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26/02/2018 4:32 AM AEDT

'Andi Mack' Star Honored To Play Disney Channel's First Openly Gay Character

“I knew that I wanted to do it justice,” Joshua Rush says.

The Disney Channel’s “Andi Mackmade history last fall when it revealed one of its principal characters to be gay ― a first for the family-friendly network.  

The coming-of-age series’ second season premiere found Andi (played by Peyton Elizabeth Lee) struggling over her feelings for a middle school boy, Jonah Beck (Asher Angel). As Andi confides in her pal, Cyrus (Joshua Rush), he begins to realize that he, too, has a crush on Jonah. In subsequent episodes, Cyrus comes to embrace his identity as a young gay teen.

When the character’s storyline was introduced in October, it quickly made countless headlines and stirred its share of controversy. For his part, Rush said he expected that playing a gay character would be scrutinized. But he said that ultimately, he’s grateful to be a part of such a groundbreaking storyline. 

“I think the most important thing for me when I got this part was to do it right,” the 16-year-old told People. “I knew that I wanted to do it justice, because I knew that people were gonna end up seeing this and being like, ‘Wow that’s me, I identify with that [and] I can be who I am now,’ but I also wanted to make sure that it’s not all-encompassing. Like that’s not all of Cyrus’ personality.”

Rush, whose other credits include “The Lion Guard” and “Chuck,” hopes young LGBTQ people struggling to come to terms with their sexuality will find inspiration in Cyrus’ story. 

“I think this storyline is definitely going to help a lot of my peers,” he said. “I hope that more shows will follow in Disney’s footsteps with Cyrus’ storyline. Really, I look forward to the day that it’s not an unusual occurrence. I hope everyone can one day see that our differences are beautiful and that love is love.”  

The show’s creator, Terri Minsky, said last fall that she and the Disney Channel consulted child development experts and a number of LGBTQ advocacy groups, including GLAAD and PFLAG, to ensure Cyrus’ coming out story would be portrayed “in an age-appropriate and respectful manner.” (The series has already received a GLAAD Media Awards nomination for its efforts.) 

Rush believes they’ve succeeded. 

“We put the work in,” he said, “and I think it shows.”

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