Disney Channel‘s Joshua Rush is breaking barriers by playing the network’s first openly gay character in the hit show Andi Mack.
“It’s important that everybody gets representation and that anybody having thoughts on who they are is able to see that represented on TV and to be shown that’s okay,” Rush, 15, exclusively tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue. “I think [my character] Cyrus feels different, and I think in our teenage years we all feel different at different times, so it’s important to show anyone that Cyrus is comfortable with who he is and is happy with who he is.”
Last month, the network announced that the teen series, a coming-of-age show that revolves around a 13-year-old girl, will depict a character’s journey to self-discovery as a gay individual for the first time.
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“Andi Mack is a story about ‘tweens’ figuring out who they are,” a spokesperson for the Disney Channel said in a statement to PEOPLE. “Terri Minsky, the cast and everyone involved in the show takes great care in ensuring that it’s appropriate for all audiences and sends a powerful message about inclusion and respect for humanity.”
In the season premiere, Andi is dealing with your typical teenage issues — trying to sort out her feelings for a boy. At the same time, her best friend Cyrus is beginning to realize that he, too, has feelings for the same boy.
In later episodes, Cyrus begins to better understand himself with the love and support from his close friends and family.
To ensure the story of Cyrus was told in an age-appropriate and respectful manner, the network consulted with child development experts and organizations, including Common Sense Media, GLAAD and PFLAG.
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“I think this storyline is definitely going to help a lot of my peers,” Rush says. “I was the first person that one of my good friends came out to, and I think that if I had someone like Buffy on TV, I think I would’ve done a better job and had been a better friend in that situation. I’m glad that I can be a part of this.”
He adds, “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.”