Newsflash: Water is wet. And Ryan Evans, played by Lucas Grabeel in the High School Musical trilogy of tween movies, was “probably going to come out in college,” according to their director, Kenny Ortega. Variety named Ortega as an honoree on its “Power of Pride” list and interviewed him about his long career as an openly gay choreographer and director in Hollywood as well as the queer aesthetic running through his classic family films, from Newsies and Hocus Pocus to his more recent Disney Channel Original Movies. In addition to confirming that the Sanderson sisters are “almost drag queens,” Ortega explained that when it came to Sharpay’s twin brother–co-conspirator–butt boy, Ryan, “It was less about coming out and just more about letting his true colors come forward.” When asked if it would have been possible to write Ryan as openly gay in a Bush administration–era Disney Channel movie, Ortega answered:
I have to be honest with you. I didn’t think [so] 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.
The fact that, in 2020, Disney was developing the gay-teen series Love, Victor for Disney+ shows how far the studio has come. The fact that it kicked Love, Victor out of the house and made it move in with Hulu shows Disney still has far to go.