Meet Union J, The British Boy Band With The Openly Gay Member

union j

Union J’s J.J. Hamblett, George Shelley, Jaymi Hensley and Josh Cuthbert (Photo: Getty)

It’s not uncommon for a member of a boy band to come out—both N’Sync’s Lance Bass and New Kids on the Block’s Jonathan Knight have spoken publicly about their sexuality. But a boy bander who’s openly gay at the start of his career? That’s a new one on us.

Following in the footsteps of One Direction and The Wanted, Union J are another batch of British lads hoping to conquer the world with their melodious voices and adorable mugs. But unlike those chart-topping acts, band member Jaymi Hensley has been open about being gay almost since the start, when the quartet was formed on the UK version of X Factor last season.

Since then, Union J has been performing, making public appearances and working on a debut album. They just debuted their first single, “Carry You,” on Capital FM this week. (It’s available on iTunes on June 2.)

In a November interview with Britain’s Sun, Hensley credits their manager Louis Walsh, who also guided Boyzone and Westlife to fame and fortune: “I spoke to Louis about this and he said, ‘put it this way, both of my big boy bands had a gay member in them.’ So he said it fits the formula quite well!”

Jaymi Hensley The 22-year-old looker says bandmates Josh Cuthbert, George Shelley and Jamie “JJ” Hamblett “have always supported me with doing this.”

To his credit, Hensley wanted to be straight up (so to speak) from the start: “I didn’t want to do it in five years’ time when I have made money and had a career,” he says. “I don’t think anyone should have to hide who they are.”

Hensley says he’s already heard from appreciative gay fans:

I got a tweet from a boy who must have been 13 or 14, asking if the rumours that I was gay were true. He said he really wished I could be out because he didn’t have anyone to look up to and was finding it really hard to fit in and tell his parents. I was that kid at 14 and really wish I had someone to say it was OK to be pictured on the red carpet with a guy and be gay in a boy band.

In addition to being out and in the spotlight, Hensley offers young gays something new: A gay celebrity whose journey was angst-free: “I came out when I was 14 to my family and friends and never had one piece of negativity,” he says of his sexuality. “I hope the reaction will hopefully be, ‘OK, we kind of knew, but well done on coming out.”

Hensley’s not set on being a spokesman for the LGBT community—he just wants to be able to enjoy the perks of boy-band fame on his own terms: “I want to be able to go to gay clubs and be pictured with [UK personality Katie Price] and her gay friends. I want to have fun with my life.”

Well done, you.

Below, take a listen to “Carry You.”

and Union J’s live performance of “Call Me Maybe.”

Dan Avery is a writer-editor who focuses on culture, breaking news and LGBT rights. His work has appeared in Newsweek, The New York Times, Time Out New York, The Advocate and elsewhere.