The Fosters is tackling yet another groundbreaking story.
Last season, the ABC Family drama slowly built up the relationship between 13-year-old Jude (Hayden Byerly) and his best friend Connor (Gavin MacIntosh) as the two realized they felt something for each other that went beyond just being friends. In a landmark episode, and a moment that felt real and not rushed or sensationalized for TV, the two kissed, becoming the youngest gay kiss in television history. From there, the duo had to face both the confusing feelings that come with any young teen's first romance, as well as Connor's disapproving dad, leading to one of the show's best moments in the finale: when Jude was finally let into Connor's hospital room to comfort him. As Season 3 picks up (Monday at 8/7c on ABC Family), Jude and Connor will wrestle with whether they want to be out as a couple while each navigates what it's like to be in a relationship for the first time.
Ahead of the new season, we spoke with executive producer Peter Paige, Byerly and co-star Kerr Smith - who had the first gay male kiss on U.S. network TV - about why this story needed to be told, the process for getting it on the air and what's next.
How early on did you conceive of this story?
Peter Paige: It goes back to before [Jude] was cast. Everyone we brought in to test for it, it was made very clear where the story was going to make sure they were on board with it and the same thing with Connor. We knew all along that some version of this would exist.
Why was now the right time to tell it?
Paige: The storyline grew really organically and traces back to the nail polish. You watch that scene when Connor shows up and pulls out his sandwich and you see his blue nails — I can barely talk about it without crying. That level of connection and support and trust — we all knew there was something here that had to be further explored. We had originally pitched the kiss for an end of Season 1 story and the network was like, "Can you wait until their voices drop please? It's just a little early for us." To their credit, we held them to that and they said, 'We're in." What was amazing about that was that the fans got so invested. We finally decided to do the pinky storyline, which is one of my favorite moments in the history of television, that is stolen directly from my childhood and a lot of young gay people have that story.
When did you realize how impactful this story would be and did you hesitate at all in doing it?
Hayden Byerly: Initially, I didn't know how big it was going to be, but as time went on I realized this was something very big and very cool. But no, I didn't realize the wonderful people we'd be helping. There were some nerves as to how people would react, but mostly it was excitement to play such an interesting character.
Soon after that episode, they kiss. Was there backlash?
Paige: When we did the kiss, I was so invested in the character journey that I was not prepared for the backlash. Every time I've been prepared for backlash there hasn't been any. I was an actor on Queer as Folk and they prepared us for bomb threats. There weren't any. When we went onto air for The Fosters, they prepared us for negativity and there was almost none. Suddenly, [after the kiss] there was, and I was really taken aback by it. Even some gay people were like, "Why? They're so young," and I'm like, "It's a first kiss! How old were you?" They're 13 and it's utterly chaste. It's not salacious, it's earned over the course of two seasons, and I started getting offended by the question. What about this isn't wholesome? By the way, in the same episode Connor is making out with Daria and no one says anything. We all watched [the movie] My Girl and they were 10, but it's like, "Oh, it's so beautiful and they're in love." As gay adults we start out as gay kids, and we have to stop apologizing for that and pretending it's not true.
Will we see them kiss again?
Byerly: As of right now, there is not another kiss, but we're still filming.
What's it been like for you, Kerr, to be a part of another groundbreaking show?
Kerr Smith: I think what they're doing with the gay storyline is amazing. It brings back a lot of memories for me, obviously, and to watch Hayden to do it at such a young age is remarkable.
What's next for Jude and Connor as their relationship develops?
Paige: We're trying to explore what it means to be 13, falling in love for the first time and having to come out to friends, family, the school community and deal with all the other bullsh-- having to do with being 13. Some of it is about them, some of it is about family units and how they're getting supported or not, and some of it is like, "I want to go to the beach today." But it has that operatic, angsty feel that teen love always does.
The Fosters returns on Monday, 8/7c on ABC Family.
Watch our video with the cast: