YouTube and Ellen sensation (and now movie star) Kalen Allen signed an Instagram post on Saturday, “Sincerely yours, a proud gay black man from Kansas.”
It was the first time Allen — named in the current issue of Hollywood Reporter as the industry’s “next big thing” — had publicly admitted he is gay.
It was Utah’s LGBT youth who gave him the gumption him to do it.
Allen, along with a handful of other LGBT and allied celebrities, was a guest at the Ignite LGBTQ+ Youth Summit, held Saturday at Adobe in Lehi. He was going to deliver a message of strength and support, telling young people to be themselves, be in charge of their own story, be “authentic.”
But, he told the audience at the event’s evening concert, “I cannot come on this stage and tell you to be authentic … if I cannot implement that into my own life.”
That realization — the need to be both authentic and non-hypocritical — led the rising star to come out to the world just as he was en route to Utah.
“I’ve contemplated, erased, and modified countless times what I am about to say. A truth that to most was never really a secret but I kept to myself due to fear,” Allen’s Instagram post, which he later posted also on Facebook, began.
“I can no longer live hypocritically,” he wrote. “I cannot preach of living life authentically and with no regrets when I do not adhere to my own advice.”
Allen recently finished shooting for his role in an upcoming Seth Rogen film, In a Pickle. He’s had a pretty quick rise in popularity since being discovered only within the last year by Ellen DeGeneres for his “Kalen Reacts” YouTube videos.
At such a tenuous point in a career, coming out — as anyone who has come out knows, regardless of celebrity — is scary stuff. “My heart beats fifty miles an hour at this very moment,” Allen wrote, after admitting that it had been fear that kept him from coming out before now: “Fear of losing my mother, fear of losing friends, fear of not being loved unconditionally…”
He told the Ignite audience earlier in the day that he made his coming-out posts without even telling his mother beforehand. He spent the day nervous about the implications and possible fallout once the news spread. “Nobody has seen me since I posted on Instagram,” he said.
“He’s had a rough day,” said Jacob Dunford, production manager of the Ignite concert and also the LoveLoud event, explaining that Allen wasn’t ready to give an interview to reporters about his decision.
Allen said nearly the same thing in another post early Sunday morning: “It’s been a rough 24 hours for me.”
Backstage, Allen looked thoughtful and, away from any audience, didn’t (or couldn’t) completely disguise the worry he was wrangling with internally.
The Ignite event was the production of Encircle, an organization with the mission “to embrace and sustain every LGBTQ+ youth, every family and every community,” as its website states (encircletogether.org). In only it’s second year, the summit drew 800 participants including preteens, adolescents, young (and even older) adults, and families and allies.
Other concert performers included such LGBT luminaries as Carmen Carrera, the once gay-male drag-queen now turned transgender model; Jeffrey Marsh, a gender-nonbinary person who was once dubbed as “the internet’s most beloved anti-bully” and is the first nonbinary author to have a book with a major publishing house, Penguin; gay singer-songwriters Wrabel and Vincent (both of whom were to thank for the two of the evening’s highest emotional high-points); actresses Alexis G. Zall and Mindy Gledhill; and Utah-based music band Foreign Figures, with lead-singer Eric Michels who only recently came out as gay.
They all expressed earnest and palpable concern, support and outreach to the Ignite audience. They all understood; they all empathized. They all had messages that resonated powerfully with people who feel shunned to some degree by their own society; being famous doesn’t necessarily change that.
Carrera said it had been difficult being in the modeling industry while being trans and “trying to figure out who you are.”
“I was on RuPaul’s Drag Race,” she said, “and I figured everybody loved me, right? No.” But despite how unwell it might be received, she said, “Always hold on to your story … No matter what situation you are in, there is someone like you. You are not alone.”
“Most times and in most situations, people find me disgusting,” said Marsh, whose own story included reconciling with his mother, who, as a Christian pastor, had an incredibly difficult time understanding her child.
While LGBT people want so badly to be understood and to be heard, Marsh reminded the audience that the coin has two sides. “Mom had a million things to say, too.”
Vincent touched hearts to the core with his rendition of Coldplay’s “Magic,” which he made personal to the audience: “If you have to ask me, after all, you’ve been through if I believe in magic, yes I do, and it’s because of you.”
Wrabel’s performance also led to an outpouring of emotion, though somewhat impromptu. He performed his song, “The Village,” with its message that if the world has a problem with you, the problem is with the world, not with you.
That’s when there was a problem with the electrical power to the stage and production booth, which went out mid-song.
As stage techs scrambled to restore power, the time was filled by co-emcee Jasmine Fullmer, the program director and “house mom” at Encircle’s Provo center.
Fullmer informed the audience of a young person who frequents Encircle who had attempted suicide earlier that day. That person is safe, but it was the impetus behind Fullmer’s impassioned and impacting plea for people to realize they are meant to be here, to find reasons to live and survive.
Power was restored; Wrabel again began “The Village” and completed it with a poignancy somehow enhanced — rather than spoiled — by the interruption.
If the performers gave love, they received it as well.
“I just gotta level with you,” Marsh said, “This is the most loved I have felt in a very long time.”
Michels said almost exactly the same thing, and Vincent told the audience, “I’m just blown away by how kind you are.”
And Allen, who only hours before had come out to the world, and who had been introduced by Miller as himself “the king of kindness,” said, “I don’t’ think I would have made it through this day if I hadn’t been here.”
Photo: Dylan Wilkinson