Here’s what it was like being 'the gay kid' from 'School of Rock.' (Spoiler: not fun.)

If you watched Jack Black's 2003 comedy "School of Rock," you probably remember Billy.

In a pivotal scene where Black's character, substitute teacher Mr. Finn, is urging students to "fight the man" by insulting him, Billy's response became one of the film's standout one-liners: "You're tacky and I hate you."

GIF from "School of Rock."


The sassy comment was quoted off-camera. A lot. The line became a well-traveled GIF and meme with impressive shelf life. 15 years after the film premiered, Google pretty much knows that if you're searching "you're tacky," you're likely digging for the comedic gem in some form or another.

While Billy became an on-screen favorite, the young actor who brought him to life, however, grappled with a sobering reality unfolding behind the scenes: the pitfalls of being labeled the "gay kid" from "School of Rock" before he even really understood what being gay actually meant.

At 11 years old, all actor Brian Falduto knew about the word "gay" was that it was often meant to be an insult.

And many people — and media outlets — were directing the label at him.

Falduto (left) with a friend. Photo courtesy of Brian Falduto.

While he continued acting throughout middle school, Falduto returned to a relatively normal life in New Jersey after shooting the film. But the stereotypes associated with his character followed him there.

"For you to not even hit puberty and have people start labeling you [as gay] is interesting," Falduto explains, his tone suggesting there's another word for it.

"I was very quickly labeled 'the gay kid' from 'School of Rock' once the movie came out, both among peers and strangers. I was in fifth grade, and the world was informing me of who I was or how they saw me. My identity wasn’t mine to claim."

Falduto (front row, third from the left) and his young "School of Rock" co-stars. Photo courtesy of Brian Falduto.

Falduto's label as "the gay kid" in the film contributed to the bullying he faced in school.

He says he was picked on for hanging out with girls instead of boys. A couple of classmates created a "I Hate Brian Club" — something Falduto laughs off now as being ridiculous and juvenile, but at the time, he says it felt ostracizing. "It was rough to deal with," the actor explains of feeling different. "But a lot of the time, I would pretend I didn’t hear these things."

Falduto (middle) with loved ones. Photo courtesy of Brian Falduto.

"People have gone through much worse than I have," Falduto makes sure to point out, noting he had a good group of friends and was even elected prom king. But the love and support he felt couldn't stomp out all the homophobia.

In high school, another student spread a video of Falduto dancing with friends and included a gay slur and threatening message in the post's caption. "That was a rough day, for sure," he says.

Falduto's story may be unique because of his ties to Hollywood, but his battle with bullying is relatable for too many LGBTQ kids.

Queer youth remain at significantly higher risk of bullying at the hands of their classmates. One study published last year by research firm RTI International found LGBTQ kids are harassed or threatened at rates two to three times higher than their straight, cisgender peers.

What's more, RTI's research — analyzing data from the previous two decades — discovered a startling shift.

"We want to think that things are getting better," Tasseli McKay, a social science researcher at RTI’s Center for Justice, told The Daily Beast. "In regards to the victimization that young people are experiencing, the trend is toward victimization worsening, not getting better."

But Falduto's story shows why every LGBTQ kid should hold out hope.

Photo courtesy of Sub/Urban Photography.

"I’m finally OK being 'the gay kid' from 'School of Rock,'" Falduto explains of his journey toward self-acceptance. "I’m happy with who I am."

Today, the 26-year-old lives in Los Angeles and continues auditioning for new roles. He dove into the music world more recently, releasing his debut EP, "Love One Another," last summer and launched a live performance series on YouTube as well.

Falduto plans to be certified as an LGBTQ life coach, hoping his own story can help queer kids come out and feel confident in their own skin. "I almost appreciate my struggles more," Falduto says, "because people who may not have struggled as much may not have asked the same questions I’ve asked myself that have made me a better person."

Photo courtesy of Sub/Urban Photography.

"The freedom that comes with accepting who you are is so liberating," Falduto says.

"It sounds like the scariest thing you could ever do, but it’s actually the most liberating thing you could ever do."

Watch Falduto performing "Turn That Song Back On" in his live performance series below:

True
Frito-Lay

Did you know one in five families are unable to provide everyday essentials and food for their children? This summer was also the hungriest on record with one in four children not knowing where their next meal will come from – an increase from one in seven children prior to the pandemic. The effects of COVID-19 continue to be felt around the country and many people struggle to secure basic needs. Unemployment is at an all-time high and an alarming number of families face food insecurity, not only from the increased financial burdens but also because many students and families rely on schools for school meal programs and other daily essentials.

This school year is unlike any other. Frito-Lay knew the critical need to ensure children have enough food and resources to succeed. The company quickly pivoted to expand its partnership with Feed the Children, a leading nonprofit focused on alleviating childhood hunger, to create the "Building the Future Together" program to provide shelf-stable food to supplement more than a quarter-million meals and distribute 500,000 pantry staples, school supplies, snacks, books, hand sanitizer, and personal care items to schools in underserved communities.

Keep Reading Show less
Canva

I got married and started working in my early 20s, and for more than two decades I always had employer-provided health insurance. When the Affordable Care Act (ACA, aka "Obamacare")was passed, I didn't give it a whole lot of thought. I was glad it helped others, but I just assumed my husband or I would always be employed and wouldn't need it.

Then, last summer, we found ourselves in an unexpected scenario. I was working as a freelance writer with regular contract work and my husband left his job to manage our short-term rentals and do part-time contracting work. We both had incomes, but for the first time, no employer-provided insurance. His previous employer offered COBRA coverage, of course, but it was crazy expensive. It made far more sense to go straight to the ACA Marketplace, since that's what we'd have done once COBRA ran out anyway.

The process of getting our ACA healthcare plan set up was a nightmare, but I'm so very thankful for it.

Let me start by saying I live in a state that is friendly to the ACA and that adopted and implemented the Medicaid expansion. I am also a college-educated and a native English speaker with plenty of adult paperwork experience. But the process of getting set up on my state's marketplace was the most confusing, frustrating experience I've ever had signing up for anything, ever.

Keep Reading Show less
True

$200 billion of COVID-19 recovery funding is being used to bail out fossil fuel companies. These mayors are combatting this and instead investing in green jobs and a just recovery.

Learn more on how cities are taking action: c40.org/divest-invest


The legality of abortion is one of the most polarized debates in America—but it doesn’t have to be.

People have big feelings about abortion, which is understandable. On one hand, you have people who feel that abortion is a fundamental women’s rights issue, that our bodily autonomy is not something you can legislate, and that those who oppose abortion rights are trying to control women through oppressive legislation. On the other, you have folks who believe that a fetus is a human individual first and foremost, that no one has the right to terminate a human life, and that those who support abortion rights are heartless murderers.

Then there are those of us in the messy middle. Those who believe that life begins at conception, that abortion isn’t something we’d choose—and we’d hope others wouldn’t choose—under most circumstances, yet who choose to vote to keep abortion legal.

Keep Reading Show less
via Lorie Shaull / Flickr

The epidemic of violence against Indigenous women in America is one of the country's most disturbing trends. A major reason it persists is because it's rarely discussed outside of the native community.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, murder is the third-leading cause of death among American Indian and Alaska Native women under age 19.

Women who live on some reservations face rates of violence that are as much as ten times higher than the national average.

Keep Reading Show less