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Jonathan Bennett, 'Gay King of Christmas,' Now Rules in LGBTQ+ Travel

Jonathan Bennett, 'Gay King of Christmas,' Now Rules in LGBTQ+ Travel

Jonathan Bennett, 'Gay King of Christmas,' Now Rules in LGBTQ+ Travel
Wes and Alex Photography

Jonathan Bennett with husband and OUTbound Travel business partner Jaymes Vaughan

The Mean Girls alum discusses trading Santa for a Speedo as well as his career as an out actor.


Between appearing on the Christmas House films and leading his very own Christmas movie on the Hallmark Channel, The Holiday Sitter, actor Jonathan Bennett can certainly be considered the reigning “Gay King of Christmas” on television. Though The Holiday Sitter is the Hallmark Channel’s first LGBTQ-led holiday movie, the channel has been making huge strides in inclusivity and diversity over the years.

“It feels like such an honor to kind of forge this movement in the holiday movie space. And the reason I’m doing it is because I think it’s so important that everyone knows that Christmas is for everybody, you know?” Bennett highlights. “The Hallmark Channel is for everyone; The Holiday Sitter is for everybody. So to be a part of this movement that is making sure that the people watching these amazing Christmas movies feel like they’re represented on-screen…is so important.”

Particularly in recent times, conservative forces have been pushing back against LGBTQ+ inclusion in holiday-themed projects. Most notably, Candace Cameron Bure made it clear that the films she’d star in and produce for the Great American Family channel would not include queer characters or love stories.

George Krissa and Jonathan Bennett in 'The Holiday Sitter'Hallmark

Thankfully, though, Bennett isn’t focusing on that exclusionary rhetoric. The actor notes, “I can’t speak to what other networks are doing because I only can speak to what we are doing at Hallmark Channel. I can say that I’m proud to be part of a network like the Hallmark Channel that puts inclusivity at the forefront. Hallmark Channel has created a safe space for me as a queer filmmaker to tell stories, and there’s no better place than that when you are a queer artist in the industry telling stories.”

Alas, Bennett’s acting career and personal life weren’t always allowed to coexist. “I’ve been gay my whole life, but when I was a young actor and it was a different time in Hollywood, I was told by the majority of people that I had to stay in the closet and not let anyone know that I was gay. Because if they find out that I was gay, I wouldn’t book roles and I wouldn’t be considered for leading men. And since I looked the way that I looked, I had to play leading men characters.”

Jonathan Bennett in 'The Holiday Sitter'Hallmark

But a revelation dawned on Bennett as times changed and he started to open up about being a gay man. “There came a point in my life where I said, ‘I want to live my life out loud and proud because I want to make a difference for the young versions of myself that are watching movies and TV shows. I want them to see a person that is living their life authentically and boldly to hopefully inspire them to do the same.’”

Looking back today, the actor doesn’t believe all the hiding he was told to do was worthwhile. “After years of living in the closet in the industry, it’s not worth it. It’s just not. Like, the amount of stress and ulcers…I developed stomach ulcers from it. It’s just not worth the stress. So to go from being a scared actor living in the closet to living out and proud, being ‘the face of gay Christmas,’ it’s a really fun journey. When I came out, I actually started working more. I started booking more jobs and my career flourished. I think it’s because people see you living authentically and they gravitate towards that energy, because it’s a beautiful energy to be around.”

Jaymes Vaughan and Jonathan BennettWes and Alex Photography

Although it’s been nearly two decades since Bennett became a household name for playing the teen heartthrob Aaron Samuels in the 2004 comedy Mean Girls, he’s very aware of the impact of that character in his career and grateful for the doors it opened. “I look back at Aaron Samuels with jealousy of collagen in his face,” the 41-year-old jokes. “But in all honesty, I am the biggest Aaron Samuels fan because he changed my life. Aaron Samuels gave me pretty much every single part of my professional life. I owe my whole career to Tina Fey, Lorne Michaels, Mark Waters, and Lindsay Lohan.”

Besides his trailblazing work in acting, Bennett is also running OUTbound Travel with his husband and business partner, Jaymes Vaughan; the couple and their venture are profiled in the latest cover story of Out’s sister publicationOut Traveler. In 2023, the gay travel company has planned trips to places like France and Amsterdam, and even an African safari itinerary.

Though there are countless options in the tourism space, Bennett firmly believes in the joy of being surrounded by other LGBTQ+ individuals while experiencing new destinations. “I mean, to be in Amsterdam surrounded by your queer OUTbound family and to see the Pride parade float down the canals, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” he gushes. “It was such a huge hit and people had such a great time last year that we’re doing it again in 2023. There are so many trips for people to check out at and come out with us. Come see the world with us; come check off your bucket list with your queer family. It’s so much fun.”

This article is part of Out's January/February 2023 issue, out on newsstands February 7. Support queer media and subscribe -- or download the issue through Amazon, Kindle, Nook, or Apple News.

Jaymes Vaughan and Jonathan BennettWes and Alex Photography

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Bernardo Sim

Bernardo Sim is a writer, content creator, and the deputy editor of Out. Born in Brazil, he currently lives in South Florida.

Bernardo Sim is a writer, content creator, and the deputy editor of Out. Born in Brazil, he currently lives in South Florida.