Ryan Evans from High School Musical was totally gay, and we all know it.
The actor playing Ryan, Lucas Grabeel, was definitely into this idea as much as fans were. The idea of Ryan Evans holding hands with a male student was too much, though, for he was given a quick implied romance with character Kelsi Nielsen, despite meeting all sterotypical requirements for being gay. Come on, he wore pink, he sang, he danced, he did yoga, and he even made a quick joke about Ashton Kutcher, a bit too excitedly, might I add.
This adherence to gay stereotypes without canon proof of sexuality, or as we’ve come to call it, “queer coding”, has been popular since the dawn of media, where homosexuality was considered perversion and promptly banned from the big screen. This “coding” takes place with characters who are typically villains or antagonists (as Ryan and Sharpay are) and are given traits associated with queer people without explicitly being stated as queer.
While yes, I suppose the heavy reliance on stereotype is problematic, it was an easy last resort to show the very real existence of gay people, no matter how “wrong” they were perceived to be. But those times have mostly passed us by, right? We’ve come so far with the progression of the LGBTQ+ community that you wouldn’t think we’d need this kind of “coding” anymore; is the existence of queer people really so terrible?
Apparently, to parents, yes.
The reason for this coding, especially for Mr. Evans and especially on Disney, is simple. The job of Disney is to provide entertainment for children while making sure to not upset the parents, and as LGBTQ+ rights are generally a touchy subject, Disney tends to stay far, far away from the idea.
When questioned on the matter, Disney Channel president, Gary Marsh noted that “[Kids are] really a pre-sexual audience, for the most part, and so sexuality is not how we look to tell any kind of stories.”
Despite this, though, the High School Musical franchise puts a huge spotlight on the undeniable romantic relationship between Gabriella and Troy.
“Yeah, but that’s not about sex,” Marsh notes. Nor is the hand holding of two male characters or a shared dance between two female characters, but sure, Disney.
While understandable that the representation would create unnecessary backlash from conservative parents, it is also worth noting that the progress would shine a huge light on different types of relationships; this could potentially create a more open minded and accepting future for our children and the children that follow. This exposure to new types of people at a young age would create a better understanding from early on, possibly capable of eliminating hurtful ignorance and even increasing safety for up and coming LGBTQ+ youth.
There is hope though, not only for Ryan, but for LGBTQ+ youth everywhere. The issue of interracial relationships was once a struggle extremely similar to this one, and one day, hopefully, we can see a same sex couple on TV without parents going nuts that we’re corrupting their kids.