Another excellent issue to be raised. This is 2017 (what does that even mean anymore?!), and it is still difficult for an openly queer actor to escape typecasting. If this were a perfect world (ha!), we would have movement both ways: straight actors clamoring for queer parts and queer actors taking on straight parts and queer actors taking on queer parts. But we are justifiably weary of 'queer' films that do not hire queer actors.
Boy Erased is not one of these films. I cannot release the full cast (the announcement was an unofficial leak), but I can say that the team is working hard to populate the world of Love in Action (the conversion therapy camp I attended) with predominantly queer actors, many of whom will presumably see their first major role in film as a queer character. As a consultant, I am very committed to ensuring that the sensibility of the film and much of the cast is queer.
I can also say that, when the director approached me about hiring Lucas Hedges to play me, I did not consider the status of his sexuality before shouting "Yes please!" (he MADE Manchester by the Sea IMO). Perhaps some would say I should have. But I can tell you why I didn't: When I was outed at 19 by my rapist, I was thrust into a world that was wholly aggressive towards me, a world I was not equipped to handle. If I had been equipped to handle it, I would never have attended conversion therapy or wanted to kill myself because of my sexuality. I did not want to directly ask Lucas about his sexuality, and as a former high school instructor (6 years), it is not my policy to do so. I believe you should trust what people say about themselves, and thus far Lucas has not "come out" as straight or gay. He isn't even on Facebook or Twitter (a rarity for sure) and has mentioned in interviews that he does not want to be on social media. Aside from gossip, I can find no statements on his sexuality, and I'm only guessing when I say he prefers it that way. I have found questions about my relationships and my current understanding of sexuality to be very invasive at times, and I have often balked at the general public's desire to know every single detail about my family life. All human lives deserve to be treated with dignity, and I believe leaving these questions to Lucas is the best way to handle it.
Does that mean there weren't qualified queer actors who would have done a fine job playing me? Certainly not. And without naming any of them here, I can assure you that I have a running list of wonderful queer actors I'm ready to suggest for other parts in the film. I think this debate will churn on, and I'm happy for it. How much does a subjective sense of talent weigh into a decision for any part, and how do we leverage that sense of talent against what many believe are Hollywood's biases against queer people? Does having "gay voice" disqualify you? Does having "flamboyant" mannerisms unjustly typecast you? I don't know the answers to these questions, but I know they need to continue being asked in earnest.
What I do know is that, in talking with Lucas for many hours, I have a clear sense that he is meant to play this role. He understands my story, and I have a gut reaction to what I sense will be a fantastic performance. Is my gut reaction biased? Am I reacting this way because I'm flattered by the "straight-acting" boy playing me? Do I have a bad case of internalized homophobia? Am I erasing myself (cue Alanis). I do not believe so. I believe that my gut reaction is the same thing that guided the writing of my memoir. I think I can sense the direction that this film needs to go, and while I wasn't the one making final decisions (thank baby Jesu!), my opinion counted a great deal and continues to count a great deal.