We all, arguably, say things when we’re young and immature that might come back to haunt us five, 10, 15 years down the line, but chances are those mouthy formative years didn’t play out in front of millions of people on national television. Twenty-one-year-old America’s Next Top Model contestant Liberty Netuschil hadn’t planned to forge such a path for herself, but thanks to what fans perceived to be a controversial stance on contemporary politics, her legacy on the show has since entered dark, choppy waters, and has cultivated a false persona she fears could haunt her — and her potential standing in the modeling industry — for the foreseeable future.
A native of Lava Hot Springs, Idaho (population: 412), Netuschil previously lived an admittedly sheltered life in the deepest corners of rural America, and joining the cast of America’s Next Top Model‘s 24th cycle meant adapting to different facets of adulthood (next to women from different walks of life, no less) with cameras capturing her every move. She approached the program with an open mind, she says, but what viewers saw, however, communicated anything but.
In an age when divisiveness is rife in U.S. politics, Netuschil appeared to become a political pariah on the first episode of the season. “I’m actually pro-Trump,” she told fellow model hopefuls — some of whom reacted with disgust — vying for a chance to be judged by Tyra Banks and her panel of fashion experts on the reality competition series. It was a quick moment, and little context was given, but the sentiment stuck. Hard. More so because Netuschil alleges the show didn’t air her quote in its entirety.
“A statement from a TV show that was cut [by producers] doesn’t necessarily mean I believe in everything our president stands for. That’s the biggest misconception: People think I’m a die-hard,” Netuschil tells EW on the eve of her elimination episode, which saw her exiting the program Tuesday night after an underwhelming performance during a photo shoot with Katya from RuPaul’s Drag Race. “Just to clarify…. I didn’t vote for Donald Trump. I never stood by [his anti-LGBTQIA+ policies],” she continues. “My family has both liberals and conservatives. My father, who is not pro-Trump, talked to me about business, so I said, ‘I’m actually pro-Trump because my family owns a small business, and I heard he helps small businesses because that’s his background.’”
In essence, she might have been “pro-Trump” with regards to a single facet of his platform, but she never meant for a cut-and-paste soundbite to speak for the entirety of her being.
“It made me more aware of needing to talk to people about judgment — namely focusing on that simple statement. People make assumptions too quickly,” she says. “In the first episode [of cycle 24], one of the girls who didn’t make it on the show said I probably came from a racist family. That’s the craziest assumption I’ve ever heard and it’s so hurtful…. At the end of the day, I may not even be ‘pro-Trump,’ but people didn’t ask. They just assumed everything. If you’re curious, don’t assume. Let’s talk and discuss it. That’s how we can [affect] change.”
Regardless of her intentions, viewers weren’t pleased that a woman supporting a presidential candidate who stands against the queer community was asking for a career in the land of gay icons Karl Lagerfeld and Marc Jacobs — an industry largely built and sustained by members of the LGBTQIA+ community. When Trump was elected president on Nov. 8, 2016, Netuschil “was an optimist that he would take the responsible and correct actions to ‘Make America Great Again,'” she wrote on Instagram in January. “But,” she explained, seemingly referencing the 45th commander-in-chief’s growing list of perceived offenses, “As time has progressed, I have been just as disappointed as you. I am no different, and I do not stand by [Trump’s] divisive speech and action choices.”
In fact, she didn’t stand by Hillary Clinton’s policies, either, telling EW, “with my knowledge [guiding me], neither [candidate] in the running represented our country the way it should be.”
Despite attempting to clarify her statements, Netuschil says she has received threats and hateful messages from Trump detractors as a result.
“The backlash has not only directly affected how I feel walking to the store to get groceries in fear of assault, [but also] career issues where clients feel wary of hiring me in fear of representing what the show has labeled me as,” she elaborates.
Though she appeared to be apprehensive about posing with a drag queen during L.A. Pride Week for her ANTM swan song (“It was [actually] a beautiful experience, my first time meeting a drag queen. I felt honored and excited,” she says, contrary to how she feels the moment is communicated on the episode), Netuschil says she actively resisted regressive attitudes regarding gay people in Idaho, despite religious factors coaxing her in the opposite direction.
“That’s not family and friends, that’s coming from a religion I was raised around. In Idaho and Utah, it’s kind of a big area for Mormons, and that [thought] goes back to the roots of their [religion],” she says of a statement she made in an ANTM confessional, in which she recalls certain people from home viewing LGBTQIA+ individuals as mentally ill. “It was definitely something I was told at some point when I was younger. But, my family never believed that. My family felt the complete opposite…. I wasn’t raised around people who were gay, but it never meant that I was against it, and it never meant I was disturbed by it or I believed they had an illness. I can’t believe that I had to grow up around people that believed that something was so wrong, when in reality gay people are often bullied and [sometimes] feel that they can’t live in their skin.”
With the sun setting on her ANTM tenure, Netuschil is trying to take the negative parts of the experience in stride as she begins a new life in Los Angeles, where she plans to do a lot of “soul-searching” to broaden her perspectives on a number of topics, from politics to simple matters of the heart. She doesn’t feel like America has the proper perspective on her as a person, but she’s grateful for having taken the reality TV plunge with other contestants like bisexual beauty Brendi K. and liberal activist Kyla — the latter of whom Netuschil says educated her on the dynamics of feminism and the gender pay gap.
“We all walked away from the show with more dignity and respect for each other, and that’s where we need to step for our future so we can all be better… there’s so much more to life than all this petty sh— we talk about on the daily,” she finishes. “Hearing about the background of the LGBTQIA+ community and how our president doesn’t stand with it and how [the administration] is trying to take their rights away, that’s something I will fight [against]. I don’t believe in it, I don’t believe progress in the world will continue [with that mindset]. It’s unfortunate, and it says a lot about who he is, but not who I am. Because I’m not him.”
America’s Next Top Model airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET on VH1.