Jonathan Van Ness says LGBTQ+ representation doesn't necessarily 'make people's lives better day to day' in wake of new legislation

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Jonathan Van Ness speaks out against LGBTQ+ discrimination. (Photo: Roy Rochlin/FilmMagic)
Jonathan Van Ness speaks out against LGBTQ+ discrimination. (Photo: Roy Rochlin/FilmMagic)

Jonathan Van Ness is speaking out about the disconnect between representation in media and the realities of LGBTQ+ Americans.

The Queer Eye star, who is non-binary and has shared that he is comfortable with use of all pronouns, appeared alongside Lizzo, Nicole Byer, Padma Lakshmi and Will Arnett at The Hollywood Reporter’s reality star roundtable on Friday, where the conversation turned to how we are seeing more LGBTQ+ people on screen than ever before. While Van Ness said that it was a positive step forward, he cautioned against using it as the only barometer we should look at in terms of equality.

“I get asked about this a lot, being on a show like Queer Eye,” the reality star said. “If you look since 2016, hate crimes have risen every single year in the United States against queer, LGBTQIA+ people. And so I think too often we have this ask of like, ‘Do you think that representation is increasing? Do you think that it's getting better?’ And it's like, I guess, but who really cares? I mean, representation is important, [but] what's the correlation between representation and legislation? Is it that when representation is better, we get more protective legislation? No.”

Van Ness pointed out that despite the increase in historically underrepresented people in media, there continues to be legislation targeting them. This year alone, there have been multiple pieces of legislation targeting the LGBTQ+ community, including in Texas, where Queer Eye filmed its most recent season.

“I think it's okay for us to celebrate representation, but we need to stop conflating representation with like quality of life, and how our work on TV changes people's like day to day lives” the Netflix star explained. “Representation is absolutely so important. But I think that we need to do a better job of explaining context and where representation doesn't really necessarily make people's lives better day to day.”

Van Ness, who is also an outspoken advocate for the HIV-positive community, spoke to Variety in May about encouraging people to not get complacent when they see better representation, pointing out that “more anti-trans laws passed this year than all of last year and last year was the highest of all time.”

“My theory is I think we have to start talking about politics and religion and everything at the dinner table with our families,” the Getting Curious host said of what will make real impact. “It’s controversial, but it’s the only way it’s going to happen. You can’t do it on social media. You’ve got to do it with people in your life, or I think it’s hard to make progress unless you’re a little bit fearless about having a difficult conversation.”

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