As Disney reckons with its relationship to the queer community — from censorship to tepid inclusion and a complex relationship with Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bills — the company’s stars are sharing their own journeys with queerness.
That includes Matthew Scott Montgomery, an actor who appeared on Disney Channel shows including Austin & Ally, So Random!, and Shake It Up. On a recent episode of Vulnerable, a podcast hosted by fellow former Disney actor Christy Carlson Romano, Montgomery revealed that as a young actor, his parents forced him into conversion therapy.
“When I was on Disney Channel, on my days off, I was in conversion therapy,” he said. “Disney had nothing to do with it,” he continued — in fact, his castmates had no idea what he was going through.
“Disneyland queers time in the ways it melds together the past, present, and an imagined hopeful future.”
On Tuesday, Canada’s House of Commons passed the bill, which bans all conversion therapy for minors and non-consenting adults.
“My parents are very, very conservative. How I grew up is: you find what sport you’re good at, you get a scholarship for that,” Montgomery said. “If that doesn’t work, you get a scholarship for grades, go to college, find a woman to get married [to] and then get a house and that was the only option I was told or saw.”
But when Montgomery decided to pursue acting and moved to Los Angeles at 18 years old, he quickly discovered his own queer identity, thanks in part to landing a role in a queer play called Yellow.
When his parents found out, Montgomery’s father signed him up for conversion therapy, the practice of attempting to change someone’s sexuality or gender identity (which is currently banned for use on minors in 26 states).
“I was over 18, so I technically went to conversion therapy of my own free will,” Montgomery said. “But you have to understand that in the environment that I grew up in, you were taught that you deserve to be punished all the time.”
While undergoing conversion therapy, Montgomery booked the Disney roles that put him on the map.
“The career stuff was going so well that I was still in this broken prison brain of thinking, ‘I’m on red carpets, I’m on TV every week — this is too good, I should be punished on my days off,” he explained.
The conversion therapy program Montgomery attended “prided itself on being a Hollywood place,” Montgomery said. “Their selling point was, ‘You look at any billboard in L.A. and see any male actor, they’ve been through these halls.’ This place specifically was for gay men who wanted to be turned from gay to straight and make it as a straight movie star in LA.”
Montgomery was eventually able to pull himself out of the program, thanks in part to the queer family he found working at Disney, including lesbian icon Hayley Kiyoko, who guest starred on So Random!.
“She and I became friends and we bonded,” Montgomery said. “Family knows family, but when you find another queer person, you just feel it and you latch onto that person.”
Montgomery also cited Demi Lovato as a close friend he found who helped him gain the strength to leave conversion therapy and come out of the closet.
“Demi’s family. That’s my family. That’s my soulmate. That’s the person who loves me the deepest,” he said. “And at that point I was able to begin to carefully curate a life that was filled with love and art and expression, that was satisfying me and making me so happy in a way that I’d never been before. I truly felt like I was born when I came out.”
Now, Montgomery is thriving in his identity. He even wrote and starred in an original campy queer horror movie called Howdy, Neighbor, which features several fellow Disney alums including Debby Ryan and Alyson Stoner. There’s no release date set for the film, but whenever it hits our screens, we’ll be tuning in.
Check out Montgomery’s full interview below.