The LGBTQIA+ community has made innumerable contributions to the world of Disney, from the cast members at Disney Parks to Disney performers on Broadway, in film, and on television, they’ve played a vital role in making the company what we know and love. In honor of Pride Month, let’s take a look at five LGBTQIA+ musicians who have made major contributions to Disney.
One could easily argue that without Howard Ashman, the Disney Rennaisance would never have taken place. Providing the lyrics for composer Alan Menken’s, he helped write some of Disney’s most beloved songs, working on The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, as well as Aladdin. He won two Academy Awards and earned a total of seven nominations, taking home the trophy for Best Original Song with “Under the Sea” and “Beauty and the Beast” in 1989 and 1991 respectively. Amazingly, in both years he was nominated multiple times, earning two nominations for The Little Mermaid and three for Beauty and the Beast.
Ashman’s Disney career began in 1986, when he was brought into to write a song for Oliver & Company. The result was “Once Upon a Time in New York City,” which he co-wrote with Barry Mann. Huey Lewis performed the song on the soundtrack.
In addition to his Academy Awards, Ashman’s work would earn him two Golden Globes and five Grammy Awards.
At the age of 40, Ashman passed away, three years after being diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. His partner Bill Lauch accepted his Academy Award for Beauty and the Beast stating, “Howard and I shared a home and a life together, and I’m very happy and very proud to accept this for him…But it is bittersweet. This is the first Academy Award given to someone we’ve lost to AIDS.”
The credits of Beauty and the Beast contained a tribute to Ashman, which read, “To our friend Howard, who gave a mermaid her voice, and a beast his soul. We will be forever grateful. Howard Ashman 1950-1991.”
In 1976, Elton John came out as bisexual during an interview with Rolling Stone magazine. Twelve years later, he would state that he was “comfortable” with his gayness while talking to the magazine again. An article in the Clinton Digital Library states, “In 1993 John began a relationship with David Furnish, an advertising executive turned filmmaker. They entered into a civil partnership when it became legal in 2005; then when gay marriage became legal in England in 2014 they were one of the first couples to tie the knot formally. John and Furnish have two sons. In addition, John has ten godchildren.”
He was brought on board to work with Disney when lyricist Tim Rice was hired to work on The Lion King. The duo wrote five original songs for the film, three of which (“Can You Feel the Love Tonight,” “Hakunnah Matata,” and “Circle of Life”) would be nominated for Academy Awards for “Best Original Song.” The song “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” would take home the trophy, as well as the Golden Globe Award for the same category. The track would also take home the Grammy for “Best Male Vocal Performance.”
Among it’s many other accomplishments, the soundtrack for The Lion King became the 4th best selling album of 1994, and is the only animated film soundtrack to be certified Diamond (10x Platinum).
Raven-Symoné’s acting career began when she was three years old, performing as Olivia Kendall in The Cosby Show. In 1990, she appeared in “The Muppets at Walt Disney World,” a special which was part of the Wonderful World of Disney.
Her massive success with the company would come after she auditioned for the role of Chelsea Daniels in the series Absolutely Psychic. However, her role was changed to that of Raven Baxter, and the series was retitled That’s So Raven. The series debuted on the Disney Channel and ran for four years, becoming the channel’s highest rated program as well as it’s longest running (though it was eventually surpassed by Wizards of Waverly Place).
Symoné recorded multiple songs for the show’s soundtrack, including “Supernatural” and “Shine.” The album would reach #44 on the Billboard charts and has been certified Gold with over 500,000 copies sold.
In 2003, she starred in The Cheetah Girls, the Disney Channel’s first musical. The soundtrack became one of the best selling Walt Disney Records albums of all time, going double Platinum and reaching number one on the Billboard Kid Album Charts.
Throughout her career, she has been omnipresent on the Disney Channel. She performed roles in cartoons like Kim Possible, as well as Disney Channel Original Movies like Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century. In 2017, she returned to her role as Raven Baxter in the series Raven’s Home.
In a 2016 video called “It Gets Better” Symoné talked about difficulties she faced coming out. She recalled, “I never thought I would come out because my personal life didn’t matter…It was only supposed to be sold as, you know, a Raven Symone record…I couldn’t say it out loud…It was always negative. So, if you don’t see other people going through it in a positive way, why would you say anything? There was nothing that would have made me want to deal with my own issue at that time.” She would go on to state how much better she felt after coming out stating, “I felt lighter. I felt like I could go out and not have to put on 17 different hats to be myself. I realize that just living my truth of what I am, there’s one less person to fight me in my own head.”
Auli’i Cravalho rocketed to fame when she appeared in the title role of Disney’s 2016 animated hit Moana. However, initially she hadn’t even planned to audition for the role. Speaking to People, she recalled, “ “A few of my friends actually flew out to Disneyland to try out… I was getting through freshman year, I was settling in really well and I had many things on my plate. And there were already so many great submissions that I didn’t think I needed to try out.”
Her performance as Moana helped the soundtrack (which included music written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Mark Mancina, and Opetaia Foa’i) reach #2 on the Billboard 200. In addition, the song “How Far I’ll Go,” written by Miranda and performed by Cravalho, would earn a Golden Globe nomination for Best Original Song and an Academy Award nomination in the same category.
In April of 2020, Cravalho came out as bisexual on TikTok. Speaking to Teen Vogue a year later, she stated, “The funniest part to me was that I had girlfriends in high school. I think girls are great, but I wouldn’t think that it was necessary to come out.” She also reflected on fans who said that her openness inspired them. As noted in the article, she “opened up about how her TikTok even prompted people from her past to reach out with positive messages. ‘Like, ‘Wow, that’s really great,’” she quoted them. ‘I wouldn’t have the confidence to come out like you did in a TikTok, but hey, way to be real Gen-Z about it and push forward into the future.”
Jonathan Groff earned global recognition for his role as Melchior Gabor in the Tony Award winning musical Spring Awakening. Within a few years, he earned evengreater public recognition as a regular guest star on the hit musical comedy-drama Glee.
Ironically, his initial foray into the world of Disney featured minimal singing. He performed the role of Kristoff in the 2013 film Frozen. Despite his vocal credentials and capabilities, the only number he performed in the movie was the 50 second song “Reindeers are Better Than People.”
He reprised the role of Kristoff in Frozen Fever where he was one of the performers singing in “Making Today a Perfect Day.” In 2017, he performed “The Ballad of Flemmingrad” in Olaf’s Frozen Adventure. Two years later, he got his first real Disney solo singing “Lost in the Woods” in Frozen II.
In 2015, Groff debuted the role of King George in the Broadway production of Hamilton, a role he would reprise in the 2020 Disney + film production of the musical.
Speaking to Playbill about his sexuality, he recalled, “Coming from Lancaster, PA, I didn’t have a lot of gay role models because it’s a very conservative community, and the people who were gay when I was growing up were pretty closeted, but one of the great things that I still value and really valued back then was that I met a lot of gay people working in the theatre, and it was just so comforting to know that you could be gay and have a life… So the fact that if I’m an out actor, and kids can have that same sort of release and experience, it’s incredibly meaningful.”
When it comes to the actual process of coming out, he mused, “when I look back now and I think about what it was like to be closeted, I think, “The release and relief and just the way that life gets better after you stop living a compartmentalized existence is major and is something you can’t really understand until you finally take that leap.”