I’m aware that most people in the United States are only able to recognize homophobia in its most overt forms, like a child on a playground yelling the word “faggot.” Before I discuss Andy, let’s get two things straight (so to speak) about homophobia:
- Homophobia takes on many forms, not just violence or people using the “F” word.
- Homophobia, like racism, is not based on a person’s intent. Somebody doesn’t have to INTEND to be homophobic for his or her statements or actions to qualify as homophobia. When kids say, “That’s so gay,” they may not INTEND to degrade gay people by equating them with things that are weak or bad; but their association is homophobic regardless of intent. Homophobia and racism are what they are, regardless of intent.
Andy is one of the few Big Brother contestants who didn’t get an HoH package. I’m aware of the program’s logistics. I know that, sometimes during a double eviction, the HoH won’t get a room-reveal aired on CBS. If this were an isolated incident with gay houseguests, believe me, I wouldn’t raise a stink, but symbolic isolation of gay competitors is an ongoing trend on Big Brother. Here are the facts:
- For five consecutive years, Big Brother’s gay contestants have not received a friends-and-family package. I was the ONLY competitor in the final seven of Big Brother 12 who didn’t get one, and I finished in fifth place. Kevin made it to the final 3 and didn’t receive one. This may have been going on longer than the last 5 seasons, I just can’t remember beyond season 10.
- In 15 seasons, contestants have been brought back to compete on the show TWENTY-FIVE times. Of those 25 returns, they have only brought a gay person back on ONE occasion.
These practices perpetuate mediated stereotypes that have dehumanized sexual minorities for the past several decades, namely that “gays lead a lonely life” and are interchangeable and utterly disposable. Gay characters on TV are “rarely shown in their own communities, homes, or same-sex romantic relationships but are depicted in terms of their place in the lives of heterosexuals” (Dow, 2001, p. 129). HoH reveals and family packages help humanize Big Brother contestants and show their connections to broader communities. Do I think producers INTEND to snub or diminish gay contestants in this manner? No, nor do I believe intent matters (see above).
When people suggest calling out more subtle and insidious homophobia is “whining,” they become complicit in the bone-crushing structures that marginalize gay and lesbian people. They probably have had the luxury of not thinking about homophobia beyond the “F” word. In other words, they can’t see beyond their own privilege. Don’t confuse your unearned privilege for a gay person “whining.” I’ll gladly trade you the luxury of your privilege for dealing with the daily implications of what I’ve just outlined.