For some people, it’s been a long time since the thought of a schoolyard bully brought fear and anxiety into their daily lives. Sometimes adults forget the harassment they endured in their youth is still a harsh reality for kids today — especially LGBT kids. However, there is a growing number of allies who are taking a stand against bullying and creating a better environment for young people who feel different. But as loud as their voices have become, there's no substitute for the reach that same message can have when it comes directly from a celebrity who understands the struggles facing teens firsthand.
Gavin MacIntosh wants to be that kind of ally.
The 16-year-old actor and Southern California transplant is a passionate straight ally for the LGBT community. When he’s not raising visibility playing gay teen Connor Stevens on the groundbreaking queer-centric drama The Fosters, he spends much time advocating for kids whose voices often get silenced by those who judge others because of how they act or who they love.
“More people are grasping that it’s not cool to discriminate and bully someone,” MacIntosh says, explaining why he finds it so important for queer youth to have allies. “Unfortunately, we’re still not in the majority. There are still people out there, if you walk into school and you don’t act a certain way, you don’t act the way that some might say a 'normal' kid walking around in school would act, you will be judged. We really, really have to change.”
With his role on The Fosters, MacIntosh is helping bring about that change, particularly in the way gay kids are perceived by their peers and the public.
In the nearly three years since its premiere, The Fosters has received much praise for its positive and wholesome portrayal of a family led by two lesbian moms (played by Teri Polo and Sherri Saum). MacIntosh is equally deserving of this praise, especially after he and costar Hayden Byerly (who plays Jude) exchanged television’s youngest same-sex kiss last year. It's a scene that would have been totally taboo on TV just a few years ago.
Fast-forward to 2016, and Jonnor (the cute, fan-created couple name for Byerly’s Jude and MacIntosh’s Connor) has become a phenomenon in a television landscape virtually devoid of queer adolescent couples.
“I really wasn’t aware that my character could make such an impact on viewers,” MacIntosh says. “The kiss was very, very important. It was a groundbreaking thing, and I think it showed the two characters’ relationship more emotionally than sexually.”
“There are a few television shows that are out there that portray gay characters, but I think the reason why Connor’s relationship is so different is because of the age,” he says. “No one speaks for the young LGBT community, or if they do, it’s a very minimal group. I’m glad that I’m the person that gets to be able to do that.”
In addition to helping represent kids who feel they are different, The Fosters has affected MacIntosh’s own life. As a straight person, he says he was rarely bullied growing up. However, the numerous personal stories fans have shared with him have given him a greater understanding of the obstacles they face.
“I wasn’t really aware of the issues that are happening and the discrimination that the LGBTQ community is facing,” he says. “So when Connor [began to discover who he is], that’s when I became aware and started hearing stories from fans about their problems in life.”
His tone becomes more intense as he adds, “The really sad thing, for me, is when people will see others being bullied and they don't do anything about it. They just don’t care, or they just don’t want to take a stand.”
“No matter what you stand for, there will always be people hating on you,” he says. “But hate isn’t really something I focus on, it's something I turn away from. Hopefully [seeing characters like Connor and Jude on The Fosters] will inspire more kids to have that same attitude.”
The winter premiere of season 3 of The Fosters airs on Freeform Monday.