“I think like most young gay kids coming out… it’s just a part of you and you always had it in your mind,” says Mississauga-born actor Adamo Ruggiero. “You don’t really understand it. I think that as I am a little older I can look back and reflect on it that way. You’re having these emotions and these desires but it is kind of clouded by confusion because you really don’t know where to place them. I felt it as early as Grade 6 or 7, definitely by Grade 8. As I got older and made more sense of it and got into high school I became more confident.”
Currently in his sixth season playing the gay character Marco on the CTV series Degrassi: The Next Generation, Ruggiero, 21, came out to the media in January — Fab magazine was to break the story until e-Talk Daily swooped in. Ruggiero first admitted he was gay to a school friend seven years ago. “I think the first person I told was my friend Britney in Grade 9, who I am still friends with today,” he says. “Her family is Canadian and her parents are artists so she has a very comfortable liberal background. She was the first person that gave me that comfortable feeling to say, ‘Maybe I can open up to you a little bit more than I can to the rest of the world.'”
In a case of life imitating art, Ruggiero came out to his mother, just as Marco had done on the show — while sitting on the edge of his bed. But it took some time for his family to embrace his newfound sexual identity.
“Ultimately I come from an Italian family. But I do not come from a typical one, luckily, or any kind of typical immigrant family that comes here,” he says. “I think at the same time they felt what many people from a different time and different cultures feel, this kind of inability to understand on the spot. And I never really expected them to. I realized that it was going to be a growing experience for my whole family unit.”
Since coming out Ruggiero feels a newfound sense of freedom and relishes the open dialogue that he now shares with the media.
“For the first time ever in interviews I feel that I cannot say anything wrong,” he says. “I can’t slip and out myself. I feel this amazing sense of relief and an amazing sense of confidence. Standing in front of a photographer or talking to you… I have nothing to hide. I did it for the kids that watch the show because I was open in the city. So coming out was more for young people who really look up to my character and I really wanted to connect the bridge between fiction and reality.”
Although Ruggiero’s character has been the victim of a gaybashing incident in the past, the actor has managed to escape such brutalities in his own life. But not everyone has celebrated his bold move.
“I have gotten a little negativity come my way but I think that’s symptomatic of anything that is different from the norm,” he says. “Ultimately the show is trying to change that conception of what the ‘norm’ is. In retrospect I’ve never had to deal with the kind of negativity that Marco had to deal with and I think that’s the testament to the city I live in and where I grew up, which is so wonderfully diverse and liberal.”
While Marco is at a comfortable place with his sexual identity, his character is on the verge of a brand new emotional roller coaster.
“Marco’s boyfriend is gone and he is completely alone and a little lost and he doesn’t really have anywhere to fit in,” says Ruggiero. “In finding himself he goes out and gets mixed up in a very wrong crowd and almost attempts to do something that he can’t even imagine he could ever do.”
Ruggiero recently got involved in the US organization known as The Trevor Project, the only nationwide, around-the-clock suicide prevention helpline for queer and questioning youth.
“The Trevor Project is something that I did last December and it was really exciting for me,” says Ruggiero who also shot a PSA ad with comedian Roseanne Barr, actor John Goodman and actress Kristen Davis for the organization.
“I have been playing the character for so long and it hasn’t been until recently that I’ve really realized the impact of it and the kind of responsibility that comes with it,” he says. “So many kids are sending me all these letters saying, ‘I’m coming out to my parents because of you and I don’t know what to do… help me.’ The Trevor Project came up at that exact time and it was such a perfect fit.”