'NSYNC's Lance Bass Reveals He's Gay: 'I'm Not Ashamed ... I Don't Think It's Wrong'

'I support him and wish him all the happiness in the world,' Justin Timberlake says.

After years of speculation, Lance Bass has confirmed the rumors and told People magazine that he is gay.

"The thing is, I'm not ashamed -- that's the one thing I want to say," the 'NSYNC singer told the mag in the issue that hits newsstands Friday. "I don't think it's wrong. I'm not devastated going through this. I'm more liberated and happy than I've been my whole life. I'm just happy."

([article id="1537158"]Click to see Lance on the cover of People.[/article])

The rumors started during 'NSYNC's heyday (the group is currently on hiatus) but heated up in the last few months as he was spotted frequently with gay-rights activist and reality-TV personality Reichen Lehmkuhl, who won the $1 million prize on "The Amazing Race 4" with his former partner Chip Arndt. Lehmkuhl has since appeared on other reality shows such as "Fear Factor" and hosted a talk show on the now-defunct Q Television.

After tabloids and gossip sites started tracking Bass and Lehmkuhl's public appearances together, Lehmkuhl responded in mid-April by posting on his Web site that he likes to keep his personal life private. "As for the rumors about me and Lance, please continue to remind people that things that I do not discuss anymore, such as the private and personal relationships that I have, are just that -- private -- unless I choose to open up with details to my family and close friends for reasons of support and love," he wrote. "I wish people could allow that part of me for, well, just me and who I choose to share my life with and love ... and to leave it well enough alone."

Despite this wish, Bass told People that the rumors about the two being a couple were "really starting to affect my daily life," so he decided to come forward and confirm that they're in a "very stable" relationship. "Now it feels like it's on my terms. I'm at peace with my family, my friends, myself and God, so there's nothing else that I worry about."

It also helps that Bass no longer feels compelled to hide his private life to protect his bandmates, since the band has been on hiatus for four years. When 'NSYNC were in full swing, he worried that coming out would hurt the band. "I didn't know: Could that be the end of 'NSYNC?" he told People. "So I had that weight on me of, like, 'Wow, if I ever let anyone know, it's bad.' So I just never did ... I had four other guys' careers in my hand, and I knew that if I ever acted on it or even said [that I was gay], it would overpower everything."

Bass said he's known that he's gay for his "whole life ... from childhood on," but struggled because he knew it would be "something that I would have to hide my whole life." Bass hid it from his bandmates -- who suspected anyway "because we were like brothers," he said, and they wondered, " 'Why aren't you hitting on women all the time and acting like a rock star?' Because I was a good Christian boy, that's why."

Their suspicions were also complicated by the fact that Bass was dating women until he was 22 (he's now 27). "I've definitely, you know, been with women," Bass said. "And I've had great relationships with them where I was definitely in love. It's just I grew to a point where deep inside I knew that I could never truly have a relationship with a woman. I don't know if they ever suspected. It was never brought up."

"He took years to really think about how he was going to tell everyone," Joey Fatone told People. "I back him up 100 percent."

"I've know Lance for more than 10 years," JC Chasez told MTV News. "We have been through so much together. He is family and I support him unconditionally."

Fatone was the first 'NSYNC bandmate Bass told about being gay, after Fatone walked in on Bass and a male date at his house in Orlando, Florida. Fatone's response at the time? "Dude, I don't care," Bass recalled him saying. Chris Kirkpatrick found out last summer and JC Chasez three months ago.

"Very few people have the guts to come up to you and say, 'Hey, are you gay?' " Bass said. "I'm pretty sure they all knew and they probably all talked to each other, but they had the respect to let me tell them. I haven't had the conversation with Justin [Timberlake] yet. I know he knows, but I've never really sat him down and said it." I will be calling him."

"Lance is one of my great friends," Timberlake told MTV News Wednesday (July 26). "I support him and wish him all the happiness in the world."

Telling his bandmates has been easy, but telling his family was another matter. His sister became pale and started crying when he told her, while his mother "broke down." "The worst part about it was my mom found out not from me," Bass said. "She found out on the Internet, and that's what just killed me. ... It destroyed her for a little bit." His father, in the meantime, was concerned about diseases, telling Lance that "It's much easier for gay people to get AIDS," and "Statistics show that these relationships don't last. You know it's not going to last." "I was like, 'Dad, wow!' "

In Bass' hometown of Clinton, Mississippi, where his mother is a middle-school teacher and his father works in real estate, being gay is "not looked at very highly," he said. But as worried as he was that his grandparents would take it even worse, his maternal grandmother, who was told last week, handled it "so well," he says. "She was like, 'You know what? I may not agree with it, but I love you just the same and you're welcome in my house anytime.' "

For now, Bass and Lehmkuhl are "taking it one day at a time," since the relationship is only a few months old. They met because Lehmkuhl was Bass' real-estate agent, and the two became friends, then lovers. "This is a huge turning point in my life and also in his life too," Bass said. Eventually, Bass would like to have a family and hopes to have his own kids as well as adopt.

"I want people to take away from this that being gay is a norm," Bass said. "That the stereotypes are out the window ... I've met so many people like me that it's really encouraged me. I call them the SAGs -- the straight-acting gays. We're just normal, typical guys. I love to watch football and drink beer."

And if people ask him now if he's gay, Bass said he plans to respond, "No, I'm also gay." Meaning that it won't define him -- just the part of himself that he doesn't have to hide anymore.

[This story was originally published at 1:07 pm E.T. on 07.26.2006]

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