“You know how vampires have no reflections in a mirror? There’s this idea that monsters don’t have reflections in a mirror. And what I’ve always thought isn’t that monsters don’t have reflections in a mirror. It’s that if you want to make a human being into a monster, deny them, at the cultural level, any reflection of themselves…” — Junot Diaz, Pulitzer Prize-winning Dominican-American novelist
I am a gay, Mexican, Japanese, Native American man. I’m also an intern in the Entertainment Diversity department, which serves to represent diverse talent in front of and behind the camera.
My identity as a young gay man of color has always been informed by television. I distinctly remember watching WILL & GRACE as an elementary school student and realizing that I wasn’t the only person in the world attracted to the same sex. Furthermore, the character Will Truman, a corporate lawyer (and a fellow Columbia University alum!), made me believe that I could find professional success as an out gay man. This series launched a decade-long journey of discovering LGBT culture through media. I can singlehandedly credit the pilot episode of QUEER AS FOLK for my transition from boy to man.
While I will forever be indebted to WILL & GRACE, I still didn’t see “people like me” represented on television in the early 2000s. As an LGBT person of color, I had to choose between characters that I identified with on either sexual identity or racial lines, but never both simultaneously.
Then came UGLY BETTY, executive produced by Ben Silverman of the upcoming CW dramedy and fellow telenovela adaptation JANE THE VIRGIN.
I identified with Betty’s younger brother, Justin Suarez, a flamboyantly gay Latino teenager whose gradual acceptance of his sexual orientation paralleled my own. BETTY creator Sylvio Horta has expressed similar sentiments: “I see myself in him. Growing up, I certainly felt like an outsider at times. But there’s this sweet innocence in Justin that sees the positive.” Justin inspired me to see the silver lining in growing up gay in the 21st century, no matter how hard I had to look for it.
In my opinion, good television allows people to see reflections of themselves and to empathize with fictitious characters in the same way that we do in everyday life. My work with the Entertainment Diversity and Casting departments in preparation for the annual Diversity Sketch Comedy Showcase strives towards that goal, and has been both professionally fulfilling and personally rewarding. The Showcase presents new, diverse talent to an audience of premier casting directors, agents, managers, and network executives, and has led to 1690 auditions and 460 roles landed, as well as Kate McKinnon’s Emmy-nominated turn on SNL. This year, CBS signed holding deals with three diverse Showcase alums—Drew Tarver, Haneefah Wood, and Nico Santos.
If Santos, a gay Filipino comedian, were on TV during my childhood, I would’ve seen myself reflected on-screen. I would never have presumed that being gay was exclusively “a white people thing”, as WILL & GRACE led me to believe. I would’ve been familiarized with both the specific struggles and unique beauty of living openly as an LGBT person of color. In short, I would’ve felt less alone.
Additionally, recognizing audiences of color is a smart business practice. U.S. Latino buying power is currently estimated at $1.3 trillion. African Americans watch 1 hour and 43 minutes more television per day than the average American, according to Nielsen reports. Asian Americans are the fastest-growing racial group. It sounds superfluous to remind oneself that LGBT people are included in these figures. However, LGBT people of color are few and far between on television. I’m proud to work for a company that showcases characters with complex, diverse, and intersecting identities like THE GOOD WIFE’s Kalinda Sharma, a bisexual Indian-American legal investigator, and UNDER THE DOME’s Carolyn Hill, a lesbian African-American entertainment lawyer. While CBS is certainly moving in the right direction, our work is far from finished.
The Human Rights Campaign found that 47% of LGBT youth report “not fitting in” in their community, compared to 16% for heterosexuals. Compared to their straight peers, LGBT adolescents are twice as likely to face verbal harassment and 4 times more likely to attempt suicide, according to the Center for Disease Control. The suicide rate doubles for Black and Hispanic LGBT youth.
On the bright side, 59% report having heard LGBT-positive messages in film, TV, and radio. Let’s make that statistic 100%. Let’s make some more mirrors.