When the reality series Queer Eye for the Straight Guy debuted in 2003, I immediately fell in love with the self-named “Fab Five,” five gay men with different areas of expertise whose job each episode was to do a makeover on a straight man. I loved experiencing the free-spirited attitudes and funny repartee of Carson, Ted, Kyan, Thom, and Jai each week as they took men from clueless to chic.
So I was a little skeptical about whether I could embrace a whole new Fab Five in the Queer Eye reboot that premiered earlier this year. After four episodes, I’m happy to say that I find the new quintet as endearing, funny, and sweet as the original five. So far, the new Fab Five have been focusing their efforts on sprucing up the “redneck” contingent in Georgia. To see them prancing around the environs of Nascar and antique car fans has been amusing and surprisingly touching.
While the original Queer Eye aired during a period when gays on TV were still a rarity, the show did not explicitly address homophobia or gay rights. The Fab Five’s “gayness” was an unspoken subtext to the Cinderella stories that unfolded each episode.
The new Queer Eye seems to be aiming more overtly for acceptance and understanding between people whose cultures are vastly different from each other. In the first episode, for instance, Bobby confronts the stereotype of gay couples having one masculine and one feminine member. And in episode four, African-American Karamo has a meeting of hearts and minds with a white Atlanta area police officer.
I realize that reality TV is not all that real. For instance, I doubt Karamo being pulled over by a police officer (who turns out to be a friend of the makeover recipient) was a real surprise. And no doubt some of the conversations had between Fab Five members and their subjects are prepared in advance. But there are some honestly touching moments in Queer Eye, as five gay men lovingly coax a straight guy out of his comfort zone and give him a new lease on life.
The success of Queer Eye is not just the opportunity to see that gay and straight people have a lot in common. It’s also a celebration of those aspects of gay culture that bring color and dimension to the world. Just as blacks shouldn’t have to tone down or assimilate in order to find acceptance, people in the LGBTQ community should also be accepted and embraced on their own terms. I’m glad to say that Queer Eye is a delightful step in that direction.
A recent law passed in North Carolina has been dubbed “the bathroom bill” because its most talked about feature deals with the right of transgender individuals to use the public bathroom of their choice. The law explicitly states that individuals must use the bathroom corresponding to the gender they were identified as at birth. People who identify as transgender are possibly the only segment of the population that is more discriminated against than gays. So the law and its implications are important.
Supporters of the law argue that sexual predators will use the accommodation to prey upon women and girls in public restrooms. But there have been no instances of this being a problem in the numerous cities and states which have LGBT anti-discrimination laws in place that allow people to use the restroom which matches their gender identification. (Yahoo News, April 1, 2016; media matters.org, March 20, 2014)
Still, if people are uncomfortable sharing a public bathroom with transgender individuals, I have the perfect solution: gender neutral restrooms. Some have already proposed this remedy, but the difference is that I am not advocating that transgender people be required to use them. Instead, public places should have at least one gender neutral restroom for anyone who is uncomfortable using the public restroom for any reason. This may include those women who are scared of being preyed upon. It may include a transgender woman or man who doesn’t feel safe in the public restroom. There can be myriad reasons for people to want a more private bathroom, and gender neutral ones accommodate those reasons without discriminating against anyone.
For me, the real damage of North Carolina’s HB2 is that it bars more progressive cities in the state from providing protections for their citizens in this area and many others, such as employment and minimum wage, both of which fall under the state’s anti -discrimination law. Furthermore, it denies all workers the right to sue employers under the state’s anti-discrimination law. So this law does not only affect transgender people, but anyone who faces racial, religious, or sex discrimination. University of North Carolina law professor Erika Wilson calls the bathroom provisions of HB2 a “Trojan Horse” that allowed the legislature to codify a much more far-reaching restriction on civil rights. (Mother Jones, April 5, 2016)
I hope in years to come we will be as incredulous about this bathroom issue as we are about separate restrooms and drinking fountains for blacks and whites. Meanwhile, we all need to unite with the LGBT community in fighting these insidious assaults on our civl rights. We may come to find ourselves at the losing end and wish we had been more insistent on protecting these marginalized groups. By then it will be too late.