How many more times do we have to ask for LGBTQ+ representation on The Bachelor?
While Bachelor Nation was hanging on Peter’s mom’s every word (Don’t let who go?) during the teasers for the season finale on Monday, two contestants from Peter’s season, Alexa Caves and Jasmine Nguyen were capturing social media’s attention. Nguyen posted evidence of what we thought was a budding relationship between the two of them, with a photo of them looking into each other’s eyes captioned, “We did find love after all.”
According to People, Caves has recently revealed that she is sexually fluid, leading many fans to believe that this relationship was romantic. But on Tuesday, she took to her Instagram Story to clear up the rumors: They’re just BFFs. Hey, we’ll be the last people to knock a strong female friendship, but the love story fake-out had fans on Twitter quite disheartened—one even called it “the biggest disappointment of 2020.”
This is just one instance demonstrating that viewers are more than ready to see more queer-identifying people on The Bachelor. ABC certainly isn’t known as a hotbed of diversity, but it’s time that changes so the LGBTQ+ community can witness their love stories playing out on national television. Regardless of how manufactured those stories are within the context of reality TV, the representation of these queer storylines, so rare on television in general, are what really counts.
LGBTQ+ people have made their mark on The Bachelor in several instances where they proudly professed their queer identities, but they haven’t been a part of the show nearly as much as they could have been.
The very brief queer history of The Bachelor franchise in the U.S. goes like this: Jaimi King, who participated in both Nick Viall’s season and Bachelor in Paradise Season 4, was the first ever openly LGBTQ+ contestant in the series. She told Viall on The Bachelor that she’d been with women in the past. Then, once she went on Bachelor In Paradise that summer, the commercials teased out her possibilities on the show as a bisexual woman, implying that she could potentially date men or women. However, the real kicker was that there were no other queer women cast on the show that season (of course), so she actually had no legitimate choice but to go on dates with guys.
King’s presence on BiP opened the doors for contestant Demi Burnett on the following season of Paradise—she actually came out during an episode as bisexual and ended up bringing her girlfriend Kristian, who she’d been dating before filming, onto the show. They got engaged at the end of the summer, which was the first time two women got engaged in the entire series. Both Bachelor fans and other members of the franchise stanned Burnett’s strength for coming out with her true identity and openness about loving both men and women. One fan even tweeted, “Watching [Demi] and Kristian be so in love with each other the last few weeks is inspiring not only to me, but many others part of the LGBTQ+ community. It inspired me to be more open about my feelings for one of my closest girl friends.”
Other than these two women, there haven’t ever been any out LGBTQ+ contestants on the show. It doesn’t seem like any queer men or anyone who’s openly trans has gone within 10 feet of the show, which is likely because the program hasn’t made a space for them. Host Chris Harrison has even said in 2014 interview that he feared a queer version of the show wouldn’t be as smart of a “business decision,” equating diversity in casting with a lack of probability. However, recent TV trends show that isn’t the case at all.
Other reality dating shows have been listening to queer audiences, and are surpassing The Bachelor when it comes to LGBTQ+ representation. The most recent, Netflix’s The Circle, which doesn’t follow the same love-finding format per se, but is more of a cross between Big Brother and Catfish, has multiple gay and bi contestants on its first season. 2016 saw the release (and sadly, the cancelling) of Logo’s Finding Prince Charming, the closest thing to a gay version of The Bachelor that TV has witnessed in recent years—just with a lot more pool parties. MTV’s Are You The One, which had previously only followed a strictly hetero-format, introduced a cast of entire sexually fluid (and some gender fluid) individuals for Season 8 in 2019.
In case you don’t believe us that Bachelor fans are not exactly clutching their pearls when it comes to presentations of sexuality on the show, (lest we forget the four times in a windmill scenario) the numbers prove it.
The core demographic of The Bachelor, is, to no one’s surprise, millennials, 27% of whom identify as liberal Democrats, according to recent PEW research. Data from an influencer marketing platform called Creator IQ also found that 68% of the viewers for the last season of The Bachelorette, featuring Hannah Brown, were 18 to 24 years old, and 19% of them were 25 to 34 years old. A recent survey by GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) also found that a whopping 20% of that 18 to 34 age group, the prime audience of the Bachelor franchise, identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community. Maybe, just a thought, they’d want to see themselves represented on television.
GLAAD’s most recent annual TV diversity report found that the 2018-2019 season was record-breaking in terms of representation, with 8.8% of television characters identifying somewhere on the LGBTQ+ spectrum (special shout-out to FX’s Pose in particular for having the most trans characters, played by trans actors, ever portrayed on television at once). This spike is a huge testament to what audiences want to see—there is an obvious demand for more LGBTQ characters on TV, and Hollywood is slowly taking notice. Most of these characters were featured on scripted television shows; however, this representation throughout television is important not only for the LGBTQ+ community to feel seen and accepted in society, Raina Deerwater, a research associate at GLAAD said in an interview with Bloomberg, but also for heterosexual people to better understand them.
So why can’t The Bachelor actually transition into the year 2020, when legitimately one-fifth of their viewers may potentially identify as queer? There are many ways that the show could tackle normalizing diversified portrayals of sexuality. For example, switching up the format and adding a queer lead and several queer contestants in the house could really shake things up. Maybe the rose ceremonies could take on a totally new shape, too, and allow the queer lead to keep or send home as many people of any gender identity as they choose.
In fact, a different format of the show might encourage more viewers of diverse backgrounds who previously rejected the show to tune in if they can finally relate to it. And even for non-LGBTQ+ viewers, seeing someone like Burnett share her truth about her sexuality can be eye-opening, especially if they’ve never witnessed a coming out story firsthand. ABC, it’s up to you to look beyond the cookie-cutter mold of straight pageant queens and personal trainers and find more diverse, queer people from all backgrounds, that actually represent the America we live in. The Bachelor‘s millions of viewers deserve to see all different manifestations of love on a show about finding “The One,” so start using the massive platform you’ve developed to get that message out there.