above, but LGBTQ+ audiences were able to recognise traits in Ryan that they could see in themselves through subtext.
That’s because he never explicitly came out as gay in any of the films. In fact, he even had a female love interest (Kelsi) in the third film, High School Musical 3: Senior Year.
Now, director Kenny Ortego – who identifies as gay himself – has theorised Ryan “probably” would have “come out in college”.
He told Variety:
We decided he’d probably [be] going to come out in college. It was less about coming out and just more about letting his true colors come forward.
Ortego went on to explain that he couldn’t make Ryan explicitly gay because Disney wasn’t “ready to cross that line” yet:
I have to be honest with you. I didn’t think [it was possible] at the time — and Disney is the most progressive group of people I’ve ever worked with.
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.
It’s certainly true that Disney wasn’t ready to portray an explicitly gay character at the time.
Only in 2020 did the film company feature its first explicitly LGBTQ+ character on film in the form of Specter (voiced by Lena Waithe) in the animated movie “Onwards”. They also reportedly have Jack Whitehall’s character, McGregor, come out in the upcoming film “Jungle Cruise”.
Coming back to HSM though, many thought it was about time Ryan was announced as gay:
But the director’s explanation also caused many to be angry that they didn’t see explicit gay representation at the time:
And many shipped Ryan and fellow character Chad together – I mean, they swapped clothes while playing baseball! – and it all became a bit too much:
Grabeel has yet to publicly comment on his former director’s recent explanation of the character he played, but said last year:
People have always asked me if Ryan was gay. I’ve seen a lot of performances from the tours or high schools or community theaters, and they always take Ryan to that place of being way over the top. That’s fine, but that’s not exactly the way I played it.
The actor went on to explain that Ryan was modelled on Ortega’s own experiences of being in high school:
I had a lot of talks with [director Kenny Ortega] about his own experience in high school. He was not out, and he wasn’t running around being that way, but he had that energy inside of him. It’s such an important time in your life, and you’re figuring so many things out.
Now, thankfully, people are much more accepting and welcoming of other people’s differences.
Even though there’s a recent TV spin-off of the films, who’s up for a reunion film with the original cast where Ryan gets to live his best gay life?