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A very happy Pride Month to you, theatremakers! The LGBTQIA+ community has made vast, overarching, and crucial contributions to the theatre world. Perhaps one of the most important of these contributions is simply visibility in and of itself. After all, everyone deserves space to express themselves. And even more importantly, everyone deserves to see themselves in the characters they see on stage.
The evolution of queer representation in theatre has been a captivating journey, weaving a colorful tapestry of stories, struggles, and triumphs. As the spotlight continues to shine on Broadway, it is crucial to explore the significant events that have shaped the LGBTQIA+ narrative within this influential realm of performing arts. Prior to the Stonewall Riots of 1969, the LGBTQ+ community faced deep-rooted challenges in achieving visibility and acceptance. However, even in the face of adversity, the theatre provided a platform for subtle expressions of queer identity. Productions such as “The Drag” (1927) and “The Boys in the Band” (1968) explored the lives of queer characters, sparking discussions and planting seeds of change.
The Stonewall Riots marked a pivotal turning point, sparking a surge of activism and instilling a newfound sense of pride within the LGBTQIA+ community. Theatre emerged as a powerful catalyst for social change during this era, presenting authentic portrayals and empowering narratives. Memorable productions like “La Cage aux Folles” (1983) and “Rent” (1996) shattered barriers, boldly transforming the landscape of Broadway. These shows showcased queer stories with unapologetic fervor, paving the way for greater visibility and acceptance.
The past decade has witnessed an exhilarating surge in LGBTQIA+ stories and characters on Broadway. Productions like “The Prom” (2018) and “Jagged Little Pill” (2019) embrace these narratives while championing inclusivity, authenticity, and acceptance. This new wave of representation reflects a richer tapestry, encompassing diverse and intersectional experiences within the LGBTQIA+ community.
Of this new wave of representation, today, we shine a spotlight on the incredibly talented Justin David Sullivan (he/she/they).
Originally from southern California, Justin’s journey in the world of theatre is one rooted in passion and a desire to inspire others. With a deep love for storytelling, Justin’s artistry aims to shed light on marginalized communities and share the cultural experiences of being an openly queer person of Mexican and Korean descent. Their commitment to representation and advocacy serves as a testament to the power of art in amplifying diverse voices.
Justin started their musical theatre career at 15, with roles in Pippin, A Very Potter Musical, and High School Musical: On Stage! Next, Justin went to UC San Diego, where they studied acting and media production, graduating Summa Cum Laude with a BA in Communication. Like many theatre hopefuls, Justin moved to New York upon their graduation and signed with the Daniel Hoff Agency for musical theatre representation.
Justin’s journey in theatre inspires aspiring artists, especially those who may identify with their marginalized backgrounds. By pursuing their passion and achieving success in the industry, Justin becomes a role model for young artists who may have felt underrepresented or discouraged from pursuing their dreams. Their achievements provide hope, encouragement, and motivation for others to embrace their own unique identities and pursue careers in the performing arts.
In addition to theatre, some of Justin’s other hobbies include photography, videography, makeup, fashion, styling, editing, painting, illustration, writing, and collaborating with other artists.
They currently star as May – the non-binary best friend of Juliet – in the critically acclaimed pop-hit musical & Juliet at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre. The show, which has amassed a passionate following, has been nominated for a staggering number of Tony Awards. Justin, however, withdrew from Tony’s consideration in February and released the following statement:
“As a non-binary performer playing a non-binary principal role on Broadway, I have been asked by many what I plan on doing about this year’s award season nomination categories. While I was thrilled to see that some are eliminating gender from their nomination categories, I was disheartened to learn that the Tony Awards are not planning on making this year’s nomination categories more inclusive of gender expansive or trans non-binary performers like myself. Because I was told I had no other option but to choose between one of the two gendered categories in which I would be eligible, I felt that I had no choice but to abstain from being considered for a nomination this season. I could not in good faith, move forward with denying any part of my identity to conform to a system and structure that does not hold space for people like me. Although this decision was difficult to make, I am hopeful that award shows will learn from this and make the meaningful changes necessary in order to consider, nominate, and award people of all gender identities moving forward.”
You can read more about Justin at their page.
So here’s to Justin and other creatives like them – breaking the mold, taking risks, and inspiring us all. By portraying characters and sharing stories that reflect their own identity and experiences, Justin helps to diversify and broaden the range of narratives that audiences can connect with. Through their work, Justin goes beyond the stage to raise awareness, challenge societal norms, and ignite conversations. Their contributions not only enrich the theatre landscape but also have a profound impact on society, fostering greater understanding, empathy, and social change. In their own words, we share some inspirational quotes that encapsulate their beliefs and aspirations for their already amazing theatre career:
“Queer relationships are just as complex and just as real and raw as heterosexual relationships.” – Justin to Them Magazine (Read more)
“I feel like I’m somehow now at the ball, living my absolute wildest dreams in my dream show. It’s just so cool.” – Justin on & Juliet to Elle Magazine (Listen in)
“So often we see characters as the sidekick who helps the girl get the love or find the Prince Charming, and also oftentimes is just there for comedy. May is given the opportunity to show their heart and to show the difficulties of relationships.” – Justin on & Juliet to Them Magazine
“I’m really grateful that I have the opportunity to share that we are all worthy and deserving of love and getting to find true love and not just being fetishized.” – Justin to Them Magazine
Supporting queer artists means amplifying their narratives, acknowledging their unique perspectives, and providing them with opportunities to thrive and create meaningful art. Amplifying their narratives allows for the authentic representation of queer experiences and challenges societal norms that have often marginalized these voices. By acknowledging their unique perspectives, we validate their lived experiences and contribute to a more inclusive cultural dialogue in the theatre and beyond.
Providing queer artists with opportunities to thrive and create meaningful art is essential for nurturing their talent and fostering their artistic growth. This can be achieved through various means, including monetary donations to queer-focused organizations or projects, attending performances or exhibitions featuring queer artists, sharing their work on social media platforms, and engaging in constructive dialogue about their art and its impact.
Additionally, acts of kindness and inclusivity, such as offering mentorship or providing safe spaces for artistic expression, create an environment where queer artists feel supported, valued, and empowered to express their true selves. Every form of support, whether big or small, makes a difference in building a more inclusive and equitable creative community that celebrates and uplifts queer artists.
If you’re interested, we have compiled a selection of groups that we recommend you explore and support.
The Music Division holds a wealth of information about many LGBTQIA+ artists in its performing arts books and scores, special collections, online collections and exhibits, concert materials, and other writings.
National Queer Theater is an innovative theater collective dedicated to celebrating the brilliance of generations of LGBTQIA+ artists and providing a home for unheard storytellers and activists. By serving our elders, youth, and working professionals, NQT creates a more just future through radical and evocative theater experiences and free community classes.
GLAAD is an American non-governmental media monitoring organization. Originally founded as a protest against defamatory coverage of gay and lesbian demographics and their portrayals in the media and entertainment industries, it has since included bisexual and transgender people.
Positive environments are important to help all youth thrive. However, the health needs of LGBTQIA+ Youth can differ from their heterosexual peers. Find resources from the CDC, other government agencies, and community organizations for LGBTQIA+ Youth, their friends, educators, parents, and family members to support positive environments.
The Trevor Project’s mission is to end suicide among LGBTQIA+ young people.
Gender Spectrum Lounge is a global online community for gender-expansive teens, their families, and support professionals to connect, collaborate, and find resources.
As the curtain rises on each new production, the theatre continues to be a space where the LGBTQIA+ community finds solace, celebration, and empowerment. The evolution of queer representation in theatre reminds us of the transformative power of art, inspiring us to embrace authenticity, celebrate diversity, and create a world where every voice is heard and valued.