Embracing queer contestants makes for better reality TV

LGBTQ2S+ contestants shouldn’t be viewed as a ‘logistical difficulty’

Reality shows have taken drastically different approaches to queer representation.

This article uses “Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay, Transgender, Queer, and Two-Spirit (LGBTQ2S+)" when referring to students with diverse experiences with gender and sexuality. While many of these labels are popular among those who self-identify, they are not universal.

Shows like Too Hot to Handle, The Bachelor, and Love is Blind are inherently spectacles, but their representation—or lack thereof—impacts the way we perceive queer relationships, especially if shows reinforce damaging stereotypes surrounding the LGBTQ2S+ community.

I was shocked when I heard about Love Island’s stance on featuring queer relationships on their show. The show’s television network commissioner, Amanda Stravi, stated that gay contestants would create a “logistical difficulty.”

It felt like a huge step backwards in representation of the LGBTQ2S+ community, along with being an ignorant and irrational stance.

MTV was one of the first industry leaders to embrace queer contestants on dating shows with the eighth season of Are You The One?, which premiered in 2019. Instead of sticking to the status quo of a strictly straight cast, everyone on the show identified as queer, opening the doors for more romantic relationships and opportunities for cast members to find their perfect match.

For arguably the first time, LGBTQ2S+ reality show stars were able to open up about their experiences as queer individuals, shaped by their families, upbringings, and relationship histories. Rather than having one emotional, tear-jerking moment in a sea of straight stories, the diversity of casting made room for a nuanced array of queer experiences.

By showcasing queer romances, reality TV normalizes relationships that aren’t heteronormative, allowing viewers to see and internalize the normalcy of LGBTQ2S+ relationships. With more representation, queer folks watching reality TV may also feel validated and represented in a way they haven’t before—especially because queer stories are often intentionally erased or sidelined in mainstream media.

Exposure to a variety of queer experiences on TV shapes our cultural understanding of queerness and has the capacity to subtly move the needle in the direction of acceptance and normalization.

There seems to be more room for acceptance in the reality TV world, especially after former Bachelor star Colton Underwood came out as gay earlier this year. Underwood’s coming out story was shocking for many, especially because he seemed like the poster boy for a typical white, straight husband-to-be.

However, his story definitely increased LGBTQ2S+ visibility in the reality TV community—he’s even set to star in a new Netflix show.

It’s important to note that most queer representation in reality TV is white, with racialized queer folks often pushed to the sidelines of whitewashed storytelling. Queer visibility is a complex topic, especially when considering the intersections of race, class, and the fact that most shows are not tailored towards a diverse audience.

I felt a sense of relief and joy when Brooke Blurton, an openly bisexual Indigenous woman, was cast as the next Bachelorette. The show has stated that contestants will be a mixed pool of both men and women, and Blurton has spoken on the importance of internal traits rather than gender in a romantic partner.

In an interview with Reuters, Blurton said, “I don’t really focus on the gender of a person and I’ve always been very open that I don’t have a preference […] It’s always genuinely the internal traits that people carry, how they hold themselves, how much compassion and empathy they have.”

To see a woman on TV navigating her queerness as it intersects with her Indigenous identity is interesting and necessary.

Celebrating queerness and providing a platform for LGBTQ2S+ individuals to participate in the addictive drama of reality TV isn’t a “logistical difficulty,” but beneficial for both networks and audiences.

Shows should select queer candidates not only for the importance of diversity and representation, but also because it makes for more interesting, inclusive entertainment.

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