Gary M. Kramer
Growing up in Mississippi, Lance Bass kept his sexuality secret. In a recent phone interview, the singer said he told himself, “Until I was 21, I wouldn’t tell anyone I was gay. I would never act on it.” Bass wanted to hide being gay, he explained—“I didn’t see a successful gay role model. The only gay people I knew were people who were made fun of. That made me dig in my heels deeper that I would never come out, ever.”
But Bass did come out in 2006, and he regrets that he did not do it sooner. “I think everyone who is gay does. I could have lived my life faster and earlier. Having relationships in your teens is important in one’s growth—you get heartbroken, have crushes—I would have loved to have experienced that.”
He pauses and considers how coming out at the height of N’SYNC’s fame might have impacted his life. “It would have been amazing and caused a stir, but it might have destroyed the group,” adding wistfully, “I don’t know how the public would have taken it.”
Now Bass is using his out-and-proud celebrity profile to produce the inspiring documentary Mississippi I Am. The film showcases poignant stories of rural LGBTQ youth in Mississippi. One of the subjects is Constance McMillen, a lesbian who sued—and won—a discrimination case against her school when she wanted to take her girlfriend to the prom. The film features Bass emcee-ing the Second Chance Prom, where Constance and 300 other area queer youth held a same-sex dance.
The idea for the film “started with Constance,” Bass confirmed. “Being from Mississippi, I always wanted to do a doc on the touchy subject of gay youth in Mississippi.” When McMillen’s case made headlines, the singer/producer said, “It pushed me over the edge. I knew this story needed to be told.”
Moreover, Bass acknowledged, “The idea of a Second Chance Prom was a heated thing to do” in the conservative Bible Belt. But he defended his decision, urging that he wanted to see teens empowered by their actions as activists. “I wanted to watch these kids stand their ground, and see that being themselves [in Mississippi] is
Bass, who supports gay groups like GLSEN, thinks, “What is missing from both sides of the gay civil rights fight is that no one is listening to the other side.” He admits to paying attention to Republicans, and watching FOX News, so he can find a common middle ground.
One of the best moments in Mississippi I Am features Bobby, a gay teen, going fishing with his straight buddy, Wyatt. Wyatt admits that until he met Bobby, he never really knew—or understood—a gay person.
At the mention of this scene, Bass gushes, “Yes! I love that part! I’ve heard that so many times in my life. It shows that innocence. Once folks know someone [gay] it completely changes their mind.”
He continues, “That’s what’s great about a story like this—everyone can relate to it, and relating to it might change people’s minds.”
Bass eloquently expresses how narrow-minded attitudes towards homosexuality are ingrained in the Bible Belt. “You are brainwashed to think like your parents. That’s why parents care so much about being gay. Put yourself in their shoes—if your kids are gay, they’re not going to heaven. So you fight so that your kids will be with you in the afterlife. It sucks that in the Christian religion, if you fear or even question that, you’re going to hell.”
But the LGBTQ teens in Mississippi I Am are hoping their Second Chance Prom will change minds. And Bass likens the attitudes of ignorance and fear to those around integration 50 years ago.
As for Bass’ own prom experiences, the singer admits, “I didn’t go to my proms—I was in N’SYNC then—but I went as a sophomore because I was on student council.”
Asked, had he gone, whom would he have taken? Bass demurs. “My boyfriend now. Back then … I didn’t have crushes. Though Staci Keanan from My Two Dads. Maybe her.”
The Outfest screening of Mississippi I Am is Saturday, July 14, 11:30 a.m., at the Directors Guild of America, 7920 Sunset Blvd., L.A.