Reality TV – Where is the LGBT Representation?
There comes a time for every gay Reality show lover to take a stand and for me, the time is now. One wonders how idiot lawmakers such as Stacey Campfield get away with his “Don’t Say Gay” proposed legislation to ban the subject from Tennessee public schools, and look no further than The Glass House. People like Stacey watch these shows and see these flames shooting from the screen – complete with a love for everything pink and wearing a boa. No wonder he thinks only 2% of the country is gay. There couldn’t possibly be this many flamers out there and in this case, he’s right. Yes, there is also a cop on The Glass House, but could they find a gay one to bring aboard the cast? Of course not because these casting people think everyone in the gay community can be found in floral shops, gay bars and hair salons. But this show just perpetuates the tip of the iceberg when it comes to reality shows.
I couldn’t help notice NBC being one of the biggest offenders in having their own “Don’t Say Gay” policy on their shows. Both The Biggest Loser and The Sing Off. OK, on The Sing Off, we didn’t really get to know the individuals enough to know their personal stories, but I was horrified when one of the teams talked about their charity for The Trevor Project. Run any google on this organization, and the first thing that pops up is “Preventing Suicide Among LGBTQ Youth”, yet on The Sing Off, they went out of their way to not mention the word “gay” in any of their description about the charity or the people involved in it. They talked about people getting bullied for being fat or jewish. All I could say is WTF? And did anyone from GLADD or HRC or anywhere say a thing about this? Not that I could find.
Moving on to The Biggest Loser, they have yet to ever feature an openly gay contestant in all the years the show has been on (2004 to present). While both of their main trainers on the show for most of it’s run, Bob Harper and Jillian Michaels are both discreetly gay, this has never been mentioned and the two were or remain closeted throughout each season. (Last season, they even went to Bob’s home and of course you know they hid any evidence of him having any personal dating life.) I know that people may believe that gay people are not fat, but perhaps NBC can steal overweight gay stereotype Jerry from The Glass House. Ah, take that back… no representation is probably better than this type of representation. The sole exception to the “Don’t Say Gay” rule has been on NBC’s The Voice, which I believe is more due to the Celebrities judges more than the network.
Moving on to CBS, last season, we had the most horrendous stereotypical gay villian in the history of Reality TV. Colton Cumbie was one sarcastic mean queen. Probably worse than anyone I ever met at the trendy gay bars – and I ran across some doozies. Survivor actually had one great example in Season 13 (Cook Island Edition) when J.P. Calderon competed.
There was nothing in the gay stereotype book about him. He was athletic, personable and not a lisp to be found.. unfortunately, he wasn’t out until he decided to add 15 more minutes of fame by being on Janice Dickenson’s Modeling Agency. Once again, a golden opportunity blown. I couldn’t help but wonder if he would have been cast if he was out, because they already had token gay contestant Brad Virata on that season. And these shows seem to have a rule never to cast 2 gay contestants at the same time – let alone 2 men. There is always that chance they could both hook up and horrify America.
Outside of JP, Survivor featured some very interesting, but not too flattering representations in the form of Richard Hatch. I have to actually give them kudos on this one. He was the best gay villian to ever grace Reality TV. He wasn’t a stereotype and he was smart enough to be the first winner. There had been others – mostly unmemorable such as Rafe Judkins, Todd Herzog and Spencer Duhm. Still, I suppose overall, Survivor casting does get a pass for at least presenting a variety of individuals on multiple seasons.
The Amazing Race as well has presented some representation, with Season 1 (Reichen and Chip) who took it all – and Reichen Lehmkuhl being an openly gay ex-airforce officer and Chip being a multi-media consultant. My other favorite team was more recent with a team of gay brothers Sam and Dan McMillen. I loved the idea they both had to flirt with the women to get ahead.
But those examples are it and perhaps why Survivor and The Amazing Race remain the gold standard in Network Reality TV. For all the positives I could find about these CBS shows, Big Brother remains a pale representation for the gay community. They have had plenty of rugged hunky eye candy – and all straight. And a few of them, mainly the much beloved Jeff Schroeder have been known to have homophobic rants on camera. He was mainly called out on his true character when he said he was appalled that a teacher at a school would be gay, which he seemed to think was the same as being a pedophile. “I don’t think it’s the right thing to have a little kid’s book and have the headmaster that you’re locked away with in a magical land be gay” he said. “I don’t think that’s the right thing to do.”
So instead of handsome hunks, we get stereotypes in the form of Bill “Bunky” Miller, the biggest crybaby in the history of the show, Marcelles Reynolds, another fashionista known for making the dumbest moves on the show, Will Wikle, twink extrordinare and a registered nurse, Dustin Erikstrup, another bad gay stereotype as the list goes on year after year, not a gay police or fireman to be found on the Big Brother roster.
I really can’t find many cases of openly gay contestants on any Fox Reality Show. OK, in 2003 they did have one they cancelled after 4 episodes called Playing It Straight, that featured Gay Cowboys hiding among the straight ones, but it was an awful concept that really made no sense since it would have been sad if the Bachelorette picked a gay guy in the end. Never watching American Idol after season 1, I can say that even though Adam Lambert was open about his sexuality, he never talked about it on camera during the show’s run as the internet was still speculating on his sexuality as they went into the finals. Yet, other contestants would get 5 minute spreads about their family life. Other shows such as Hell’s Kitchen have plenty of redneck contestants covered, but perhaps the gay community is wise to not be featured on that show. (Still, we’re talking about a cooking competition and to not have any gay representation in all of these years is a travesty.) Ditto for the latest edition of Masterchef, which may have a few out there, but no one dares mention it.
So with the networks failing, only cables Bravo continues to shine with their contestant line-up. Shows such as Top Chef, Top Chef Masters and Top Chef – Just Desserts have featured average every day talented people who just happen to be gay or lesbian. (Along with a few notorious ones, but at least we can say we were adequately represented here.)
Also a brief mention regarding HGTV, which has a hit show Design Star, which for once featured an openly gay ex-cop. He finished in the Top 4, however he was banned from ever coming to the show’s reunion because he had participated in a gay bondage video when he was younger. Really? That’s cause for banning him from your studios? I can speculate that he never did to the rounds with the gay press even though their were 2 other openly gay and more flamboyant guys on the same year.
So that brings us to our own gay cable network LOGO. LOGO is supposed to be a representation of all, but so far, I’m not seeing too much. They do a phenomenal job with the T part of LBGT in the form of RePaul’s Drag Race and Drag U, which I confess to enjoying every now and then. But the rest of the network is a mess. If they think reruns of Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Nip/Tuckare the wave of a gay network’s future, we may as well just stick with Bravo.
They did have a couple of Reality shows in The A-List series, which only seemed to show the catty bitchy side of the community, but having Reichen Lehmkuhl and Rodiney Santiago on the show kind of gave us a little street cred. Still, this show as well as The A-List Dallas were quickly cancelled despite performing well for the network. Now all they seem to do is find shows that they hope will cross over to the straight community with Bad Sex, which featured mostly straight people’s sexual addictions and Eden’s World, a show about a kiddie pageant which I have no clue who that appeals to. I’ve also watched a few minutes of 5 Gays and a Girl, but the only gays I ever saw were 20 something twinks that should be crossing over into Bad Sex. And upcoming programming ideas include “In The Big House”, about a straight former Mobster running a gay bar and “Design My Dog“, which you can guess about what this show is about as it must represent us well because we all love fashion….and dogs. LOGO should know better and lead the way to some decent representation, yet they fail miserably with nothing bright for us to look forward to over the horizon.
It’s high time the LGBT community starts to push back and demand some better representation or the “Don’t Say Gay” laws will continue to make their marks on the ignorant and Bible thumpers everywhere who see us as an abomination. Can someone out there take a stand and stop letting us be a gay version of a Minstrel Show? Yes, Big Brother and Glass House casting, I’m talking about you! Reality TV has an opportunity to educate the masses yet it rarely takes advantage of it.
June 20, 2012 - Posted by xwiseguyx | LGBT, Reality TV, TV | 5 Gays and a Girl, A-List Dallas, A-List New York, abc, American Idol, Bad Sex, Big Brother, Bill “Bunky” Miller, Brad Virata, Bravo, CBS, Design Star, Dustin Erikstrup, Eden's World, FOX, GLADD, Hell's Kitchen, HGTV, HRC, J.P. Calderon, Janice Dickenson’s Modeling Agency, Jeff Schroeder, Logo, Marcelles Reynolds, Masterchef, Michael Verdugo, Mikey V, NBC, Playing It Straight, Reichen Lehmkuhl, RePaul’s Drag Race, Richard Hatch, RuPaul's Drag U, The Biggest Loser, The Glass House, The Sing Off, The Trevor Project., The Voice, Top Chef
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Mark Cosenza is a freelance writer with over 15 years of experience covering the world of TV, Music and News. Check out his latest articles and views in the entertainment industry. Follow him on Twitter @xwiseguyx
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