When I was first approached by The Huffington Post to become a new contributor to their Gay Voices section, I was immediately honored and simultaneously terrified. I've always wrestled with the idea of, "What could I possibly have to say that means anything, and how do I say it?"
This way of thinking was my mindset in 2006, when I made the decision to come out publicly in People magazine. It was the one and only interview I was giving on the subject at the time. I felt like it wasn't newsworthy, and I'd only need to say it once. It would run as a small blurb in their news section where births and divorces are announced, and I would go on about my daily life. I had no idea it would be the cover. None.
It made me completely uncomfortable because it was the exact thing I didn't want at the time, which was to be the next "face of gay." For the record, it was never because I was ashamed or uncomfortable; it was because I didn't want my identity to be reduced to simply "the gay one." As it is, I predict that I will be 60 and still be referred to as a "boy bander," but now it will likely be followed in parentheses with "the gay one." My attitude has always been that I am Lance Bass first and foremost, and gay just happens to be a part of my packaging. I viewed my sexuality as mine to keep private, and that my job in this world was simply to entertain.
But that all changed in 2007, when I was starring in Hairspray on Broadway and came across a 12-year-old boy who was waiting for an autograph at the stage door. He thanked me for coming out and how it had given him the courage to come out to his own family, because he finally had someone he could relate to and look up to. The impact of that moment was one that I never could have anticipated. I was suddenly aware of the power of my voice and the abilities that I had been given as a celebrity. I had never been more aware of or inspired by its responsibility.
Recently I was reading about Lady Gaga (this is a gay column, right?) and her impactful meeting with President Obama. After being affected by the increase in bully-motivated suicides, most recently Jamey Rodemeyer's, Gaga has made it her mission to get anti-bullying laws passed to prevent people from, basically, being cruel to others, and to make the world a safer place for our youth. What really impressed me was that Gaga didn't wait to try and get a meeting on the books at the White House. Instead, she tracked him down at one of his fundraisers and made the most of her opportunity.
While I was in Russia training to become a cosmonaut, I had a brief meeting with President Bush, and during the peak of *NSYNC, as a group, we had actually become friendly with President Clinton after several meetings, so much so that I can remember vividly being at a viewing of Music of the Heart in the president's private screening room and throwing popcorn at the back of Bill's, er, Mr. President's, head. So I met not one but two sitting presidents, and not once did it cross my mind to use those unique and rare occasions to influence a cause or change the world.
It would be easy to forgive myself, as I was freshly out of my teens, but to find out that Gaga is only 25 years old and has been using her stage and platform to fight so passionately for gay causes only makes her that much more remarkable.
While the gay community is arguably full of her most ardent supporters, they were also the loudest in protesting that her single "Born This Way" sounded too much like Madonna's "Express Yourself," while the rest of the population was too busy focusing on her outfits. What I don't hear enough of is a loud roar of gratitude and applause for her successful, unwavering social activism.
She put her successful career on the line and risked alienating half the country with song lyrics that talk about empowering transgendered people and drag queens, not to mention every skin color in the rainbow. Instead, she made a Top-40 song that became one of the biggest around the globe. She recognizes already in her career the power of her voice, and she is using it, something that took me nearly 10 years into my career.
Her success also reminds us of the importance and power of our straight allies. It is our straight allies who will help change the hearts of the close-minded and bridge our gap to mainstream acceptance. Gay allies who show support also prove that it doesn't turn them gay but shows that they are tolerant and loving people.
When it comes to being vocal and supportive, there is no act that is too small. Brad and Angelina not getting married until gay marriage is legal, or even something as simple as Ashton Kutcher scolding a Twitter follower for using the word "gay" in a derogatory way and equating it to the N-word, are both examples of using one's voice to effect change. Right now I am using my voice to applaud Lady Gaga and all our straight allies who use their voices for our cause, not because they have to but because they choose to and they can.
You don't have to be famous to have a voice. You don't need to be gay to create change. You just need compassion and a moral compass. I have a voice, you have a voice. It is up to us how we use it.
When I look back on it, of course, I wish I had come out while everyone was paying attention to my every move. I'd love to go back in time and maybe throw popcorn at Bill's, I mean the president's, head, until he agreed that Don't Ask, Don't Tell was a horrible idea. I would love to have used my days in *NSYNC with more intention and made the world a better place for gay people. But since I can't do anything about the past, I will continue moving forward to fight the fight however I can and continue to applaud the brave crusaders, like Lady Gaga, who don't just do it for the headlines but because using our voices is why God gave us voices in the first place.
Today I am proud to be one of the many faces of gay and to use my voice however I can, wherever I can. I am honored and proud to be "the gay one" (and a boy bander).
Be sure to check out Lance's radio show on Sirus XM OutQ 108 and Cosmo 109 every weekend!