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Breaking Boundaries: Disney's "High School Musical" Series Takes a Step Towards LGBTQ+ Equality

Updated: Oct 28, 2020

By: Mylo Fisherman

After three hit movies, Disney’s “High School Musical” franchise has introduced their first gay love story in the Disney+ exclusive show “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series.” “High School Musical” is a beloved movie trilogy that was a part of our generation’s childhoods, and Disney’s choice to bring this series back and allow it to speak with modern connotations is revolutionary.

Although it was speculated in “High School Musical 2” that characters Chad and Ryan were gay because they swapped clothes in the song “I Don’t Dance,” it was far from something that Disney would have been able to make canon when the franchise first began in 2006. While it may seem like acceptance towards the LGBTQ+ community has been around forever, gay marriage was only legalized five years ago, and we still have a long way to go to achieve universal equality for the LGBTQ+ community. When the first “High School Musical” movie was released, it was nine years before gay marriage was legalized in the United States. This helps to speak to the significance of how important having LGBTQ+ representation in the media is in general, but more specifically in programming that is aimed towards children and young adults because it helps tear down the heteronormative that has been projected for the past so many decades.

“High School Musical: The Musical: The Series,” although not being the first of its kind to show LGBTQ+ representation in mainstream media, was one of the first to display a gay storyline that went beyond the stereotypical coming out story that has already been done before. In early 2017, Disney Channel had its first-ever main character who was gay, with Cyrus Goodman on the show “Andi Mack.” Over the course of the show’s two seasons, we followed Cyrus on his coming-out journey where, through the help of his friends, he was able to accept himself and fall in love with another male character. Later on, in 2018, the movie “Love, Simon” premiered, in which we followed a boy named Simon as he falls in love with a classmate known as ‘Blue’ and deals with the aftermath of being outed by his peers.

Disney’s “High School Musical” series displays the story of Carlos nervously asking his crush Seb to their school’s homecoming dance in its fifth episode. This is a major step LGBTQ+ equality and normalization, as it shows we are more than just a coming-out story. Being able to show queer individuals falling in love just like any other teenagers their age is taking a major step towards equality because it shows that we are no different.

Having Carlos and Seb be in a relationship was not the only step Disney took in this show to show their inclusivity. In the first episode, Seb auditioned for the role of Sharpay, and later took on this role with pride in the final production. This gender-bent casting speaks to how gender roles in our society should be seen as simple guidelines. Showing a man wearing makeup and an extravagant outfit shows viewers that no matter what gender you are, it is okay to play with the concepts of masculinity and femininity. In addition to this, the main character Nini has two moms and the main character Ricky could be seen wearing a T-shirt from pride in episode four. Although to some these may seem like trivial details to include, they are monumental steppingstones towards equality, especially when they are from the Disney company.

Personally, being a part of the LGBTQ+ community, seeing a show like this is very powerful. Being able to see the LGBTQ+ community represented in the media is crucial to normalizing the community and achieving equality, and it’s even more meaningful when it is coming from the powerhouse that is Disney.

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