OPINION: Love & Hip Hop holds an important place for LGBTQ representation

Between all the baby mama drama and fights in the clubs are meaningful stories about the queer community.

VH1 ‘Love & Hip Hop’ Season 4 Premiere NEW YORK, NY – OCTOBER 28: Former couple, Erica Mena and Cyn Santana appear at the VH1 ‘Love & Hip Hop’ Season 4 Premiere at Stage 48 on October 28, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Brian Ach/Getty Images for Vh1)

Tomorrow will mark the 7-year anniversary of the first episode of Love & Hip Hop. Throughout the years, we have seen cast members come and go, with twisted love triangles, baby mama drama, and tons of studio time that never actually seem to produce any music—except for maybe K. Michelle and Cardi B.

What makes reality TV especially juicy are some very real storylines, partiuclalry those that are a part of the LGBTQ community, bringing light to issues we rarely see on the big or small screens.

One of the newer cast members, Jonathan Fernandez told a harrowing story of being sent to the Dominican Republic at the age of nine to undergo conversion therapy. Conversion therapy has been in the headlines since President Trump’s inauguration since Vice President Mike Pence is in favor of converting homosexuals into heterosexuals, even to the point of using federal funds designated for HIV awareness and testing to do so. Jonathan used the show as a platform to discuss his experiences including when he was given hormone treatments and electro-shock therapy to rid him of homosexuality. Although his story only had a few minutes in one episode, it was important to see this issue given visibility, adding hard truth to what so many thought was only a myth.

The Love & Hip-Hop franchise has actually done a very good job of introducing storylines important to LGBTQ people. Love & Hip-Hop Hollywood, for example, included bi-sexual  cast member Myles, and his relationship with then boyfriend, Milan. We witnessed Myles finally coming out to his family, an experience many of us can relate to. Love & Hip Hop Miami also recently depicted Malik Williams coming out to his friends and, after many years, choosing to live his life openly as an out gay man despite his fear of losing business contacts and clientele. We all know how the entertainment industry can be unkind to gay men because of rampant homophobia.

Love & Hip Hop cast members Cyn and Erica Mena displayed a lesbian relationship, Moniece and Mimi discussed their bi-sexuality, and one season, the franchise even introduced D. Smith, a transgender record producer who challenged several cast members on their transphobia.

Unfortunately, the entertainment industry traditionally only wants to explore LGBTQ storylines when they are packaged in a manner of respectability politics. They want the narrative, visibility and representation, but it has to be absent of the messy, which, don’t get me wrong, I can understand. However, the messy does not negate the importance of these characters who have allowed the public into their private lives.

Hopefully, Love & Hip Hop will continue allow us to share our stories and be a vehicle for other shows to follow suit. No longer are LGBTQ people willing to live in the shadows or as cliche sidekicks. It is our turn to take center stage.

Love & Hip Hop Miami airs on Mondays at 9PM EST on VH1. 

George M. Johnson is a Black queer journalist and activist located in the NYC area. He has written for TheRoot, ET, HIVequal, TeenVogue, NBC News and several other major publications. Follow him on FacebookTwitter, or Instagram