High School Musical director Kenny Ortega has confirmed that Ryan was gay in the films.

Memorably played by Lucas Grabeel in the first three instalments, the fan-favourite character was the theatre-obsessed twin brother of Sharpay Evans (Ashley Tisdale), and was known for his bubbly personality and stylish array of hats.

Although Ryan never came out on screen, fans have long speculated that he identified as gay – including lead star Vanessa Hudgens, who told GAY TIMES in 2018 that “Disney wasn’t ready” for LGBTQ+ representation at the time.

In a new interview with Variety, Ortega – who directed the entire trilogy – confirmed Ryan’s homosexuality, and said he didn’t come out as gay in the films because the team decided that he would “come out in college”.

“It was less about coming out and just more about letting his true colors come forward,” he explained.

When asked if it would’ve been possible to have Ryan be openly gay, he echoed Hudgens’ comment: “I have to be honest with you. I didn’t think at the time — and Disney is the most progressive group of people I’ve ever worked with.

“I was concerned because it was family and kids, that Disney might not be ready to cross that line and move into that territory yet. So, I just took it upon myself to make choices that I felt that those who were watching would grab.

“They would see it, they would feel it, they would know it and they would identify with it. And that is what happened.”

In our interview with Hudgens, she added that she would’ve “loved” for the franchise to include an openly LGBTQ+ character, and if it were made today, Ryan’s sexuality would not be repressed and would factor into the storyline.

Although there were rumours for years about a third High School Musical sequel, it never came to fruition. However, the series did receive a revival on Disney Plus with some much-needed LGBTQ+ representation.

Related: Frankie Rodriguez on playing the first openly gay character in Disney’s High School Musical.