Sporting her signature bow, JoJo Siwa is this generation’s quintessential children’s star—quirky, imaginative, and energetic; however, this January, the YouTuber ventured into new territory when she came out as queer.
Now a budding LGBTQ icon, Siwa has done anything but shy away from her newly publicized queerness; just this month, she made her debut on Dancing with the Stars as part of the first same–sex pair with dancer Jenna Johnson on the American version of the show.
While queer stories have become increasingly prevalent in the media with major personalities such as Lil Nas X, Miley Cyrus, Demi Lovato, Troye Sivan, and Sam Smith all embracing their sexual and gender identities publicly, what makes Siwa’s coming out especially poignant is her target demographic. She’s a Nickelodeon star marketed towards kids, whose parents have definitive control over the entertainment they consume. Now, while Siwa has undeniably capitalized off of her own niche brand of children’s entertainment, complemented by gaudy rainbow–sparkle ensembles, parental support can make or break her career. The added pressure makes an already courageous and high–risk decision even more difficult for the star.
As a Dance Moms alum, Siwa is a singer, dancer, and actress; her first–ever live concert tour, the D.R.E.A.M. tour, which is currently in progress, is produced by Nickelodeon, and her new Nickelodeon live–action musical The J–Team was just released. Her decision to embrace her truest self and encounter guaranteed backlash has helped to champion the normalization of young queer people in the public eye. It also emphasizes that being queer is not an abnormality that needs to be hidden from children, while letting her audience know that it's okay to be different. From the very beginning, Siwa seemed to cement her place as an LGBTQ role model.
Even better, the YouTuber has been anything but apologetic since coming out. Whether it’s publicly gushing over her girlfriend, Kylie Prew, on her Instagram page or engaging in myriad Pride events in support of the LGBTQ community, Siwa's clearly been using her platform to show the power of being unabashedly yourself.
Her Dancing with the Stars decision only further proves her dedication to the cause. To The New York Times, Siwa said that when given the choice between male or female, she "immediately chose female.” She then says, “How awesome is it that I get to be the first, that I get to make history and inspire people this way? That is huge.” It is huge, at least for the American version of the show, which is now catching up with its Danish and French counterparts.
Representation, especially long–overdue representation, is a big deal, and Siwa seems determined to ensure that she isn’t merely a token individual in the eyes of the audience. Not only did she compete on the first night, but she and her partner, Johnson, slayed the competition with an impressive quickstep, receiving the night’s highest score (which isn’t surprising considering that Siwa’s livelihood has always been dance). Siwa’s pluck was nothing short of praiseworthy.
Siwa is somebody who has always been authentically herself. It’s easy to argue that the YouTuber was an icon far before she came out in January, given her glittery, kid–friendly image and flamboyant merchandise that purposely lacks maturity (oftentimes to the petulance of her fellow teens). For years, Siwa has been an advocate against bullying, which becomes especially poignant when one comes to understand the depth of what she has harbored for so long.
Simply put, it’s nice to see an LGBTQ children’s star embrace their identity so openly, especially given that most of Gen Z experienced a potent lack of queer representation or role models who brandished their sexuality so shamelessly in their early years.
For so long, the reality of LGBTQ relationships was often swept under the rug or ignored completely. Siwa wants to be “a role model for people who love love,” and it’s hard to deny that she has been an exemplary one over the past year. Her refusal to play into heteronormativity at her age is groundbreaking, and with every new project, she continues to cement herself as the young queer icon we all needed.