For today’s post, Home Sweet HGTV celebrates June as Pride month and introduces my daughter, Sara, as a guest contributor.
HGTV has long had members of the LGBT community on their shows, but how supportive is the network really and how accurate are their representations?
House Hunters was created by a lesbian couple, Jennifer Davidson and Tara Sandler, who have had gay couples searching for and buying house on the show since its creation in 1998. In an interview with Jim Halterman the women said that they never made a point of featuring lesbian or gay people on the show because to them it seemed normal and the network went with it. This began in a time where it was uncommon for there to be LGBT characters on shows unless they were featured as a heavily stereotypical token character. While HGTV did not make a big deal out of having gay people on their shows, it is important to recognize the impact this may have had on normalizing certain LGBT experiences. If a major network like HGTV accepts and does not exoctizice the community, it can suggest to the viewers that being gay or lesbian or bisexual is not something to be ashamed of and instead is something that is perfectly normal.
Recently HGTV canceled a program before it even aired featuring the Benham brothers after they made some homophobic comments. Given the fairly frequent featuring of LGBT people on shows, it makes sense that the network did this. However, the Benham brothers argued that it had less to do with their beliefs contradicting the network and more to do with them not being in line with much of the American public. They state that there is a “gay agenda” in America and that the network would have lost money if they continued with the Benham brothers’ show. This in an interesting point to look at. Was the show canceled because HGTV did not agree or because the ratings and the money would have decreased?
For a long time the LGBT community was not widely accepted in mainstream culture. And while this is still very much the case in some communities today, as we saw in Orlando, overall there is much more acceptance. With the legalization of gay marriage and the repeal of discriminatory laws such as Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, mainstream support has been increasing. This is turn has incentivized businesses and people to be overtly supportive of the LGBT community, placing the rainbow flag on everything from shirts to credit cards to sporting events. However, theses signs of solidarity partly come from the monetary benefits that can be derived from being an ally. It is estimated that the purchasing power of the LGBT community is $790 billion dollars. That is a lot of money and with money comes a lot of sway. So it is very likely that HGTV took money at least partly into account when canceling the Benham brothers’ show because there was a risk of the network as a whole suffering due to the association with the homophobic brothers.
In addition, while HGTV has been supportive by featuring LGBT people on their shows, the experiences that are shown represent a small subset of the community. Most of the people are in a long term relationship and appear to be middle class living in nice areas. This is not an accurate representation of the LGBT community as whole, but it is important to keep in mind that this representation holds true for straight people as well. Most of the people on HGTV are middle class or higher and are white. This makes sense given that people buying, flipping, or redecorating houses are going to be people of a higher income. Plus, the majority of TV is very whitewashed and disproportionately represents certain people and certain classes more than others. In that way, HGTV is very much in line with mainstream media.
Overall, HGTV is a friend of the LGBT community at least on some levels. While the representation could be improved and it is unclear how much the network is attempting to boost ratings and income by being supportive, as a whole HGTV does much better than many networks. If anything, HGTV highlights the need for more representation and normalization of the LGBT community on TV.