The modern gay rights movement is a long and messy path. Many people think that what we consider the current gay rights movement started with the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York it actually started almost 40 years prior in Chicago. Below is a brief timeline spanning nearly 100 years of the modern struggle for LGBT equality starting with the formation of The Society for Human Rights up to the landmark Supreme Court ruling in 2015.
Love Simon, Heckle Shawn
As part of its promotion strategy the team behind the Twitter account for the recently released movie Love, Simon was “writing” messages to celebrities that made reference to their recent work and signed each with the hashtag #LOVESIMON. The account tweeted at actors, musicians, online personalities, activist and athletes making reference to each celebrities work. In a tweet to Jane Lynch, an out lesbian actress, the account thanked her for being an inspiration. Many of the tweets were harmless, but one landed the team in some hot water.
In a tweet to singer/songwriter Shawn Mendes the account tweeted a graphic that said ” Dear Shawn, there is nothing holding me back. Love, Simon.” The message is a reference to Mendes’ song There’s Nothing Holdin’ Me Back but it rubbed some fans the wrong way. Online users called the tweet out for implying that Mendes is gay and is in the closet, which given the movie’s plot of accepting gay youth and the emotional toll of being outed, many felt the tweet was hypocritical. Following the outcry, the tweet was deleted. Now it is possible that the tweet was a simple mistake, however, given the long speculation around Mendes’ sexuality many don’t believe it was.
The Canadian singer has been dealing with rumors about his sexuality for the majority of the time he has been in the public eye, and in June of 2016, he addressed the rumors in a series of snapchats. The singer said he was not angry with the rumors he just doesn’t feel that the speculation is relevant to his music and that he was more upset him being gay was presented as a negative. Despite the singer’s video, the online speculation has continued.
So looking at the tweet and the outcry that is had caused it brings up the danger of using an online newsjacking style promotion. The tweet itself meant no harm but because of the baggage that comes with Mendes’ sexuality the choice to use him for part of the promotion is questionable. Especially with the movie’s theme of coming out on one’s own terms. So who is to blame for the mini-scandal? Is it the team behind the account? The fans for misinterpreting the tweet? Or is it possible that there is no one at fault here? I think that it is also worth mentioning that the tweet directed at Mendes was the only one that could be read as a negative comment. Nearly all of the other tweets were overwhelmingly positive and many praised the celebrities that were used as subjects, even other celebrities that have had rumors about their sexuality in past like Katy Perry.
Queerbaiting in Media
Queerbaiting is the practice of hinting at, but not actually depicting, a potential same-sex romantic relationship. This is more common in television, movies, and books. Typically seen as putting two heterosexual male characters in a situation that would imply they are a couple, then playing it off for laughs. Unfortunately, it has become a recent practice for actors and even shows producers to feed into the hype of a potential queer couple. The practice has gained shows, and the relationship that is being teased, huge followings and has fed into cycles of outcry and acceptance from fans.
A modern example of the latter technique is in the series Riverdale. The series is based on, and I use that term loosely, the Archie Comics franchise began airing on the CW in January 2017. The series is your run of the mill CW show following topes that CW’s crown jewel The Vampire Diaries played out at length. It places teenagers in situations that are far too dramatic, traumatic and sexual for anyone who would be in high school, and presents the whole thing like it’s just another day at school. What makes it almost worse is that it uses characters from Archie comics to do it. The show had some press and minimal hype going into the premiere episode, and then the kiss happened.
Female leads Veronica Lodge and Betty Cooper, played by Camila Mendes and Lili Reinhart respectively, share a kiss at the end of a cheerleading routine, despite the two being presented as friends and rivals up until this point of the show. Neither had shown any romantic interest in the other, and the show presented the kissed as a ploy to the school’s queen bee. Following the episode’s airing articles began popping up online claiming the two were lesbians, and that Riverdale had changed the two to be in a romantic relationship. Neither ended up being true with both girls latter going on to have relationships with male lead Archie Andrews, played by K.J. Apa.
Queerbaiting can happen off screen just as easily as on. Several high profile celebrities have been accused of queerbaiting as a way to gain, or maintain, a gay audience over the years. One of the more recent examples is Nick Jonas. Following his single debut, Jonas enjoyed a gay following, with many expressing desire for him. Jonas has done little to subdue the rumors. Following an appearance on Kingdom and Scream Queens, where he played gay characters, Jonas said he “can’t say he’s never hooked up with a man” cue the online gay community going insane. He later clarified that he was referring to the sex scene on Kingdom, and not actually experiencing sexual attraction to men. This play alone is enough to accuse the star of queerbaiting but he has also made shirtless appearances in multiple gay clubs, had been chained up at gay clubs and put himself front and center at a vigil at Stonewall in New York following the Pulse Orlando shooting.
The practice of queerbaiting has become so common that LGBT individuals are often worried to get excited when they see content that they relate to. Considering how hard it is to find characters they identify with fearing to like those characters makes it so much harder.
An introduction to terms you’ll see
Navigating the modern LGBT spectrum can be daunting, especially if you are unfamiliar with the terminology that is used and accepted. These are some of the commonly used terms and a basic definition.
LGBT, LGBTQ, LGBTQA etc.- These acronyms (and others like them) refer to the different identities within the LGBT community, and are often lumped together, due to similar struggles and life experiences. There are however specific needs and struggles rooted with each identity.
Lesbian– A woman who is attracted to other women.
Gay– A man who is attracted to other men. Often used as an umbrella term for anyone who feels same-sex attraction (e.g. a gay man or a gay woman)
Bisexual– A person who is attracted to both their own gender and another gender. Typically, being attracted to both men and women. Usually shortened to “bi.”
Transgender– Frequently used to refer to a person who does not identify with the gender they were assigned at birth, and wishes to transition away from this assigned birth gender.
Cisgender- A person whose gender identity matches the one they were assigned at birth.
Asexual– An individual who does not feel sexual attraction or desire for any group of people. The ‘A’ in LGBTQA sometimes stands for asexual.
Ally– A term usually used to describe a non-LGBT individual who supports and stands up the equality of the LGBT community. LGBT people can also be allies to other members of the community (an asexual man can be an ally to trans people). Just knowing an individual that is part of the community does not make someone an ally, being an ally takes work. The ‘A’ in LGBTQA sometimes stands for ally.
Queer– An umbrella terms for members/ the ideates within the LGBT+ spectrum. *Note* The term queer is considered to be an offensive slur to some members of the LGBT community with some members comparing it to the ‘N’ word. As such it should not be used lightly but those outside of the community.
Questioning– Used to refer to someone who is exploring their sexual, or gender identity.
Intersex– a person whose anatomy or chromosomes do not fit with the traditional “male” and “female.” These people can be born with both traditionally male and female anatomy.
Pansexual- A person who experiences sexual or romantic attraction to people of all gender identities, not just those in the standard gender binary.
Gender Expression-The way individuals manifest their versions of masculine and feminine. Often intertwined with and individuals gender identity.
Gender identity– How an individual self-identifies between male and female.
Homophobia- The fear, hatred, or discomfort with people who are attracted to members of their own sex.
Biphobia– prejudice fear or hatred directed toward bisexual people.
Transphobia– The fear, hatred or discomfort with transgender people.
Closeted– Describes a LGBT person who does not publicly disclose their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Outing- Exposing someone’s identity as a member of the LGBT community without their permission. Outing can be extremely traumatizing for people. If you are struggling and need help please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.