GROWING UP IN A series of small, mostly white, conservative Midwest towns, I wasn’t exposed to the LGBTQ community for most of my childhood. The first out people I knew were a few guys who were brave enough to come out during high school; how they mustered the courage to do so, I’m not sure. At the time, bearing a Christian upbringing and boasting a cadre of friends from similar backgrounds, the thought of being out – and being proud of who I was – was less than a dream; it was an impossibility.
For many of my friends and families, homosexuality was almost like a fantasy, something they never came in contact with in their insular social circles in their small, church-going towns. It was conjured in nightmarish fashion from the pulpit and in the conservative media, like an illness one should consider him- or herself lucky to have not contracted, and more so, to have not come in contact with. Homophobia didn’t exactly run rampant, at least not in the aggressively hateful style of Westboro Baptist Church and their ilk. Instead, it was a passive, ignorant state of being: out of (immediate) sight, out of mind.
I’m a frequent visitor of PostSecret.com, a website where people anonymously send in postcards bearing their deepest secrets, which are then posted for the world to see. Most of the cards (posted every Sunday) land with a punch of emotion or humor, then quickly fade from memory. But one has always lingered in my mind: a postcard bearing the image of Mitch and Cam, gay characters on ABC’s hit comedy Modern Family, along with the following text: “These two characters cured my homophobia. Best thing that ever happened to me.
That secret has resonated with me, remained with me, because it speaks to the power of popular images. It’s easy to dismiss shows like Glee and Modern Family, both of which have fallen somewhat into predictable patterns after being on for many years. But both are brimming with positive messages about minorities, and that’s not a light burden. For people in small, heternormative towns where minorities of any sort are rare, these images of queerness can help to inform minds that might otherwise be warped by damning religious doctrine or hateful political stances.
These images tend to mostly crop up on television.Whereas LGBTQ movies often end in tragedy – whether it’s infidelity, illness or a retreat into the closet – television programs often embrace such characters and let them find their happy endings. And with viewers getting to know them more and more each week, social change can happen on an individual level. It’s an awesome thing to see.
And as viewers become more comfortable seeing LGBTQ characters on shows they love to watch, maybe they’ll even be emboldened to take a deeper dive with something like HBO’s new gay dramedy, Looking, which presents the gay community with astounding honesty and humor. Those glowing boxes in our living rooms are powerful things. I’m glad some creative types are using that power for good.