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Betty's family secret

Betty's family secret


Does it matter whether Ugly Betty's girly tween plays for our team?

Twelve-year-old Justin Suarez loves fashion, worries about getting fat, and is flamboyant enough to give Will & Grace's Jack McFarland a run for his money. But does that mean he's gay? Justin is a character on ABC's popular new show Ugly Betty. So far the network has remained mum on the preteen's romantic inclinations--an ABC spokeswoman gave a blanket "no comment" to questions about Justin's sexual orientation.

The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation isn't drawing any conclusions either. Justin, nephew of the titular Betty on the show and portrayed by actor Michael Indelicato, was not listed in "Where We Are on TV," GLAAD's yearly count of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender characters on television. "Justin isn't included because there's no confirmation that he's gay," says Damon Romine, entertainment media director at GLAAD. "He's a character with a flair for the dramatic and someone who has a sense of style. To say he's gay based on that means viewers are letting stereotypes decide for them the definition of gender and sexuality."

But Michael Jensen, editor of the gay entertainment Web site, is upset ABC isn't being up-front about Justin's character.

"Back in the 1980s it was a bold move to have a 'possibly' gay character on network television. Today, it's just silly and makes the networks look cowardly," Jensen says. "By not saying one way or the other if Justin is gay, they're either communicating that there's something wrong or shameful about being gay...or they're playing games with viewers. Americans need to acknowledge there are gay 11- and 12-year-olds in society."

If, in fact, Justin is gay, he wouldn't be the first preadolescent queer character on network TV. Fox's short-lived sitcom Oliver Beene featured Michael--another flamboyant fashion-loving boy who grows up to have a partner and a child--and Showtime's Weeds has Isabelle, a 12-year-old caught kissing another girl.

And though ABC has been reluctant to label Justin's sexuality, it doesn't mean he won't eventually come out. Ugly Betty is executive-produced by gay-friendly actress Salma Hayek, and the show features Marc, a gay assistant at Betty's fashion magazine. And, after all, ABC was the network where Ellen came out.

For now, though, "Justin's an outsider because he's different," says Romine. "Whether Justin is gay or not is something that will, hopefully, be revealed if the show stays on the air long enough for viewers to find out."

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Gretchen Dukowitz