LGBTQ celebrity does not make you representative by default

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Out In Jersey News Editor J. L. Gaynor
Out In Jersey News Editor J. L. Gaynor

Commentary

Being a celebrity member of the LGBTQ community does not automatically mean that one represents ALL of the LGBTQ community. There are many instances where beloved icons fall short of decent human status simply by being deafened by their own privilege and not seeing the struggles still ongoing.

Americans picked Ellen DeGeneres as the favorite communicator of LGBT equality in 2019
Americans picked Ellen DeGeneres as the favorite communicator of LGBT equality in 2019

Ellen DeGeneres, who came out as a lesbian on national TV at a time when this was punishable by blacklisting, is one who falls into the ‘disappointing’ category. DeGeneres had her career just about destroyed by that historic kiss with Laura Dern, incurring the wrath of conservative America that seems to always want to ruin all the fun. Since then, DeGeneres has become a fan favorite, known for her charitable deeds, pranking guests on her daytime talk show, and seemingly being a good all-around person. However, that good feeling soured when she was pictured at a football game in the company of former president George W. Bush. Yes, the same liberal DeGeneres who spoke out against injustices, sitting side by side with a man whose contested eight years in the White House saw the passing and upholding of several anti-LGBTQ policies.

After social media lambasted the daytime host, she addressed the controversy as a monologue on her show, saying, “Here’s the thing: I’m friends with George Bush. In fact, I’m friends with a lot of people who don’t share the same beliefs that I have. We’re all different, and I think that we’ve forgotten that’s OK.”

Actually, Ellen, it’s not okay when you ‘forget’ that not everyone in the LGBTQ community has the power and wealth you do. They don’t have your privilege, which you use to get box seats at a Dallas Cowboys game, kicking back and drinking beer with a man whose family is no friend to the community. Another example of privileged deafness/blindness came in December, when DeGeneres gave her entire studio audience a trip to Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates. Yes, that’s the same United Arab Emirates where homosexual acts are illegal and can incur jail time and hefty fines. It didn’t take long on Google to find out this factoid and you’d think that DeGeneres, with a team of gophers, handlers, and yes men would have uncovered this fact and maybe sent her audience (which probably included members of the LGBTQ community) somewhere else a little friendlier, like maybe Ireland or the Netherlands.

As seen with Ellen DeGeneres, being a trailblazing TV icon doesn’t give you a pass. Ask RuPaul, the famed drag queen whose RuPaul’s Drag Race has become required watching for many members of the ‘G’ part of the LGBTQ acronym. The show brought the culture and colorful pageantry of drag to the small screen, turning into a powerhouse that brings together fans in bars and watch parties like football games or Oscars’ night.

RuPaul with "Drag Race" Season 11 winner Yvie Oddly
RuPaul with “Drag Race” Season 11 winner Yvie Oddly

However, the rumors that had been going around about RuPaul’s transphobic opinions became fact in an interview with the Guardian in 2018. When asked by writer Decca Aitkenhead about “the contradiction between his playfully elastic sensibility and the militant earnestness of the transgender movement.” RuPaul admitted that he probably wouldn’t have allowed a transgender woman like season nine contestant Peppermint if she had already started gender-affirming surgery. Peppermint, a New York City performer, came out as transgender on the show.

“You can identify as a woman and say you’re transitioning, but it changes once you start changing your body,” RuPaul said in the interview. “It takes on a different thing; it changes the whole concept of what we’re doing.”

The backlash came from multiple directions, including Drag Race viewers, the show’s former contestants, and trans performers. RuPaul did the wisest possible thing in response by issuing a Tweet doubling down on his position, saying, “You can take performance enhancing drugs and still be an athlete, just not in the Olympics.”

Willam Belli, who was kicked off the show in season four, retaliated with a series of Instagram posts urging other Drag Race alums to speak up and out against RuPaul for his words. “We work with trans women every night side by side,” Belli said in one post, “and for them to be denied the opportunities because of someone’s narrow-minded view on what they call ‘drag’ is fucked.”

More recently, Alaska Thunderfuck 5000, winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race: All Stars season two spoke about transgender inclusion on Drag Race. Alaska and Belli cohost Race Chaser and were awarded Best Podcast at the Queerties, an awards ceremony run by LGBTQ blog Queerty. Alaska and Belli went onstage together, reading the names of all of the trans contestants who have appeared in Drag Race, including Carmen Carrera, Monica Beverly-Hillz, Peppermint, Sonique, Gia Gunn, and Jiggly Caliente.

“We see you, we love you, we fucking value you so much,” Alaska said. “And anyone who has done drag a day in their life knows that we would not be fucking here without the contributions of trans drag artists. It is my grown-up Christmas wish with this award that hopefully, we can review one day an episode with some more trans girls who are fucking amazing.”

With the horrifying rise of violent crimes against the transgender community, especially black identified trans women and trans women of color, to have an ‘icon’ like RuPaul show his disdain for his trans siblings is beyond harmful.

Pete Buttigieg in Nevada Town Hall in February 2020 for CNN
Pete Buttigieg in Nevada Town Hall in February 2020 for CNN

When Pete Buttigieg announced that he was running for president, he was touted and lauded for being the first openly gay man to run for president. Finally, the LGBTs had a candidate who was one of them.

Except the LGBTQ community didn’t really support the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana. Part of the reason is the community as a whole is skewing younger and more progressive, favoring candidates like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, both strong supports of the LGBTQ community. Another issue is the puzzling fact that Buttigieg did not make advocating for LGBTQ rights and issues the primary focus of his campaign. In the past four years under Donald Trump, LGBTQ rights have been severely eroded and threatened.

“I’m not running to be the gay president of the United States or the president of the gay United States,” Buttigieg said in a CNN town hall. “I’m out here to serve everybody.”

The statement was a stark contrast to the infancy of Buttigieg’s presidential bid, talking about expanding rights for LGBTQ Americans at a fundraiser for the Victory Fund last spring.

“We know that struggle is not over just because marriage equality has come to the land,” he said. “That struggle is not over when several states in this country, including my home state of Indiana, don’t even have hate-crimes legislation. The struggle is not over when, in so many parts of our country, it’s perfectly legal to fire somebody because of who they are and who they love. It must change, and that is why we need a president prepared to sign a federal Equality Act right away.”

The Equality Act would make discrimination against LGBTQ Americans illegal. The bill passed in the House of Representatives last year. It has yet to come to the Senate for a vote and Trump has made it abundantly clear that he does not support the bill.

So why shy away from being a true advocate of the community you represent? According to polls, the majority of Buttigieg’s supporters were older moderate and conservative voters with annual household incomes exceeding the $100,000 mark. In other words, he did well with the ‘economic system is perfectly fair’ crowd and not the crowd most affected by the negative changes being wrought by the Trump administration. How does the saying go? “Money talks…” Basically, we know which side Mayor Pete’s bread is buttered on.

In matters of race, Buttigieg has mis-stepped repeatedly, turning off another very important voting base in black voters. As mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Buttigieg admitted that he was “slow to realize” that his city and the people he served were still segregated. There was no urgency from his office to fix the issue once he acknowledged it, showing once again white indifference to the plight of those being oppressed. In 2011, he blamed young black kids’ academic failings on lack of role models, used the mantra “All Lives Matter” in 2015 in response to the Black Lives Matter movement, and most recently his campaign was accused to using black supporters as political props. When Buttigieg has been called out on his missteps, he’s made the hollow promise of correcting his mistakes.

Hooray for having an openly gay candidate, one that will hopefully open up a willingness to accept future (and better) LGBT candidates. However, being a gay candidate doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re a good candidate for all minority voters, especially when those who would ignore those voters are bankrolling your campaign.

Is it fair to ask one person to shoulder the responsibility of speaking for a huge, diverse community? No, probably not.

Though the LGBTQ community has gained some footing in acceptance and in rights, there is still so, so much work to be done and this is something that those celebrities who represent us should be mindful of. Is it fair to ask one person to shoulder the responsibility of speaking for a huge, diverse community? No, probably not. Is it fair to ask that those we hold in high regard or put on pedestals that they remember a larger community than them exists? That we all don’t come from a place of privilege? Absolutely it is.