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Why JoJo Siwa’s coming out matters

Gen Z is identifying as LGBTQ more than ever, so coming out may not seem like a big deal. But here’s why it matters that Jojo Siwa (No. 8 on our Queer 50 list) is openly pansexual.

Why JoJo Siwa’s coming out matters
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JoJo Siwa ushered in 2021 with a bang of rainbow confetti when she came out in January. The then-17-year-old singer, actor, and social media star spent weeks sending the media and her followers into a tizzy after collaborating with the TikTok collective Pride House LA and then later posting her own TikTok lip-synching to Lady Gaga’s 2011 LGBTQ+ anthem “Born This Way.” Siwa cleared up any speculation about her sexual identity by eventually posting a photo of herself in a t-shirt that read “BEST. GAY. COUSIN. EVER.” with the caption “My cousin got me a new shirt.”

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In 2021, coming out may not seem like such a big deal. Siwa herself even said during an interview with Jimmy Fallon, “what am I going to do? Have a coming out party? No, it’s just who I am.” And it’s true that people identifying as LGBTQ+ has been on the rise, with Gen Z leading the charge.

According to a Gallup poll, 15.9% of adult Gen Z members (ages 18-23) identify as LGBTQ, more than any generation before them: Millennials (9.1%), Gen X (3.8%), Baby Boomers (2%). However, running parallel to the uptick of young adults coming out as LGBTQ are dismal stats pertaining to their mental health. According to a survey from advocacy nonprofit The Trevor Project 42% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, and 62% reported symptoms of major depressive disorder.

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The high risk factor of suicide or any other kind of self-harm among LGBTQ youth makes Siwa’s coming out that much more impactful when you consider her demographic and massive reach on social media alone, with more than 58.3 million followers across TikTok, Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter.

“Never before has someone with such a massively young fan base publicly identified as LGBTQ,” said Jason Sheeler, deputy west coast editor of People, during an interview with Good Morning America. In the same segment, Sarah Kate Ellis, president of GLAAD, called JoJo’s coming out “a game-changing moment in the culture of our country.”

Of course, on the other side of the welcoming praise have been droves of hate comments online and parents stating they wouldn’t let their kids support Siwa. “I realized how risky that was,” Siwa told Fallon about coming out. “But if I lost everything that I’ve created because of being myself and because of loving who I want to love, I don’t want it.”

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Siwa, who has identified as pansexual, credited her girlfriend, 18-year-old Kylie Prew, for helping her come out and is hoping their now-public relationship can be a symbol of support.

“Now kids all around the world who look up to me can now see that loving who you want to love is totally awesome,” Siwa said during the 32nd GLAAD Media Awards. “If you want to fall in love with a girl, if you want to fall in love with a boy, if you want to fall with somebody who is a they/them or who is non-binary, that is incredible. Love is awesome. You can be in love with whoever you want to be in love with, and it should be celebrated.”

Siwa is spreading this message in her upcoming Nickelodeon musical The J Team. Starring and executive produced by Siwa, The J Team follows a young girl named JoJo (Siwa) whose beloved dance coach is replaced by a new “sparkle-hating” instructor. JoJo realizes she can’t “hide her sparkle” under the strict new rules and is kicked out her troupe, forcing her to rediscover what dancing means to her.

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It’s a pretty straightforward kids film, but there’s LGBTQ subtext now given Siwa’s sexual orientation—and hopefully, that will come through for the kids who will certainly flock to this film. “This musical is centered around my life and also centered around being yourself and centered around staying true to who you are,” Siwa said. “Even when the world is telling you that it’s not gonna to happen, you’re believing because you’re you.”

WATCH: Queer leaders on the impact of the pandemic and the future beyond it

About the author

KC covers entertainment and pop culture for Fast Company. Previously, KC was part of the Emmy Award-winning team at "Good Morning America," where he was the social media producer.

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