Coming Out In The Modern Age: An Interview With Broadway's Jordan Roth

by Zara Barrie

It’s 1 pm on a Wednesday, and I’m in the thick of Midtown Manhattan’s Theater District, smack in the middle of the New York City Pride Week.

It’s an unbearably hot, treacherously humid, "summer in the city" sort of day, and I'm sitting pretty, basking in the breeze of the glorious air conditioning inside the beautifully decorated office of the one and only Jordan Roth.

For those of you out of the loop, grant me the opportunity to educate you about the inspiring force of nature that is Jordan Roth, for Jordan is arguably one of the most successful and influential young men in the world of New York City theater.

For starters, he owns and operates not one but five Broadway theaters. He's a Tony Award-winning producer.

His theaters are home to the edgy, groundbreaking and critically acclaimed theatrical productions of "The Book Of Mormon," "Kinky Boots" and "Jersey Boys."

Jordan has been featured in PAPER's Beautiful People Issue and Out Magazine's Out 100 list three different times.

The Daily News has deemed him one of "50 New Yorkers To Watch," and he was noted in Time Out New York’s "42 Reasons To Applaud New York Theatre."

And that’s just scratching the surface, lovelies.

The most beautiful thing about Jordan is he uses his impressive cultural and theatrical platforms to give a voice to the vastly under-represented LGBTQ+ community.

There is nothing more fiercely admirable than a successful person who channels his or her influential prowess into making the world a more safe and tolerant place for vulnerable members of our community.

Roth serves on the board of Freedom To Marry, Broadway Cares/Equity Fights Aids and supports a plethora of lifesaving youth advocate charities, such as the LGBTQ+ Suicide Prevention Hotline and The Trevor Project.

By the time I met with Jordan, I was already feeling blissfully high off the palpable energy of NYC Pride Week (I had the "pride glow," so to speak.).

The thrill and delight at the prospect of sitting down and picking the brain of Jordan Roth was only accelerated by the smatterings of rainbow flags overtaking the city.

The instant I met Jordan, I was overcome by his positive energy and inherent thoughtfulness. I instantly felt connected to his relentless passion for youth and naturally warm vibes.

We delved right into a topic so near and dear to my Queer little heart: coming out.

Regardless of who we are or where we come from, coming out is always an intensely loaded subject matter.

I went through my own personal hell during my own coming-out process, so I’m always teeming with curiosity about the opinions and thoughts of others (especially people I admire) regarding coming out, especially in this digital age.

We wanted to start from the beginning. We wanted to know Jordan's own coming-out story, and with an honest, open heart, he explained his journey to Elite Daily:

I came out sophomore year of college, however, I don’t know that I was ever really 'in.' Which isn’t to say that I wasn’t tortured. I think that’s important. It does get better, and it has gotten better, but I don’t think that means that we can minimize the challenge, the struggle, the journey that each one of us goes through.

Very true. After all, it’s oh so easy to look at these 14-year-old teens who are out and proud in their high schools, incessantly posting Instagram pictures with their boyfriends and girlfriends (There was not a single out teen when I was in high school, which was under a decade ago.) and forget that it’s not always as easy for them in real life as it appears via social media.

You look around, I look around, the generation above me looks around and says, ‘Oh my god -- it’s so amazing! The kids today have it’s so easy!’

He paused, took a deep breath and continued:

And that’s all true and amazing. But let’s not forget, let’s never assume that everyone who is coming out today is breezing on out -- because it still isn’t the easiest thing in the world.

Amen. It's so important that while it's fantastic to recognize how much more deeply accepting the world is today, we can never assume we know any young person's story.

For we never know what anyone is struggling with or going home to behind closed doors.

Our conversation shifted toward the effects social media has on the coming-out process.

We had to ask what he thought about the “outing” of others, as can be easily seen invading the young LGBTQ+ community through the vessels of Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

When I was growing up, all you ever wanted was to not be found out. And that’s part of the burden. That’s part of why people feel so much lighter when they finally say ‘this is who I am.’ Because what is lifted from you magically is the need to pretend. The pressure to fool. The anxiety of being found out. And that’s what’s so insidious about outing somebody. Because that is the greatest fear. That is their greatest fear, being found out. And you’re going to take that fear, and you’re going to put a knife in it. Most importantly, you are robbing that person of that moment, of ‘I came to this. I struggled my way here. I own this, and I say it.' And to take away a person’s right to declare self is a really cruel thing to do.

So what can we do as proud LGBTQ+ citizens and advocates? How can we soften the still difficult coming-out process for the young members of our community? What can we offer? Jordan’s advice was golden:

What we can all do is be the people that anybody knows he or she can come out to. Stand here and be that person, and that’s what you can offer. Stand still, and be he or she who is so obviously someone anyone can tell.

With the news constantly reporting on the horrendous atrocities that are ever-existing in the world, making even the slightest positive difference can feel like an impossible task.

What we realized in talking to Jordan is that the world of social media has made it so we can all be visible LGBTQ+ community supporters, regardless of our orientation, because we are so easily able to express our acceptance and openness with words and images.

We don’t need to be massive celebrities with followings of 500,000 people to hit a wide audience.

We never know who admires us and how our actions can be the single thing that saves the life of a kid who is struggling to come to terms with his or her sexuality.

Here’s what's interesting about our social media world: We all have a big voice. That’s why we have to use it, and we have to use it carefully. Because words matter. Images matter. They are powerful. And the blessing is we all have a voice.

Finally, we had to ask Jordan a question that many openly gay people still ponder in the confines of their own brain all the time: What advice would you give your closeted 14-year-old self?

If I could know one thing, I would want it to be that all of the things that I wished were so different about me, that I wished I could hide, and I wished I could fix, that I wished were gone, are the things that make me, me, me. In fact, I would like to hear that at any point in my life, even today.

We can take comfort in knowing that no matter how far along we come in our journey, how much success we garner, we still all have that 14-year-old kid within us, even someone as astoundingly successful as Jordan.

And by putting our energy into healing the youth, we are healing that young, insecure kid within ourselves.