*NSYNC may have been what put Lance Bass on the map, but that’s not what kept him there. Lance has gone from boy band personality to activist, entrepreneur, father, and star in his own right.
Destined to become a mega multi-media personality, he started life in a small town in Mississippi where no one locked their doors. His musical instruction would start early as he began singing in his Southern Baptist church choir. The church became his second home and he would learn how to read music and harmonize, not knowing how much those skills would come into play in his later life. As much as he embraced those early beginnings, he also started to feel the divide between conservative religion and sexuality.
I knew I was gay at five years old and I also knew that it would be something I would have to hide my entire life. At a young age, I started seeing the BS which changed my whole look on religion and the world. I knew at an early age that many of the adults around me were wrong about so many issues – especially in regards to homosexuality – and it was that realization where I became aware these authority figures weren’t to be fully trusted. I feel like I had to fake so much about myself just to appease everyone around me. It made me question everything, and religion doesn’t give you the space to question anything. I remember when I was “saved” and baptized – going through the motions – I had to pretend that I felt the light of Jesus. It was all just an act on my part to appease those around me.
The exposure that would come with *NSYNC also came with the pressure of living life the way the public saw him, not who he really was. Pretty much exposed by the media, his real-life would come into the spotlight as his People magazine cover story would serve as his official coming out. Not calculated or planned, it happened in a media frenzy.
I only had 48 hours to start coming out to the rest of my friends/family who I needed to tell before the whole world learned. I was outed. In hindsight, I am glad the band-aid was ripped off but I had a lot of learning to do about the gay community and I had to learn very quickly.
No one should be forced to come out. Everyone needs to do it on their own time because you don’t know everyone’s story. There could be safety concerns and there are so many different experiences. It’s ultimately a very personal decision and should be decided by the individual and no one else.
Even as his coming out made headlines, he retreated.
I didn’t want to read anything about myself because I thought people would just be mean and disregard me. I didn’t want to be felt “less than” because most gay people were treated like that at the time. Gay people were treated as novelties. Eventually, though, I couldn’t help but see the way that the media reacted, and to my surprise, everyone was mostly positive and even supportive. It was the first time I had seen a gay man treated with that kind of respect after coming out and it gave me hope moving forward. At that point, I knew I’d be known for being gay more than *NSYNC. My whole career changed from that moment on and my life went on a completely different path. I knew I could hopefully help move the needle for LGBTQ acceptance and I’d have to be more vocal.
How did he change the most from his coming out?
I became who I really am. Your relationships become better. You lose people because you see people’s true colors – there’s a lot of ignorance, but that’s a good thing at the end of the day. It weeds out the bad ones and keeps the people who actually love you.
Shortly after being embraced for his coming out, the LGBTQ community shifted gears and came after him regarding a comment he made about appearing “straight-acting,” claiming he was enforcing negative stereotypes. His role as a true activist would be later welcomed but, at the time, the inclusive nature of our community wasn’t being well represented, and was quick to judge. Just because he was a celebrity didn’t mean he had all the answers or was groomed to be a spokesperson overnight. Does he think our community has matured since his coming out?
In many ways we’ve grown stronger, but we’ve also digressed in certain ways as well, in my honest opinion. As I mentioned earlier, when I was outed I only had 48 hours to let my friends, family, and colleagues know before the story was going to be published. That also only gave me 48 hours to educate myself as much as I could on LGBT issues which, in hindsight, is just absurd. I was ignorant of so much back then because even though I’ve always known I was gay, I had distanced myself so much from the community in order to preserve my career and the careers of my bandmates. During that interview, I had relayed a story about how some of my friends (the few who, in fact, had known I was gay) referred to me as “sag” or straight-acting-gay, and instead, the publication then erroneously stated that I referred to myself as that. At that time I admittedly had no clue about the offensiveness of this language and the problems it creates for many in the LGBT+ community. I obviously never wanted to hurt anybody but the damage had been done. I distinctly remember receiving an HRC award that year, and when I made my way to the stage two tables flipped me off and walked out. This is where I believe the LGBTQ community can sometimes be too impulsively judgmental to our own who make honest mistakes. We’ve come so far in our journey towards acceptance and equality that, at times, we’re too quick to knock down those within our own community who are still finding their way. Fortunately for me, I also had amazing LGBT people around me who helped educate me on these issues instead of immediately tossing me aside. Because of them, it’s affected how I react to others moving forward.
Today’s celebration of openly LGBTQ entertainers is a totally different environment than the landscape Lance came out in. Having been through two previous substantial relationships, it was his involvement with Amazing Race’s Reichen Lehmkuhl that would make his coming out inevitable. Does he wish he could have come out earlier?
Knowing what I know now, I would have come out during *NSYNC. To be able to be an ‘out’ gay teenager in the biggest band in the world would have helped so many people. As a teenager, I didn’t understand that though. I’m not sure if my career would have been the same because in the 90s. I could have very well been fired. I never wanted to ruin my best friends’ careers and everyone else that worked for us. I didn’t want the band to get canceled and have my sexuality be the cause – only demonizing sexuality even more. In hindsight, I would have just loved to be authentic, and if people had an issue then SCREW THEM!
I think the more representation we have out there in any capacity/industry, the better. Straight entertainers have been singing about heterosexual sex and relationships for as long as the medium has existed. It’s just par for the course. LGBTQ entertainers no longer have to hide and, because of that, their art now reflects their true lives. Gay performers have always existed, but now they finally have the freedom to be authentic.
Though his activism was called into question, he has been an avid philanthropist even in his youth. Five years before his coming out, he founded The Lance Bass Foundation, a non-profit organization that was designed to meet the health needs of low-income children. Two years later he donated $30,000 to establish the Amber Pulliam Special Education Endowment at the University of Southern Mississippi to aid students who planned a career in special education, all in honor of his cousin who has Down Syndrome. After Hurricane Katrina, he launched uBid for Hurricane Relief putting together celebrity auctions to benefit victims. He also appeared on an episode of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition that highlighted his donation to save a camp for disabled children in Russia. He’s been involved in environmental and animal organizations and has been an active supporter of GLAAD and the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network. While his time is now more focused on his family, he is excited to see the younger generation of activists continue that legacy. He also continues to call on his fellow celebrities to become involved and use their platforms for activism.
I hope we can continue to grow as an entertainment community. I think things are great and only going to get better. Just in the last ten years, we’ve seen so many LGBTQ artists getting so much respect for who they are and what they’re doing. Entertainers always have a significant impact on peoples’ mindsets because their fans start getting passionate about the same issues and then it becomes a domino effect. For example, many *NSYNC fans started to be really passionate about the LGBTQ community because I came out and it educated them. There are so many fans that are now LGBTQ advocates and creating change within their own communities.
The *NSYNC fandom remains fervent supporters, even after the group’s hiatus in 2002. The group completed five nationwide concert tours and sold over 70 million records, becoming one of the best-selling boy bands in history. While in junior high school, Lance was approached by Justin Timberlake after the group’s initial bass singer dropped out. He auditioned, left school, and moved to Orlando to start rehearsing with the group full time. Even as *NSYNC became a global phenomenon, the boys were in a bubble.
For years, we had no idea how big it got. It seemed like every day we were booked every hour. We didn’t get to really watch tv or listen to the radio. It was great because it kept us very humble. We were always chasing the Backstreet Boys. We always felt inferior to them, always trying to prove ourselves or get respect. It wasn’t really until 1999/2000 when we started realizing the impact we were having. We performed “Music Of My Heart” with Gloria Estefan at the Oscars and it was so surreal to be standing on stage in front of people who we’ve looked up to our whole lives. That was kind of where it dawned on us that this was big.
To Lance, the realization of success was a double-edged sword.
As success grows, there’s more outside influence as a group and also as an individual, especially for teenagers who are becoming adults. With more success, the less close we became. The first few years, we were in it together by ourselves. There was no outside influence and we formed this brotherhood that could never be broken. All we had was each other. More success meant more influence from the outside and sometimes it got in the way. I see that a lot with every musician I know. It’s somehow always the outside that destroys their art.
I hate to say I regret anything, but of course I do. In hindsight, there are many things I would have changed. Number one, I would have at least wanted to tell my four brothers that I was gay. I wish I could have told them the truth. I think it would have led me to be a different person within the group. I look back in different interviews and I don’t even recognize who I was – I just wanted to fade into the background and I tried to do just that. If I could have been open and honest with the guys, I would have been a different person and a better performer.
Much media speculation has been made about why the group hasn’t reunited. Timberlake took the group’s hiatus to start his solo career and what was to last six months turned into an indefinite break.
I think it’s ridiculous we never said goodbye – the fans are owed at least owed that. One last song, one last show.
Though not the full reunion fans have been asking for, Lance and bandmate Joey Fatone joined forces with Backstreet Boys members AJ McLean and Nick Carter to create the ultimate boyband Back-Synch. Their debut performance would raise money for The Trevor Project. With a nod to the future of boybands, the group’s appearance was total nostalgia with the singers performing as well as ever.
I love the stage, I love being a ham, I love performing. The main thing that drew me to Back-Sync was the charity angle. It was great that three of my close straight friends were so passionate about giving back to the LGBTQ community. All in all, it was a great experience and I would love to continue to do it around Pride every year.
Post *NSYNC would keep Lance busy with appearances on Broadway, in film, reality TV, and more, including a long-running stint with SiriusXM with Dirty Pop, his daily take on pop culture with celebrity guests. He has never been far from the media’s attention, especially present in Lance’s private life events such as becoming a husband and father.
I’ve been in the public eye for most of my life so I don’t know anything different. The husband I am and the father I am is just me being who I should be. I also understand the whole world is watching and I want to be a good influence – someone that people look up to. I took that very seriously at such a young age because I was in a boyband with so many young impressionable fans. It’s always been that way my whole life. I chose to do good in this world and that spills into my home life as well. At the end of the day, there will always be outside chatter and noise and I’ve learned to not let it affect my real life.
Lance has turned his efforts to the nightlife, becoming an entrepreneur in West Hollywood with the opening of the always packed Rocco’s and, most recently, Heart. Where Rocco’s serves up that neighborhood, sports bar feel with a bit of glitz, Heart is the mega dance club that West Hollywood never had. No matter your taste, you will end up brushing elbows with a celeb. His mission is to create a fun, safe space for anyone who needs to forget their troubles and experience inclusive fellowship, even if it’s just a few hours.
Nightlife has been a huge part of my life since I was a teenager. The music industry happens at night. I’ve seen the best bars, clubs, restaurants, and VIP experiences all over the world. It’s easy to start getting accustomed to the way things should be run and be familiar with what people want. I didn’t come into this with strictly business in mind, I came into this as a patron who wanted to experience the best of the best. When my partners came to me about wanting to open up a gay sports bar in West Hollywood, I jumped at the chance. I am gay and I love sports – it made perfect sense! I also loved that I could use my love for hospitality in a fun way. I’m always the one hosting parties at my house – why not at my own sports bar or club?! I had NO idea it would blow up the way it has with our little bar and now owning a nightclub. It makes so much sense to me.
Additionally, I now have an entertainment venue that the LGBTQ community can use as their own – which was a dream I never thought I ever had. I wanted to give our community a stage for them to do whatever they want and we did just that.
David Cooley and Lisa Vanderpump, two of my very good friends, own a lot of bars/restaurants in the Weho area so I saw how they handled it and they definitely gave me great advice. The best part of my job in this scene is that I’m entertainment only. All of the other partners have their own expertise. I stay in my lane and it’s a way less stressful lane because no one is looking at me to operate the club, thankfully. I’m there to make sure the entertainment is amazing.
I’ve learned that people need a safe space to be themselves and the LGBTQ community can be VERY loyal. We have our neighborhood regulars that are at Rocco’s every single week and it becomes a neighborhood family. A lot of the people that I work with also go there regularly just because they love it so much. I love being able to give this neighborhood a place to go and not worry about being themselves. You can also meet SO many different types of people. It’s incredible to see every ethnicity, body type, and identity dancing together in a space that represents the actual world we live in.
Throughout his career, his fans have been at the heart of everything. From the positive response of his coming out to the thrill of seeing Lance grow into the man he has become, they are unwavering.
The fans have been such an intricate part of my entire life. Being in the type of band I was in, it was all about the fans as much as it was about entertainment and music. Their continued support is so humbling. I’m so appreciative that they’ve stuck by me all these years and now join in the fight for a lot of the things that I care about which include LGBTQ rights, environment, and animals. It’s nice to be an influence for someone to do better in this world so I appreciate them more than they could ever imagine.
Photo: Dennis Ilic
Last modified: April 5, 2022