With the world slowly beginning to come out on the other side of the coronavirus pandemic, this Pride season is one of tremendous celebration. And yet, the spirit of a movement itself born out of a protest lives on. As the month of June comes to a close and International Pride Day nears, E! News has asked some of Hollywood's newest generation of LGBTQ+ stars to share what Pride means to them in 2021.
Welcome to The New Faces of Pride.
Chris Olsen and Ian Paget found love in a hopeless place.
Oh, no, no—not quarantine. We just mean the Internet.
The performers and artists first crossed paths uneventfully on Instagram, Chris—who was living in Maryland—liking a few of Ian's pics without much of a reaction. Then Ian glimpsed Chris at a WorldPride event in 2019. They didn't talk then, but Ian was inclined to message Chris the next day. Still, it wasn't until Chris visited New York that July that they actually met and went on a real first date.
"I like to say that's our one-year anniversary," Chris said in their inaugural YouTube video after amassing millions of followers on TikTok. "It's not, because [Ian] did not agree to be my boyfriend until two months into the relationship."
But they've been together ever since, having joined forces both online and off, moving in together in L.A. and becoming one of the most adored social-media-star couples, their popularity quickly transcending the gay fandom they had guessed they'd attract to encompass people of all ages, lifestyles and identities.
"We're going to make the most of it and enjoy doing what we do," Ian told the Associated Press in October.
At the same time, Chris told Bethesda Magazine in December, "We're gay rights advocates in the way of just showing ourselves. You are forced to see us and personalize us."
Musing on the couple's reach, Chris—who edged out Ian for People's Sexiest Guy on TikTok recognition last year—explained, "We're a gay couple, but we're not really commenting on the fact that we're gay. Maybe some gay child in Kansas who hasn't come out yet and has never met a gay person is seeing two gay people interact, but not in a way that comments on their gayness, so you're just seeing that it's OK."
After what's been a whirlwind couple of years of love, newfound success and the trials and tribulations that came with the coronavirus pandemic and navigating life—not to mention their partnership—in the public eye, Chris and Ian shared their thoughts on Pride, acceptance, LGBTQ+ representation in the media and the sorts of stories they want to see more of onscreen. (And though they mean scripted, their real-life story is a heartwarming addition to the canon.)
How has your personal definition of Pride changed or shifted after all we've been through these last few months?
Chris Olsen: I think Pride has always been about holding space for and supporting fellow LGBTQ+ members and ourselves, however this year shifted just HOW we were able to do that. We weren't able to support and love each other in person last year, which I think only made everyone look forward to and cherish the time that we would be able to in the future. So while the definition of pride hasn't changed, the importance of it has heightened.
Ian Paget: Now more than ever, Pride to me means freedom: Freedom of expression. Freedom to celebrate just BEING. This year I define my pride as: Loving myself fully and by honoring those who came before us. And working to make sure that ALL my LGBTQ+ family feels safe and loved to do the same.
What queer media, be it books, music or film/TV, is a mainstay in your life? Why?
Chris: I continue to search for the representation in media that I can feel the most connected to, and I still think there is a lot of work to do in that regard, especially throughout mainstream media.
Ian: Books: The Velvet Rage. This book was like a Queer Life 101 course on remembering that we are enough and helped me tremendously with understanding the beautiful intricacies of life as a gay man. And Mating In Captivity by Esther Perel. Film/TV: Veneno this year on HBO Max. Some of the most beautiful storytelling and performances to grace my TV. A must-watch.
What was the first time you saw yourself reflected in entertainment in a way that filled you with pride? And if you're still waiting, what is it that you're hoping to see?
Chris: I would say my experience with the movie Call Me By Your Name has changed over the past few months, but I am hoping to see more gay love stories where the love isn't centered around a tough coming-out story or feeling like what is happening is "wrong."
Ian: Seeing the original company of Wicked on Broadway! One of the dancers, Andy Pellick (who later became a friend), was a huge inspiration to me. To see someone dance the way he did and featured the way he was made me want to be that. He was LIVING!
You finally get to meet your queer hero. Who are they? And after "Thank you" and "I love you," what's the next thing you tell them?
Chris: Lady Gaga. My mom and I went to her concert when I was really young and I remember it was the first time I had seen so many queer people gathered in one space. The way she fiercely showed love to the community inspired me to want to be myself and come out while attending my religious all-boys school. I would tell her to immediately tell me how she wrote such a masterpiece of an album at 21.
Ian: Elton John. And after "thank you" and "I love you" I'd say, "Wanna sing a song together?"
You are given the keys to your industry. What's the first thing you do to make it a more inclusive environment for everyone?
Chris: For every straight love story that comes out, two gay love stories need to come out with it. There is SO much heteronormative storytelling, not only do we need more GAY love stories, we need more TRANS love stories, we need more LESBIAN love stories, we need all of the above.
Ian: I'd look to those in the industry who are most dissatisfied with the way things are and put them in positions of power. Rethinking depends on a challenge network: a group of people we trust to point out or blind spots and help us overcome our weaknesses. I'd entrust them to push us to be humble about our expertise, doubt our knowledge and be curious about new perspectives and narratives. Put people in power who fearlessly question the way things have been done and aim to hold us accountable for our past and future actions.
What is your message to future generations of queer people, coming of age right now? How do you want to instill hope in them?
Chris: YOU deserve a love story that's as beautiful as any straight love story out there, and you will find it. Just continue being yourself loudly and proudly!
Ian: My message to my beautiful queer people is you are enough. You will face some fear and even if you're struggling to believe it, taking a leap is how you conquer that fear. Participate in the world: Create, connect and contribute! To quote Lady Gaga: "Baby, you were born this way!" So own it!