She’s a little bit Pee-wee Herman, a little bit Disney-era Miley Cyrus and a little bit “Sesame Street.”
But the truth is there’s really no one like former child star JoJo Siwa at 17, with her oversize hair bows, her signature super-tight side ponytail, her big raspy voice and her wholesome, rainbow-bright music videos, one of which has more than 930 million views.
She’s the babysitter or summer camp counselor of a 7-year-old’s dreams, the big girl that little girls want to grow up to be.
And now she’s something else as well: a role model for LGBTQ youth.
In a few typically exuberant steps starting last week, Siwa announced to her 31.6 million TikTok followers and her 10.3 million Instagram followers that she is romantically interested in girls as well as boys.
First, she went on TikTok and danced to Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way,” widely viewed as an LGBTQ anthem. Then on Jan. 22 she posted a photo on Twitter with the caption “My cousin gave me a new shirt.” The shirt says “Best. Gay. Cousin. Ever.” Finally, in an Instagram Live on Saturday, Siwa affirmed that she is part of the LGBTQ community, thanked fans for their support and said she was the happiest she had ever been.
She declined to put a specific label on her sexual orientation, but in what appeared to be a response to a fan’s question, she elaborated.
“I always believed that my person was just going to be my person,” she said. “If that person happened to be a boy — great! If that person happened to be a girl — great!”
The reaction on social media was mainly very positive, with celebrities and everyday people declaring that this was a big moment, in part because of Siwa’s mainstream appeal, and in part because of the size and age of her fan base.
One of the themes among LGBTQ people and their allies was gleeful surprise.
Celebrities including Ellen DeGeneres and Paris Hilton signaled their support, and members of the gay community and their allies welcomed Siwa with open arms.
On Instagram, some parents were dismayed by the news, with at least one saying she would no longer allow her daughter to watch Siwa, whose YouTube channel draws 12 million subscribers.
But other parents responded with joy, including one who wrote, “This is HUGE, and such a profound statement for so many kiddos out there!! Our daughter loves you, and I rushed into her room last night when I heard, and had the longest talk with her about you coming out! What incredible representation she gets not just from her Moms, but from her idol as well!! How awesome is that?! Love your bravery, love your enthusiasm, and love that you have chosen YOU and your truth!! Thank you for being such an incredible example for so many! All the love, and welcome to the fam”
On a private Chicago-area Facebook page for parents and allies of LGBTQ youth, all the responses were very positive.
Siwa, veteran of the reality show “Dance Moms,” has drawn snide remarks at times for her child-friendly fashion choices: the huge hair bows, the sequins and glitter, the bright aquas and shrill pinks. Some of the haters sniffed that she should act her age.
But her remarkable consistency — she never seems to break character — as well as her stance against mean girls and her seemingly boundless enthusiasm for wholesome, G-rated fun, have won respect from mainstream critics, with Time Magazine naming her one of its 100 Most Influential People of 2020.
In an essay accompanying the announcement, Kim Kardashian wrote, “JoJo Siwa is a ray of sunshine in a world that seems scary right now ... It’s no wonder my 7-year-old daughter North and millions of other children around the world adore her.”
Some observers speculated that Siwa’s coming out may signal a new stage in her career, in which she embraces a more mature image, perhaps a variation on Miley Cyrus’ transition from Disney sweetheart to outspoken pop star.
Others just wanted to throw the social media equivalent of kisses, bouquets and love notes.