For context, Harry made fashion history as the first man to land a solo Vogue cover in an eye-catching Gucci dress, which was paired with a black tuxedo jacket.
Ten months later, Billy — who wore a tuxedo gown two years before, at the 2019 Academy Awards — publicly revealed that he didn’t agree with Vogue’s decision to place Harry, who often dresses in androgynous style and has never confirmed his sexuality, on the cover.
“I created the conversation [about nonbinary fashion] and yet Vogue still put Harry Styles, a straight white man, in a dress on their cover for the first time,” he told the Sunday Times.
“He is the one you’re going to try and use to represent this new conversation?” he asked.
While Harry has never explicitly confirmed his sexuality and has only been in public relationships with women, he has made a point of refusing to label himself. After being asked about his sexuality during a 2019 interview, Harry said, “It’s not like I’m sitting on an answer, and protecting it, and holding it back. It’s not a case of, ‘I’m not telling you [because] I don’t want to tell you.’ It’s not, ‘Oh, this is mine and it’s not yours.’ … It’s, ‘Who cares?’ Does that make sense? It’s just, ‘Who cares?’”
Going on to address allegations of queerbaiting, which is when non-LGBTQ+ people attempt to capitalize on the implication of LGBTQ+ relationships without actually being LGBTQ+, Harry denied being sexually ambiguous in a bid to “be more interesting.”
“Am I sprinkling in nuggets of sexual ambiguity to try and be more interesting? No,” he said.
Nevertheless, Billy, who is openly gay, rehashed his previous point this weekend, accusing Harry of “using” his community to “elevate” himself.
“[He’s] straight and white,” Billy told the Telegraph. “That’s why he’s on the cover. Nonbinary blah blah blah blah. No. It doesn’t feel good to me.”
“You’re using my community — or your people are using my community — to elevate you,” he continued. “You haven't had to sacrifice anything.”
“What does billy porter know about harry’s sexuality & the sacrifices he had to make for his career? he got the cover cause he’s harry styles & he wanted to wear a dress cause he felt like it, what does wearing a dress has to do with his sexuality anyway? it’s a piece of fabric,” one person tweeted.
“It’s always 'clothes have no gender' until Harry Styles wears a dress, then it’s ‘queerbaiting,’” another user echoed.
“Assuming someone's sexuality when you are part of the queer community and know the struggles that people face, is really disgusting,” someone else wrote.
Before long, fans began reflecting on times where celebrities faced fierce queerbaiting accusations that resulted in them coming out against their will.
Back in 2018, singer Rita Ora faced heavy backlash after the release of her song “Girls” with Charli XCX, Cardi B, and Bebe Rexha. The track features lyrics like, “I ain’t one-sided / I’m open-minded / I’m 50-50 and I’m never gonna hide it,” and, “Sometimes I just wanna kiss girls, girls, girls / Red wine, I just wanna kiss girls.”
Several people criticized the song and accused Rita of queerbaiting and capitalizing on lesbian stereotypes. And this backlash didn’t just come from fans; singer Hayley Kiyoko, who is openly gay, tweeted, “A song like this just fuels the male gaze while marginalizing the idea of women loving women.”
“I know this wasn’t the intention of the artists on the song, but it’s the lack of consideration behind these lyrics that really get me. I don’t need to drink wine to kiss girls; I’ve loved women my entire life,” she went on, while singer Kehlani, who is pansexual, called the song insensitive and “harmful” in a series of tweets.
Amid all the backlash, Rita ended up releasing a statement revealing that she’d had “romantic relationships” with women as well as men.
“I am sorry [if] how I expressed myself in my song has hurt anyone,” read part of her statement. “I would never intentionally cause harm to other LGBTQ+ people or anyone.”
Almost a year later, Rita reflected on the criticism and called it the toughest moment of her career. “When I was younger, I was very experimental — in my late teens, early 20s — so I wanted to make a song about girls who may have been confused about who they are,” she told the Mirror. “But when it came out, I think people looked at it, because they didn’t know about my experience, like I was using the culture — which was understandable.”
“I never looked at it like that because I knew I’d experienced it. But I forgot that nobody else knew that,” she added.
Reflecting on this now in light of the discourse around Harry Styles, several fans called out the “disgusting” way people are sometimes forced to out themselves in response to speculative queerbaiting accusations.
“Remember when rita ora came out with the song ‘girls’ with bebe rhexa, cardi b, and charli xcx and hayley kiyoko slammed her on main and the backlash was so bad that rita felt the need to out herself as bisexual? yeah you forcibly out ppl this way and it’s disgusting,” one person tweeted.
“Y’all forced Rita Ora and Kit Connor to come out as bi when they should've done it on their own terms,” someone else wrote, referring to actor Kit Connor, who was more recently pressured to come out as bisexual after being accused of queerbaiting.
Kit, now 19, plays a bisexual character named Nick Nelson in Netflix’s hit series Heartstopper. Prior to coming out, he repeatedly shut down speculation about his sexuality, telling podcast host Josh Smith in May 2022, “I don’t feel like I need to label myself, especially not publicly.”
“It feels a bit strange to make assumptions about a person’s sexuality just based on hearing their voice or seeing their appearance. I feel like that’s a very interesting, slightly problematic sort of assumption to make,” he added on the Reign with Josh Smith podcast.
However, after being photographed holding hands with actor Maia Reficco, several people accused Kit of queerbaiting — ultimately leading him to come out as bisexual. ”I’m bi. congrats for forcing an 18 year old to out himself. i think some of you missed the point of the show. bye,” he tweeted.
With this in mind, several fans argued that it was all the more problematic that Billy and his fans were making assumptions about Harry Styles’s sexuality.
“Are we STILL doing this? has harry SAID he’s straight? we really doing a wholeass Kit Connor on the guy because he doesn’t feel the need to declare his label. also even if he was straight why would it be a problem to wear ‘women’s clothes’ like why are we reenforcing these rules,” one person tweeted.
“Y’all are FORCING people to come out when you keep INSISTING they are straight and invalidating them unless they explicitly make a statement. it's the same shit that happened to kit connor,” said another.