Amy Bailey: What HGTV and Food Network taught our family about gay pride
It was around this time last year, on road trip in Florida — driving from Boca Raton to Key West — that my son was introduced to JVN. You know, Jonathan Van Ness, the glorious hair guru of “Queer Eye” reboot? Together, in the back seat of a rental car, we watched the entire first season of the Netflix series.
His review? “I love Jonathan!” His response to almost anything positive over the following few weeks? “Yaaaaas queen!”
Funny, but I was actually about the same age when I first heard someone make fun of a gay person. It was the mid-1980s and one of my fellow fourth graders at a Catholic school in suburban Cleveland leaned over, spoke with a lisp and bent her wrist. Her actions conveyed that this was definitely something bad, something you didn’t want to be.
Now here I am, in 2019, excitedly texting a link to Taylor Swift’s rainbow-hued “Calm Down” music video to my son so he could watch it and spot all the members of the “Queer Eye” show.
Believe me, it’s not like my husband and I have made a super concerted effort to regularly infuse gay-friendly media into our son’s life. Instead, that actually came from our efforts, as parents, to avoid 857 uncomfortable conversations about erectile dysfunction commercials and sitcoms packed with sexual innuendo.
Avoiding those things means you watch a lot of HGTV, Food Network and the Cooking Channel. Those have been our go-to channels over the 11 years of having a small(er) human in our house.
Whether it’s Guy Fieri taking us on a trip to Flavor Town or Andromeda Dunker narrating a family’s search for a new home, they’re just that. No alternate meanings, no additional explanation required. Food and homes.
Woven into these series – from “Chopped,” hosted by original “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” cast member Ted Allen to David Bromstad, the amazing host of HGTV’s “My Lottery Dream Home” – are people with a dream. And some of them are gay.
It’s not like there is a special rainbow flag version of these shows like, “Love It or List It: The Gay Episode” or even “The Best Thing I Ever Ate: Made by a Gay Chef.” There isn’t a special package of LGBTQ-approved episodes to mark Pride Month in June.
And that is what I have come to love about having my kid raised on televised conversations about “a great place to entertain,” or “the crispiness of the bacon with the creaminess of the avocado.” They showcase the common experience of being human:
The struggle of working toward a professional goal.
The stressfulness of finding a new home.
The tenacity of renovating an old home.
You know the thing I notice about my kid when he’s watching these shows when they feature gay individuals and gay couples talking about their partners and families? That he doesn’t care. He doesn’t give much thought to hearing a man say “my husband and I.” And he doesn’t really bat an eye when he sees two women on the screen talking about a “great outdoor cooking space.”
His ears do perk up when he hears someone on TV talking about being bullied or being ostracized by friends or family members for being gay.
So those “boring shows” about food and square footage that we turned to in an effort to avoid those overly sexualized series and commercials? What if they ended up providing our kid with lessons about our commonality as humans? I’d be proud of that.
Amy Bailey was a member of the Michigan Capitol Press Corps from 2000-2006. She lives and works in Green Bay, Wisconsin, with her husband, son and an easily excitable Australian Shepherd. Amy's guest column, Something to Say, will publish the first and fourth Wednesday of every month. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.