Colton Underwood, the First Gay ‘Bachelor,’ Confronts His Controversial Coming Out

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Colton Underwood didn’t plan on ever telling the world that he was homosexual. After all, he’d starred as “The Bachelor” in 2019 to scout for a spouse on nationwide tv, looking for love amongst 30 aspiring brides-to-be. The tv character was satisfied he’d spend his whole life pretending to be a straight man — pushed into that course by his church and small-town, conservative upbringing in Illinois.

But final month, Underwood made nationwide headlines by popping out to Robin Roberts in a bombshell “Good Morning America” interview, shattering the heteronormative conventions of ABC’s top-rated actuality relationship juggernaut franchise. After hiding his attraction to males since his early teenagers, the 29-year-old former NFL participant initially disclosed his sexuality to another person a yr in the past: his publicist.

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The confession was prompted not by liberation however out of fear. “I’ll just say it,” Underwood reveals on a current afternoon, nonetheless adjusting to his new life as an overtly homosexual man. “I, at one point, during my rock bottom and spiral, was getting blackmailed. Nobody knows I was blackmailed.”

Underwood takes a deep breath, as he tells this story for the primary time. According to him, final yr, whereas living in Los Angeles, he secretly visited a spa identified for catering to homosexual clientele. Shortly thereafter, he obtained an nameless electronic mail, which has been reviewed by Variety, from somebody claiming to have taken his nude images on the venue. Underwood by no means noticed the alleged images and explains he was on the spa “just to look,” saying he “should have never been there.” The unidentified sender threatened to “out” him within the press, and in a panic of paranoia, Underwood forwarded the e-mail to his publicist, Alex Spieller, which compelled him to lastly have an sincere dialog about his sexual orientation.

“I knew that out of anybody in my world, my publicist wasn’t going to ruin me,” Underwood explains.

Television — particularly actuality TV — has revolutionized how LGBTQ persons are represented in standard tradition. At one time, popping out of the closet was deemed a profession killer, however exhibits like “The Real World,” “Survivor” and the unique “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” now rebooted on Netflix, led to a profound, constructive transformation in how homosexual persons are perceived, and helped result in progressive adjustments to LGBTQ civil rights. As new generations of millennials and Gen Zers have grown up with LGBTQ associates and position fashions, homosexual Americans have attained the proper to marry, and queerness has turn out to be extra mainstream in media, as confirmed in exhibits like HBO’s highschool hit “Euphoria” and basically half of the characters within the Ryan Murphy universe.

A homosexual “Bachelor,” although? Underwood’s popping out, so quickly after he’d entered into thousands and thousands of viewers’ properties because the poster boy of fairy-tale heterosexuality — the Ken doll-like star of a serious relationship franchise — touched a nerve.

Seen via the prism of actuality TV, social media, sports activities and religion, and as somebody who was raised with conservative values, he immediately discovered himself mired in controversy. His announcement that he was homosexual coincided with information that he was filming a Netflix actuality present about his new life.

Social media lit up with accusations that Underwood was monetizing his coming-out story. And others legitimately argued that as a hunky white homosexual man, he was benefiting from privilege, taking a platform that different members of the queer neighborhood deserved greater than he did. Some critics puzzled: Was his whole season of “The Bachelor” an act for fame, as he strung alongside ladies with rose petals and romantic kisses?

Underwood’s bigger highlight introduced consideration to the small print of his relationship together with his ex-girlfriend Cassie Randolph, whom he dated for a yr and a half after assembly her on “The Bachelor.” In courtroom paperwork, she filed a restraining order in Sept. 2020, alleging that he stalked her and positioned a monitoring machine on her automotive.

Raffy Ermac, the editor-in-chief of Pride, a popular culture and leisure web site for LGBTQ millennials, says Underwood popping out publicly was courageous. “But at the same time, we shouldn’t be glorifying someone who has this history of allegedly stalking a woman.”

A petition on Change.org, signed by 35,000 individuals to this point, is pressuring Netflix to cancel the upcoming Underwood sequence due to these allegations.

Despite receiving demise threats, Underwood says that talking his reality was the proper factor to do. After his “GMA” interview aired on April 14, he was additionally inundated with congratulatory messages. “I’m happy for @colton,” tweeted Billy Eichner. “If you’re gay, be gay!” And Andy Cohen chimed in on Twitter: “You’re free now, @colton. A toaster is on its way.”

Over a two-hour interview with Variety, Underwood continues to be adjusting to his new life as an overtly homosexual man. On this present day, earlier than filming a scene for his actuality present, he’s wearing informal apparel: joggers, a black baseball cap and purple Nikes. At one level, he picks up his iPhone and scrolls via DMs from strangers, admitting he’s most touched by those that write to inform him he’s made them really feel much less alone by popping out.

“I know people are saying that this story has been told, but I grew up in Central Illinois,” Underwood says. “I had never seen a football player that had made it to the NFL that had been gay, growing up Catholic.” He factors to among the extra touching messages he’s obtained. “I’ve had hundreds of gay Christian men and women who are confused in their walk with Jesus say, ‘I felt closer to God when I came out.’”

As our dialog continues, Underwood addresses the media protection of his “Bachelor” breakup. Randolph, who declined to remark for this story, dropped the restraining order towards him with prejudice two months after she filed final yr.

Due to a joint settlement with Randolph, Underwood is restricted in what he can say. But he talks concerning the scenario in higher element than he has earlier than. First, he desires to clear the air, as a result of he’s seen the phrase “abuse” subsequent to his title in press experiences. “I did not physically touch or physically abuse Cassie in any way, shape or form,” he says.

“I never want people to think that I’m coming out to change the narrative, or to brush over and not take responsibility for my actions, and now that I have this gay life that I don’t have to address my past as a straight man,” Underwood says. “Controlling situations to try to grasp at any part of the straight fantasy that I was trying to live out was so wrong.”

Underwood says that after Randolph broke up with him, he was in “such a dark place” as a result of he knew, in his coronary heart, his final straight relationship was over and he’d lastly should face his true actuality. He apologizes for his habits towards her and her household. “It’s not who I am as a human being, and it’s not how I carry myself,” Underwood says. “If there was anything I could do to take more ownership, I would. But also, out of respect to her, I don’t want to get into the details. I want this interview to be the last time I address her, because it’s not fair for her to have her name in articles every time I talk. I’m sorry, and I want her to know that I hope she has the best, most beautiful life.”

After they break up, Underwood and Randolph had been filming a brand new actuality present collectively in the summertime of 2020 with Jeff Jenkins Productions, Variety has discovered. The present, which was developed, however by no means formally pitched, would have adopted the exes’ life as associates in L.A., however the challenge collapsed with the restraining order and police investigation, which Randolph requested was dropped in Nov. 2020. Later, as Underwood’s very small interior circle got here to study his sexuality, the manufacturing firm pitched him on the concept of a present about his journey popping out, and after 5 months of remedy and assembly with a psychiatrist, Underwood determined his story might assist others. The present in the end bought to Netflix, and is slated to premiere later this yr.

As for “The Bachelor,” Underwood’s popping out has arrived throughout a turbulent yr for the franchise. The relationship sequence, which launched in 2002, continues to be a serious income generator for ABC and the community’s top-rated unscripted sequence, attracting a median of greater than 5 million viewers for its most up-to-date, 25th season. And whereas a 30-minute spot on “The Bachelor” nonetheless fetches a median of $154,886, in response to Ad Age, the present has come underneath fireplace for an absence of variety. The current casting of its first Black Bachelor, Matt James, did little to quiet the criticism. The franchise’s longtime host, Chris Harrison, stepped apart after he defended successful contestant Rachael Kirkconnell, embroiled in scandal when images resurfaced of her at an Antebellum plantation-themed fraternity celebration.

As “The Bachelor” pledges to be extra inclusive, Underwood’s story solely highlights the dearth of variety throughout the franchise’s depiction of affection. With the exception of 1 queer feminine couple on “Bachelor in Paradise” — the franchise’s first and solely same-sex pairing, which earned a GLAAD nomination in 2020 — the present exists in a world populated solely by straight individuals.

“It’s hard to change the format that has been done the same way — a man and a woman — for so many years,” says Anthony Allen Ramos, GLAAD’s head of expertise. “But I definitely hope that we get to see more LGBTQ representation. If people are able to see an LGBTQ person on ‘The Bachelor’ or ‘The Bachelorette,’ there is a lot of potential for impact.”

ABC and Warner Bros. declined to remark for this story, or reply questions on whether or not there have been discussions about creating a homosexual season of “The Bachelor.”

Underwood can be all for it. “I think they should discuss it,” he says. “It should be a conversation.” Asked if he’d need to return to the sequence to discover a potential male mate, he shrugs. “I don’t like speaking in definitives, but I’m not in a position to be in a show like that. I’m at a crossroads in my life right now.” On some days, he imagines himself disappearing from the trade utterly, living a quiet life in Denver, the place he just lately purchased his first home, completely away from TV cameras.

• • •

Reality TV has the facility to vary minds, showcasing underrepresented communities to sections of the nation who may not come throughout homosexual, bisexual or transgender individuals of their on a regular basis lives.

But in Hollywood, progress has nonetheless been sluggish. The variety of high-profile homosexual love tales on the films — amongst them, the Hulu romantic comedy “Happiest Season” and 2017 Sundance darling “Call Me by Your Name” — stays small. But whereas actuality TV has a very good monitor report of together with LGBTQ individuals in casts of all the things from competitors to docu-series, there’s nonetheless one final taboo within the style. It’s uncommon to see a full-fledged homosexual love story, or hints of homosexual romance, on a actuality TV present. Even on “Dancing With the Stars,” there has but to be a same-sex dance couple. When Lance Bass, who’s overtly homosexual, appeared on this system in 2008, he was paired with a feminine associate.

Underwood’s confronted demons as a closeted homosexual man. It obtained so darkish that he took capsules one evening final summer time, hoping he’d by no means get up. “I tried to end my life, and it didn’t work,” he says. “That was the saddest and most confused and most hurt” he might bear in mind himself feeling.

According to The Trevor Project, the world’s largest nonprofit for suicide prevention amongst LGBTQ youth, previously yr, 40% of LGBTQ youth have reported they critically thought-about trying suicide; 80% mentioned that out-and-proud celebrities positively impression how they really feel about being LGBTQ.

“Folks who are in positions to share their story — and not everyone has that opportunity — also have the opportunity to lift others up,” says Kevin Wong, vice chairman of communications at The Trevor Project. For Underwood, rising up in Washington, Ill., with a inhabitants of 15,000, there have been no homosexual position fashions. “We had one gay person in my entire town,” Underwood says. “And he was the butt of every joke.”

Though he felt that he was totally different on the age of 6, Underwood by no means obtained the prospect to work together with homosexual individuals. “I would have done anything to see a gay football player,” he says, getting choked up. “The closest person I ever could look at was like Ricky Martin because I love music.”

He remembers the lengths he went to at some point to observe “Brokeback Mountain,” the groundbreaking 2005 romance directed by Ang Lee, as a teen. He used a good friend’s Blockbuster card to lease the film, in order that nobody in his household would suspect him of being homosexual. “That was very authentic to who I was, growing up in the Midwest,” says Underwood. “I wasn’t a cowboy, by any means, but I grew up on a farm in Illinois.”

Around the eighth grade, Underwood’s father noticed one thing on his son’s laptop that raised a flag. “Gay porn was sort of what I gravitated towards,” Underwood admits, clenching his jaw.

At the time, Underwood denied being homosexual to his father. “I just said that I was curious and I was exploring and just looking,” Underwood says. “I remember having that conversation with him and being like, ‘Just don’t tell Mom.’”

After faculty soccer, Underwood entered the NFL draft, being signed as a free agent by the San Diego Chargers, then becoming a member of the Philadelphia Eagles’ apply squad and the Oakland Raiders. He remembers that when Michael Sam turned the primary overtly homosexual participant drafted by the NFL in 2014, nobody within the locker room supported the concept. Their homophobia solely drove him deeper into the closet.

“Growing up in sports, I was taught that gay is wrong and gay is bad and football players are not gay,” Underwood says. “By the time I realized that I was gay, I didn’t want to be gay. It was easy for me to hide in plain sight behind a football mask and hunting and fishing and the things that this world tells us is ‘masculine’ and ‘manly.’”

After leaving the NFL in 2016, Underwood stumbled upon a random casting name in Denver for the “Bachelor” franchise. Producers took a fast liking to him. Within a number of months, he was on a airplane to Los Angeles, as a contestant on Becca Kufrin’s season of “The Bachelorette,” which aired in 2018. He turned a fan favourite, appeared on “Bachelor in Paradise” and ultimately landed the starring position on Season 23 of “The Bachelor” in 2019. Part of his enchantment was his innocence: He turned often known as “the Virgin Bachelor,” and advertising and marketing supplies plastered his face on a poster much like Judd Apatow’s “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.”

Underwood says he didn’t initially provide any details about his virginity. But when he didn’t interact in “locker room banter” with male contestants in the home in 2018, that led to a sequence of questions.

“The producers, as good as they are, probably picked up on how uncomfortable I was getting,” Underwood says. He by no means felt snug with the promotional materials for his season of “The Bachelor,” however he doesn’t maintain a grudge. “I mean, they had to do what they had to do,” he says.

Over the years, Underwood has repeatedly slammed “The Bachelor” within the press for overplaying his virginity. Now, he presents an olive department.

“I was always looking for somebody to blame,” he says of his anger. “I was passive-aggressive to the franchise after it was done. But all of a sudden, as I was coming out, everything started to make so much more sense. I was a miserable person living as a shell of a human being, and being who the world wanted to see. I finally had to look myself in the mirror and say, ‘You’ve got to fix this.’”

Prior to “The Bachelor,” in his mid-20s, Underwood had a number of sexual experiences with males, he reveals. “I’ll say this,” he begins with a protracted pause. “I was ‘the Virgin Bachelor,’ but I did experiment with men prior to being on ‘The Bachelorette.’”

He confirms he was, the truth is, a virgin when he was on the ABC present. “When I say ‘hookups,’ not sex,” Underwood says. “I want to make that very clear that I did not have sex with a man, prior to that.” He reveals that he joined the relationship app Grindr underneath an alias in 2016 or 2017. (He’s at present single, however now not on the app.)

When he ended up discovering fame and changing into a family title, Underwood was consistently apprehensive that one of many males he’d connected with may promote him out to the tabloids. “I remember feeling so guilty, like ‘What the hell am I doing?’” Underwood says of his homosexual encounters. “It was my first time letting myself even go there, so much so that I was like, ‘I need “The Bachelorette” in my life, so I might be straight.’”

• • •

Underwood’s subsequent act in actuality TV couldn’t be extra totally different from “The Bachelor.” The upcoming Netflix docu-series about his life sounds much less like “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” and extra like “I Am Cait,” the E! present that adopted Caitlyn Jenner as she transitioned into a lady and created a brand new life for herself, taking viewers on a journey of studying and acceptance.

Underwood says the aim of his Netflix present is to share a large number of LGBTQ tales, not simply his personal. Olympian Gus Kenworthy, a detailed good friend, will seem on the sequence. But producers have made positive to not simply give attention to white privileged homosexual males.

In the sequence, Underwood will discover his place of privilege, partly because of Kenworthy, who’s featured by his aspect as somebody who can relate to Underwood’s expertise, as a homosexual athlete who got here out within the highlight.

“He’s been somebody that I’ve not only learned so much from, but he’s held me accountable and he’s allowed me to see the privilege of being a straight-presenting gay, white man,” Underwood says of Kenworthy. “He pointed out how my path has been, compared to other people.”

Despite controversy, Netflix is standing behind the sequence, in hopes of constructing higher understanding of the LGBTQ neighborhood via Underwood’s journey.

“One person’s experience will not fill the void of queer stories on TV. We have to do better as an industry to highlight more kinds of lives and love. That said, we hope the show will help challenge outdated notions of what kind of stories can or should be at the center of entertainment,” says Brandon Riegg, vice chairman of unscripted and documentary sequence at Netflix.

When requested concerning the petition calling to cancel the yet-to-be-launched sequence, the Netflix government says: “Colton has been public about his past and the bad choices he’s made and this will be part of the show, too. While there is tension with providing a platform, we think his complicated story, which includes him taking accountability, is one others can learn from, and we trust Colton and the producers to address it in a thoughtful way.”

Nicole M. Garcia, a transgender Latina pastor, seems within the sequence discussing religion with Underwood. “Here he is, a cisgender white man who comes out as gay, and he gets a show,” says Garcia. “Is it the way things should be? Probably not. The whole system is rigged so that Colton could get a docu-series about him. But we can either just rail completely against it, or we can try to use it to raise visibility.”

“How many times have you interviewed a transgender Latina pastor?” Garcia provides, in a current interview over the telephone. “I’m honestly riding on Colton’s coattails. I believe Colton really wants to try to use his voice to raise the voice of the marginalized community.”

Garcia, who has an inclusive congregation in Boulder, Co., the place she hangs a delight flag within the sanctuary, solely agreed to signal onto the Netflix present if she might symbolize the broader scope of the neighborhood, particularly with transgender individuals underneath assault. The pastor didn’t come out till she was 43 years previous. Now, 61, she started transitioning in 2003 and was ordained in 2019. Raised within the Roman Catholic church in a big Latino household, she lived a life married to a lady and labored as a parole officer, hiding behind a uniform and alcoholism, which led to divorce.

“Both Colton and I have something in common in that growing up, we felt we had to live into a stereotype. We both had to live in the toxic masculinity that is prevalent in our world,” Garcia says. “We would both hope that younger people don’t have to go through that and don’t have to lose so much time trying to be somebody else.”

Netflix will air Underwood popping out for the primary time to his household and associates, together with his father, who tells Variety his son’s sexuality didn’t shock him, and he really tried to broach the topic with him in highschool, when he had suspicions.

“First, I put that on myself — what was I doing that he felt he couldn’t open up to me?” Scott Underwood says. “But Colton said, ‘I didn’t know what I was yet. I was still struggling.’”

“I understood that. He was still trying to figure himself out,” his father says. He needs his son wouldn’t dwell his whole life within the public eye, however he sees the impression his Netflix sequence might have on households who abandon their kids for being homosexual.

“If it just helps a few young men and women come out and be proud of themselves and understand that all parents aren’t going to be upset, it can save lives,” he says.

As for the youthful Underwood, the truth star is hoping his new present will deliver higher understanding and shatter sure pre-conceived id politics.

“My dad is proud to say that he is a conservative Republican, and he is also proud to say, I have a gay son,” Underwood says. “I think it’s important for America to hear that and see that. Right now, the media makes it seem like there is no middle ground.”

Styling: Lisa Cameron; Grooming: Joseph Michael; Cover: Shirt: John Varvatos; Lead picture: Jacket: Perry Ellis; Shirt: John Varvatos; Embed Shirt: Carhartt

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