Lance Bass remembers trying to "pray the gay away" as a 5-year-old boy growing up in a small Mississippi town.
“I was taught that homosexuality is a sin and you have to fix it. You can’t act on it,” Bass, now 43, told TODAY Parents. “So every night I’d get into bed and ask God to please fix me.”
"Every night I’d get into bed and ask God to please fix me.”
With each year, Bass, who is naturally outgoing, became more and more withdrawn. He was afraid that if he spoke too much, his classmates would discover his secret. Or even worse: His conservative Southern Baptist parents, Jim and Diane Bass, would find out.
“The last thing I’d ever want to do is hurt my family,” Bass said. “I was terrified of losing them. You hear so many horror stories — especially in the south — of families rejecting their gay kids.”
When Bass joined the pop group NSYNC in 1995, he was a 16-year-old high school junior and deeply closeted. He never feared the judgment of his former bandmates — JC Chasez, Joey Fatone, Chris Kirkpatrick and Justin Timberlake — but there was always the worry of his mom and dad. And how would fans take it? Bass wasn’t ready to find out.
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To protect himself and his career, Bass became "the shy one" in the group, he recalled.
“During big interviews, I wouldn’t speak because I felt people would figure me out. So I became the quiet one. That’s the personality that I created so that I wasn’t expected to talk much,” he said.
The singer had canned answers when asked what he was looking for in a girlfriend. When journalists pressed him about his romantic life, Bass had the perfect excuse: He was busy touring with NSYNC. He had no time for relationships.
“I went through a major depression for years — and to this day, I still struggle,” Bass revealed. “Do I have PTSD from hiding a secret for as long as I did? I don’t know. I don’t know exactly what damage was caused by staying in the closet.”
Coming out of the closet
After NSYNC wrapped their final tour in 2002, and Bass was no longer under a microscope, he said he slowly began living "my more authentic life."
In 2006, Bass was enjoying a night out at gay bar in Provincetown, Massachusetts, a popular vacation destination for the LGBTQ community.
“I was waiting on line for the bathroom and this guy recognized me and says, ‘You’re gay?’ And I go, ‘Yeah!’” Bass recalled. “It was the first time I’d told a stranger I was gay and it felt amazing. It was such a relief.”
The stranger turned out to be a reporter. And the reporter said they would publish an article about Bass’ sexuality — with or without his cooperation. He had 48 hours to decide.
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At that point, only a few people, including Bass’s sister, Stacy, knew that he was gay.
"A huge part of me did die — that character I created died, and I was finally able to be my true self. Up until then I'd been lying and hiding."
“When I came out to her, she was like, ‘Yeah, this is gonna kill our mom, you know,'” Bass said.
That was Bass’ biggest fear: hurting his family, who had always been loving and supportive. But it was time. Bass decided to come out on his own terms to People magazine.
He told his parents first.
“My mom was surprised, and she had to go through all of the emotions. It’s almost like a feeling of loss, like someone has died,” Bass said. “You know, a huge part of me did die — that character I created died, and I was finally able to be my true self. Up until then I'd been lying and hiding."
It took Diane a “good week” before she spoke to her son again, he said.
“She was just really emotional and needed to get her thoughts together,” Bass said. “And my dad was like, “OK. You’re being safe, right?’ And that was pretty much it.”
Diane, wanting to support Bass, began educating herself on LGBTQ issues.
“She’s a teacher and she immediately started reading everything about being gay,” Bass said. The problem? All the books were ultra-conservative and faith-based.
“It was a lot of ‘you can pray the gay away,’” Bass said. “I would catch her reading these really horrible, demonizing books, and I’d throw them in the trash. Once she realized there was a lot of false information out there, she started talking to different pastors that accepted gay people.”
When the People article came out, Diane and Jim Bass lost some friends. They also left their church, which had been their community for decades.
“Here’s what’s incredible: They weren’t really sad about it. Their attitude was ‘Fine, we don’t need you in our life,’” Bass said.
Eight years ago, in 2014, Diane spoke in front of her congregation about her journey as a Southern Baptist with a gay child.
“The miracle is that I learned to have unconditional love and compassion for my son and others in the gay community. I haven’t marched in parades or spoken at conventions, but I do feel that God has led me to speak out concerning the church’s role,” she said, Lance Bass wrote in an essay for The Huffington Post. “My son is a Christian and wants to be able to worship, but does not feel that the church cares about him and has pretty much disowned him as a fellow believer.”
“There is something terribly wrong with that,” she continued. “And I have to speak up on behalf of my son and others who find themselves in the same situation.”
Bass said he could not be more proud of how far his mother has come.
“Not only has she accepted the fact that I’m gay, but she celebrates it," Bass said. “The world has so much to learn from her.”
Living his most authentic life
In 2014, Bass married his longtime partner, Michael Turchin, with whom he shares 7-month-old twins, Alexander and Violet.
Diane and Jim can’t get enough of their grandbabies. When Jim visits, he carries the kids around in his arms all day, Bass said, to the point where other people are asking if they can have a turn. Diane and Jim adore Turchin, 35, and and his "liberal" parents.
Related: Lance Bass shares adorable photos of twin babies
“It’s just so beautiful,” Bass said. "When I was a kid it never crossed my mind that this could be a possibility. Sometimes I still can’t believe this is my life.”
Bass opened up to TODAY Parents while promoting his partnership with the Barbara Sinatra Children’s Center and its FightChildAbuse.org campaign. He recently starred in a video that focuses on parents and how they can speak to their children about protecting themselves from abuse.
“Growing up in the entertainment industry, I definitely saw a lot of abuse — even in our group, I saw some things,” Bass shared. “It was very hard to watch and I didn’t know how to talk about it.”
Related: What parents should know about 'grooming'
The Barbara Sinatra Children’s Center and FightChildAbuse.org wants to change that.
“They’ve made videos for all ages about how to talk about child abuse, how to recognize it and what to do, he said.
To celebrate LGBTQ pride, TODAY is sharing this community’s history, pain, joy and what’s next for the movement. We will be publishing personal essays, stories, videos and special features throughout the entire month of June.