Nearly 15 years after High School Musical first debuted on Disney Channel, its director is now revealing some major new information about one of the main characters. Kenny Ortega confirmed the character of Ryan Evans was written to be queer in a new interview with Variety. Since Ryan's sexuality was never brought up in any of the three movies, Ortega opened up about why Ryan wasn't openly gay in High School Musical and what he envisioned for the character's future.
Throughout the three High School Musical movies, Ryan (Lucas Grabeel) mostly served as a supportive sidekick for his twin sister Sharpay (Ashley Tisdale) as the duo set their sights on becoming big names as actors, singers, and dancers. In the end, Ryan was able to break away from his sister's control and won a scholarship to Juilliard thanks to his talents. Ortega revealed he and the writers imagined that is where Ryan would get to openly live as his authentic self.
The character of Ryan in High School Musical, Sharpay’s twin brother, we decided he’d probably going to come out in college. It was less about coming out and just more about letting his true colors come forward.
When asked if he had considered making Ryan openly gay in the movies, Ortega admitted he opted against it out of concern that Disney would not be receptive to the character choice. "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," Ortega said.
But Ortega still wanted Ryan to resonate with queer fans of the movies. "I just took it upon myself to make choices that I felt that those who were watching would grab," Ortega said. "They would see it, they would feel it, they would know it and they would identify with it. And that is what happened."
As Ortega noted, the message was definitely received by High School Musical's large LGBTQ fanbase, and the director said many of the movies' fans told him that the trilogy helped them accept themselves: "I have to say, thousands of kids that have said, 'If it weren’t for High School Musical, I don’t know that I would have ever been comfortable in my skin. I don’t know when I would have been able to feel comfortable enough to come out, embrace who I am.'"
So, although Ryan was never openly gay in the movies, his representation still mattered a great deal to tons of viewers. And at least now fans have official confirmation from the High School Musical director himself about Ryan.