Colton Underwood, the First Gay ‘Bachelor,’ Confronts His Controversial Coming Out

The television personality was convinced he’d spend his entire life pretending to be a straight man — pushed into that direction by his church and small-town, conservative upbringing in Illinois.

But last month, Underwood made national headlines by coming out to Robin Roberts in a bombshell “Good Morning America” interview, shattering the heteronormative conventions of ABC’s top-rated reality dating juggernaut franchise.

“I’ll just say it,” Underwood reveals on a recent afternoon, still adjusting to his new life as an openly gay man.

Underwood never saw the alleged photos and explains he was at the spa “just to look,” saying he “should have never been there.” The unidentified sender threatened to “out” him in the press, and in a panic of paranoia, Underwood forwarded the email to his publicist, Alex Spieller, which forced him to finally have an honest conversation about his sexual orientation.

At one time, coming out of the closet was deemed a career killer, but shows like “The Real World,” “Survivor” and the original “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” now rebooted on Netflix, led to a profound, positive transformation in how gay people are perceived, and helped bring about progressive changes to LGBTQ civil rights.

Seen through the prism of reality TV, social media, sports and faith, and as someone who was raised with conservative values, he suddenly found himself mired in controversy.

Social media lit up with accusations that Underwood was monetizing his coming-out story.

Despite receiving death threats, Underwood says that speaking his truth was the right thing to do.

At one point, he picks up his iPhone and scrolls through DMs from strangers, admitting he’s most touched by those who write to tell him he’s made them feel less alone by coming out.

“I know people are saying that this story has been told, but I grew up in Central Illinois,” Underwood says.

As our conversation continues, Underwood addresses the media coverage of his “Bachelor” breakup.

First, he wants to clear the air, because he’s seen the word “abuse” next to his name in press reports.

Underwood says that after Randolph broke up with him, he was in “such a dark place” because he knew, in his heart, his last straight relationship was over and he’d finally have to face his true reality.

Later, as Underwood’s very small inner circle came to learn about his sexuality, the production company pitched him on the idea of a show about his journey coming out, and after five months of therapy and meeting with a psychiatrist, Underwood decided his story could help others.

The dating series, which launched in 2002, is still a major revenue generator for ABC and the network’s top-rated unscripted series, attracting an average of more than 5 million viewers for its most recent, 25th season.

As “The Bachelor” pledges to be more inclusive, Underwood’s story only highlights the lack of diversity within the franchise’s depiction of love.

“It’s hard to change the format that has been done the same way — a man and a woman — for so many years,” says Anthony Allen Ramos, GLAAD’s head of talent.

I’m at a crossroads in my life right now.” On some days, he imagines himself disappearing from the industry completely, living a quiet life in Denver, where he recently bought his first home, permanently away from TV cameras.

The number of high-profile gay love stories at the movies — among them, the Hulu romantic comedy “Happiest Season” and 2017 Sundance darling “Call Me by Your Name” — remains small.

It got so dark that he took pills one night last summer, hoping he’d never wake up.

“Folks who are in positions to share their story — and not everyone has that opportunity — also have the opportunity to lift others up,” says Kevin Wong, vice president of communications at The Trevor Project.

Though he felt that he was different at the age of 6, Underwood never got the chance to interact with gay people.

He recalls the lengths he went to one day to watch “Brokeback Mountain,” the groundbreaking 2005 romance directed by Ang Lee, as a teenager.

Around the eighth grade, Underwood’s father saw something on his son’s computer that raised a flag.

At the time, Underwood denied being gay to his father.

After college football, Underwood entered the NFL draft, being signed as a free agent by the San Diego Chargers, then joining the Philadelphia Eagles’ practice squad and the Oakland Raiders.

“Growing up in sports, I was taught that gay is wrong and gay is bad and football players are not gay,” Underwood says.

Within a few months, he was on a plane to Los Angeles, as a contestant on Becca Kufrin’s season of “The Bachelorette,” which aired in 2018.

He never felt comfortable with the promotional material for his season of “The Bachelor,” but he doesn’t hold a grudge.

I was a miserable person living as a shell of a human being, and being who the world wanted to see.

Prior to “The Bachelor,” in his mid-20s, Underwood had a few sexual experiences with men, he reveals.

“I want to make that very clear that I did not have sex with a man, prior to that.” He reveals that he joined the dating app Grindr under an alias in 2016 or 2017.

When he ended up finding fame and becoming a household name, Underwood was constantly worried that one of the men he’d hooked up with might sell him out to the tabloids.

Underwood says the purpose of his Netflix show is to share a multitude of LGBTQ stories, not just his own.

That said, we hope the show will help challenge outdated notions of what kind of stories can or should be at the center of entertainment,” says Brandon Riegg, vice president of unscripted and documentary series at Netflix.

“Here he is, a cisgender white man who comes out as gay, and he gets a show,” says Garcia.

Garcia, who has an inclusive congregation in Boulder, Co., where she hangs a pride flag in the sanctuary, only agreed to sign onto the Netflix show if she could represent the wider scope of the community, especially with transgender people under attack.

“Both Colton and I have something in common in that growing up, we felt we had to live into a stereotype.

He wishes his son wouldn’t live his entire life in the public eye, but he sees the impact his Netflix series may have on families who abandon their children for being gay.

“My dad is proud to say that he is a conservative Republican, and he is also proud to say, I have a gay son,” Underwood says.

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