When it comes to on-screen LGBTQ+ representation, Disney has an...interesting history. Over the past few years there have been a handful of queer characters featured in films owned and distributed by the Mouse House (Cruella, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, and Beauty and the Beast come to mind immediately). But those characters' identities were so barely acknowledged (or only featured in quick, blink-and-you'll- miss-it moments) that the visibility they provided felt...inconsequential. It almost leaves fans wondering what the point of including these "queer" characters is in the first place.
Where big-budget, silver-screen Disney offerings have left LGBTQ+ fans wanting more, the company's television slate is slowly but surely becoming more and more inclusive. Disney+'s original musical streaming series High School Musical: The Musical: The Series (we know, that's a mouthful) is the perfect example of that.
(Joe Serafini as Seb [left] and Frankie A. Rodrgiuez as Carlos [right] in High School Musical: The Musical: The Series)
With two seasons already under its belt, the series (helmed by gay showrunner Tim Federle) is single-handedly responsible for bringing one of TV's more well-written and authentic young queer couples, Seb and Carlos (affectionately known as Seblos to their stans), to audiences all over. The impact is not lost on the actors who play Seb (Joe Serafini) and Carlos (Frankie A. Rodriguez).
"It's crazy exciting," Rodriguez (who is gay and dating his costar Serafini, who is bisexual, in real life) says of being a part of a series -- and a generation -- where queer characters get to shine. "To be a part of this new wave of representation on-screen across the entertainment industry, in general, is just very exciting. To get to create these characters for Disney and have this whole new generation of kids...if they relate to them or if they see themselves on-screen, it's just great. Then the support we get too, and not only from kids watching the show but from adults who are just excited. It's been awesome."
"We feel so lucky. It's about time," Serafini adds. "It's so important for people to see that, and I know it sounds cliche at this point, but love is love. And I feel like our show does a really good job of showing that, just like those other relationships that are in the show, Seb
and Carlos also just like each other and want to be in a relationship together."
Unlike other teen shows where queer characters are often marginalized and tormented, High School Musical presents an affirming world where Seb and Carlos get to be the cute, loving couple they are without fear of being ostracized or bullied. Growing up, many LGBTQ+ musical kids feel like their first support systems are the friends they make while participating in theater productions in school, so portraying that in a show on a hugely popular streaming service is groundbreaking in ways that have still hardly appeared in mainstream media for kids.
One of the show's standout moments where Seb and Carlos get to be openly and authentically themselves as a couple comes in the 10th episode of season 2, called "The Transformation."
With the help of their friend, skateboarder-turned-leading-man Ricky (Joshua Bassett), Carlos serenades Seb after a fight with the heartfelt and touching original track "In a Heartbeat." The number has made history as the first known Disney love song to be sung between two people of the same sex (outside of Broadway).
"To think about the impact that it could have is kind of daunting actually, but in the moment, you're just there to work," Rodriguez says of filming the scene. "Our music producer, Steve Vincent -- before we started recording, he was like, 'I just really want to take a moment to just appreciate this moment and how far we've come. I'm just so excited for the world to hear this and see this.'"
That wasn't the only moment in season 2 that gave gay High School Musical fans everything they could ever want. Earlier on in the season, in an episode titled "The Quinceanero," Seb got to sing a cover of Miley Cyrus's iconic track "The Climb" to Carlos after he and their friend group threw him the fun, joyful surprise quinceanero he never had.
"I honestly am still wrapping my head around the fact that I get to sing that song," Serafini says. "I grew up obsessed with 'The Climb,' but I think it's also such a beautiful way that we're making the song work with Seb's storyline. So much about growing up queer is about going through all [that] and sort of just hoping it's going to get better. There's going to be a better light at the end of this tunnel. Seb is going through all of that, especially in coming to terms with his feelings towards Carlos and his feelings about himself. It's just such a journey of finding yourself at that age."
High School Musical: The Musical: The Series is now streaming on Disney+, with new episodes premiering on Fridays!