Steven Smith tells us why he feels the way forward for LGBTQ people involves encouraging the media and LGBTQ figureheads to educate the public, inform them about our culture, and highlight our constant struggle for equal rights.
It’s a sunny morning, June 26th, and I’m settling down with my coffee, turning on the TV to catch up with the latest news and gossip on my favourite show, “Good Morning Britain”. I’m particularly excited to see that they have a segment for Gay Pride this year.
What an opportunity to show the world our LGBTQ doctors, nurses, firefighters, and other frontline workers who have worked so hard to keep the country moving during the pandemic. They may even feature some LGBT MPs, or those heroes constantly battling for our rights. They could explain the history of Stonewall, or let people know why we need to have a Pride march. Athletes, military personnel – the possibilities are endless.
However, what actually unfolded saw me almost drop my breakfast croissant into my coffee with horror. Instead of some of our amazing LGBTQ role models, we are Zoom-called to the garden of GMB’s token gay, Richard Arnold. He is joined by RuPaul’s Drag Race UK runner-up, Baga Chipz. Now, let me be clear – I love drag, and it’s an incredible art form. Baga is remarkably talented and funny. In the right context, I can’t get enough of her.
If Baga had come on to talk about the meaning of Pride, or how her predecessors had fought at Stonewall, or even addressed how a few years ago she would never have been on TV, the segment could have been great. Instead, when Arnold asks Baga about Pride, Baga replies,
“Every Pride, I’m always out in Soho. I’ve got me drink in one hand, I’ve got my ciggie in the other hand and I’m flashing me tuppence to everyone.
“It’s mad, do you know what I mean? I get the odd grope. But I love Pride. It’s a time where I can get a bit of action.”
Hardly breakfast viewing, no matter how liberal you are.
The whole content of the segment was crude and rather dull. I won’t use the word camp, it was just embarrassing, to be honest. Many will be saying it was just a bit of fun and that I should get over myself.
However, it was such a missed opportunity to showcase our community. For the boy or girl sitting at home, desperate to come out, scared and frightened, looking for someone they can relate to, GMB let them down badly this time. Yes, they could have had a drag queen on, but one who had something to say would have done us proud.
GMB and Piers Morgan have been a good ally for the community. Morgan has highlighted the bigotry of conversation therapy, opened up the trans debate, and he was brilliant with Gareth Thomas talking about living with HIV. It left me wondering whose idea it was to allow this shambolic celebration of Pride. In fact, arguably, Piers has been more vocal in his support of the LGBTQ community than many of the gay presenters. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about his stance on mental health, but that’s a topic for another day.
My first thought was that some heterosexual producer had decided this was a good idea but had no idea how to execute it. I can hear it now – “let’s give it to Arnold, he’s a gay.”
But Michael Aldrige, who works in the entertainment industry, said,
“The producer of GMTV used to be a gay guy, many years ago. You would be surprised how some of the gay community responsible for media productions are happy with the clichés, especially the older generation in the industry.”
The media have always been keen to highlight the outrageous or extreme side of any minority group. Across the pond, The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence would always be first up when news stations reported on Pride, closely followed by Dykes on Bikes. Clearly, these groups were chosen to show Mr and Mrs Middle America that their fears were valid. Both groups raise a fortune for charity and are to be admired, but the extremes of the LGBTQ community represent a tiny percentage of who we are.
Let’s not forget that we are still fighting every day for LGBTQ rights – to be able to hold our heads high and hope that no one will bat an eyelid when someone says they prefer the same sex. To hope that we will no longer have protests outside schools because the word “Gay” was mentioned in a positive light. Much as we have come a long way, homophobic attacks are on the rise. In many parts of the world, gays are still being tortured and killed.
In this battle, the only way forward is through education and constant, well-thought-out PR strategy, with positive role models highlighted by the media. We need to lobby MPs to enact sanctions against countries that allow these atrocities.
What Bowie did for bisexuality in the ’70s, RuPaul has done for drag in this era. He is in a unique position to have been allowed a voice that has highlighted the art form of drag and has also made him a genuine figurehead to so many of the young LGBTQ community. People are looking to find someone who talks for them and that they can identify with. “If you can’t love yourself, how are you going to love someone else?”
He has captured the attention of the youth of today. They pack stadiums and queue for hours to see him and the other stars of RuPaul’s Drag Race, now in its twelfth season. The UK version of the show was a phenomenal success, and saw Welsh queen The Vivienne crowned the winner. For sure, I am a superfan of the show.
It was truly wonderful to walk around the Olympia Exhibition Centre in London, packed to capacity as thousands screamed out for Baga, Vivienne, and the main man himself, RuPaul.
It was as if a giant glitter bomb had exploded. The colour and excitement were everywhere. You really weren’t in Kansas anymore, you were well over the rainbow.
Of course, the press highlighted a negative aspect to the organisation of the event that I saw no evidence of. I was lucky enough to attend both days, and it seemed incredibly well organised.
Many of my gay male acquaintances are quick to say “Drag doesn’t speak for me. I’m a masculine gay man”. They’re entitled to say this, especially after Baga’s stint on GMB. I empathise. But drag is part of LGBT history. It dates back to when theatres only allowed men to perform, and so men also played all the female characters. The bitchy, terrifying London drag queens of the ‘70s – such as the legendary Marc Fleming and Mrs Shufflewick of Black Cap fame – have been replaced by a kinder, more creative art form that has become mainstream and has something to say.
David Hoyle, a creative genius and performance artist, may terrify Mr and Mrs Daily Mail, but his unique style has his audience thinking while they are entertained. His work deals with a variety of issues affecting the LGBTQ community.
But it’s not the liberals or the community we are fighting against. Like it or not, Ru and his girls have been given an amazing opportunity to choose what they say on prime-time television, especially when it comes to Pride.
My concerns are that they now have a massive amount of attention and power. “With great power comes great responsibility”. The youth who adore Ru go on to see things like Another Gay Sequel, a movie starring Ru and the legendary New York drag queen Lady Bunny. It shows everything from fist fucking, faeces eating, and being promiscuous as the norm. And those are the tame parts.
Graham Norton stars in the first movie as an S&M schoolteacher. Yes, I watched both movies. There is some great humour in there, but these movies do not represent the community as a whole. Big celebrity names should stay a mile away from projects like these, as they are terrible PR.
Compare this to something like Hurricane Bianca, starring Bianca Del Rio, the American winner of season 6 of Drag Race. Hurricane Bianca is charming, witty and educational. It’s something everyone should see.
After 12 seasons of Drag Race, there are signs Ru is tiring of the show. He seems to lack empathy with girls as time goes on. The Canadian version’s host, Brooke Lynne Hytes, has empathy in abundance.
In this day and age, the best way to get a message across is with spin and good PR. Piers Morgan is a better spokesperson as an ally to the community than many of the Queens of drag race. RuPaul should make sure that girls who have been catapulted to the front line know their history and have something to say that will make us all proud, rather than make us cringe into our cornflakes. Either that or just have them sashay away and stick to comedy shows please.