Disney Channel breaks ground with first gay storyline

In a first for Disney Channel, the network is introducing a gay storyline into one of its series.

The second-season premiere of Andi Mack, airing at 8 p.m. Friday, will feature a young male — one of the show's main characters — beginning to realize that he has feelings for a male classmate.

The coming-of-age series, created by Terri Minsky (Lizzie McGuire), centers on a 13-year-old girl named Andi (Peyton Elizabeth Lee) and her interactions with her family and her two best friends, Cyrus (Joshua Rush) and Buffy (Sofia Wylie).

Friday's episode finds Andi awkwardly sorting out her feelings for her classmate Jonah (Asher Angel). At the same time, Cyrus, also 13, realizes that he too has feelings for Jonah and confides in Buffy — the scene and Buffy's reaction are intended to serve as a positive role model for both kids and adults — even as he struggles with how to share this revelation with his new girlfriend. This kicks off his journey to self-discovery and ultimately self-acceptance as a gay individual, as seen in subsequent episodes.

"Andi Mack is a story about tweens figuring out who they are; Terri Minsky, the cast and everyone involved in the show takes great care in ensuring that it's appropriate for all audiences and sends a powerful message about inclusion and respect for humanity," a Disney Channel spokesperson said.

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Disney Channel has featured gay characters before, appearing in single episodes of shows like Good Luck Charlie and the animated Doc McStuffins. However, this story arc is a first for Disney Channel, which has not previously told the story of a character's journey of realizing that he or she is gay and embarking on that journey of self-discovery. In its written policy on its stories and characters, The Walt Disney Co. as a whole emphasizes inclusion, "with stories that reflect acceptance and tolerance and celebrate the differences that make our characters uniquely wonderful in their own way."

In formulating the story line, Minsky and Disney Channel sought guidance from child development experts; the season premiere also was screened in advance for several organizations, including Common Sense Media, GLAAD and PFLAG.

"With more and more young people coming out as LGBTQ, AndiMack is reflecting the lives and lived experiences of so many LGBTQ youth around the country," GLAAD president and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis said. "Television reflects the real life world and today that includes LGBTQ youth who deserve to see their lives depicted on their favorite shows. Disney has been a leader in LGBTQ inclusion and there are so many young people who will be excited to see Cyrus' story unfold."

Added PFLAG executive director Dr. Jaime M. Grant: "Sharing one's innermost self can be challenging, and to do so as an adolescent can be particularly so, especially when in the midst of figuring it out for yourself. Coming out requires honest self-reflection, no small amount of bravery, and a safe place with at least one trusted person — a friend, a parent, a teacher — who can hold your confidence ... and your heart. Andi Mack's creative team captures this moment of revelation with such thought, care and authenticity; it will be a memory moment for some, and a teachable moment for many."

With a median viewer age of 10 years old, Andi Mack is the No. 1 series of the year among girls and top-rated in its time period among kids 6-14.

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