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Queer history becomes ‘Visible’ on new Apple TV docuseries

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Image courtesy Apple TV+

At a time when television is setting new records in terms of onscreen recognition for LGBTQ identities and issues, it might be easy – especially for the younger among us – to forget that it wasn’t always that way.

There was a time, not long ago, when one might never even know LGBTQ people existed based on what they saw on TV. Such figures as Liberace and Paul Lynde, who are now seen as representing a sort of queer proto-visibility with their flamboyant onscreen personas, passed in their day as straight to the majority of their viewing public, incredible as it may seem to us now; and Stonewall, now widely known as one of the most significant moments in the struggle for LGBTQ equality, was never mentioned in a single network news broadcast when it happened, a mere 50 years ago.

Partly because of the television industry’s suppression of all things queer during most of its history, most of LGBTQ history has long been invisible, preserved only in the memories of those who took part, and in greater danger of being lost forever with the passing of each succeeding generation.

Fortunately, embedded within the story of television itself is an entire narrative revealing the queer history that was taking place right before the eyes of millions of viewers, even as it was happening – and thanks to “Visible: Out on Television,” a new 5-part mini-docuseries debuting this weekend on Apple TV+, it’s a history that is now being told, out, proud and queer.

Created by Emmy-nomiinated filmmakers Ryan White and Jessica Hargrave, the series investigates the importance of television as an intimate medium that has shaped the American conscience – and illuminates how the LGBTQ movement has shaped television. It combines archival footage, interviews with key players from the movement and the screen, and narrations by community icons Janet Mock, Margaret Cho, Asia Kate Dillon, Neil Patrick Harris and Lena Waithe, to explore themes such as invisibility, homophobia, the evolution of the LGBTQ character, and coming out in the television industry.

Each hour long episode focuses on an era in the timeline of television history, paralleling the evolution of queer representation in the medium with the cultural history that was occurring around it.

*DISCLAIMER: SPOILERS BELOW

The first installment, titled “The Dark Ages,” gives us a chilling look at an era that surely exemplifies what the slogan “Make America Great Again” was meant to evoke in the minds of a nostalgic older generation – at least, those among them that had been privileged enough to ignore its inequality and injustices. We are reminded that the first mention of the word “homosexual” came in the televised Army-McCarthy hearings of 1954, during discussions about the security risks posed by LGBTQ government employees whose “deviant” lifestyle presumptively made them vulnerable to manipulation by Communist agents; that during the 1960s, the news media, including respected CBS anchor Mike Wallace, hosted “experts” of the day who propounded the belief that homosexuality was a curable psychological disorder; and that Lance Loud, the first openly homosexual person to appear on television when he was part of “An American Family,” the docuseries that followed his household for thirteen weeks in 1973, was demonized and vilified by a press that called him “leechlike” and described him as “an evil flower.” In each case, it’s impossible to ignore the echoes of similar homophobic rhetoric that has resurged during the Trump era.

Yet in the same hour, we are also shown the signs of hope that blossomed in the midst of all this darkness, through the gradual foothold that was made by an LGBTQ presence on television, from the non-stereotypical gender presentation of coded characters like Sheila Kuehl’s Zelda on “The Many Adventures of Dobie Gillis” and Lynde’s Uncle Arthur on “Bewitched,” to the groundbreaking depictions of openly queer people on Norman Lear’s “All in the Family.” The episode ends with the glimmer of an even brighter future that appeared with the emergence of openly gay Harvey Milk as a substantial political figure.

That we know all too well how his story ends gives us all the more reason to want to binge watch straight through each of these five excellent episodes.

With insight and commentary from familiar contemporary figures (such as Wanda Sykes and Wilson Cruz, both of whom are also executive producers, along with director White), historic queer icons (like Ellen DeGeneres and Bruce Vilanch), and lesser-known voices from the early days of LGBTQ activism, “Visible” presents a thoughtful, emotionally resonant, clearly focused, and deeply informative look at queer history as it fought its way into mainstream consciousness through a powerful medium that still connects us all. It’s a must-see event for LGBTQ audiences who thirst for knowledge about the community’s past, yes – but also for anyone who wants to gain an understanding of how representation on TV works to shape the culture surrounding it, as well as why it matters.

The show drops on Apple TV+ on Friday, February 14. You can watch the trailer below.

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Sports

Carl Nassib comes out as gay, first active player in NFL history

Nassib also announced that he is donating $100,000 to the Trevor Project

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Carl Nassib. Courtesy of Instagram @carlnassib.

LAS VEGAS – Carl Nassib, who is a fifth-year defensive end for the Las Vegas Raiders, became the first active NFL player to announce he is gay. The Raiders defensive end is now the NFL’s only openly gay player.

“I just want to take a quick moment to say that I’m gay,” Nassib said in a video he posted on his Instagram account. “I’ve been meaning to do this for a while now but I finally feel comfortable enough to get it off my chest. I really have the best life. I’ve got the best family, friends and job a guy could ask for. I’m a pretty private person, so I hope you guys know I’m not doing this for attention, but I think representation matters.”

Nassib also announced that he is donating $100,000 to the Trevor Project.

“The Trevor Project is grateful to Carl Nassib for living his truth and supporting LGBTQ youth. This generous donation will help us scale our life-saving crisis services to reach the more than 1.8 million LGBTQ youth who seriously consider suicide each year in the U.S.,” said Amit Paley, CEO & Executive Director of The Trevor Project in an emailed statement to the Blade.

“Coming out is an intensely personal decision, and it can be an incredibly scary and difficult one to make. We hope that Carl’s historic representation in the NFL will inspire young LGBTQ athletes across the country to live their truth and pursue their dreams. 

“At a time when state lawmakers are actively trying to restrict transgender and nonbinary youth’s participation in school sports, this news should serve as a clarion call for greater LGBTQ inclusion in the locker room and on the field,” Paley added.

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Television

Sesame Street embraces ‘Gay Dads’ for this year’s Pride month

Love is love, and we are so happy to add this special family to our Sesame family and Happy Pride to all!!!!

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Screenshot via Sesame Street YouTube

NEW YORK – The iconic children’s program Sesame Street enhanced LGBTQ visibility this Pride season introducing two gay dads and their daughter, in a special episode directed by Japanese American actor and theatre director Alan Muraoka who also plays Alan, the current owner of Hooper’s Store on the show.

Muraoka shared the exciting news on Facebook, saying he was “honored and humbled” to have directed such a milestone episode, “Love is love, and we are so happy to add this special family to our Sesame family. Happy Pride to all!!!!,” he posted. 

“The ‘Family Day’ episode of Sesame Street sends the simple and important message that families come in all forms and that love and acceptance are always the most important ingredients in a family,” GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis tells Yahoo Entertainment. “Frank and Dave, as Mia’s dads, are the latest characters in an undeniable trend of inclusion across kids & family programming, one that allows millions of proud LGBTQ parents, and our children, to finally get to see families like ours reflected on TV.”

Sesame Workshop (formerly Children’s Television Workshop), which produces the show for National Educational Television on PBS has long embraced LGBGTQ visibility and equality. In addition to having openly gay celebrities such as Sir Elton John, Ellen DeGeneres, Billy Eichner, Billy Porter and recently Lil Nas X, guest star or make appearances, the show has produced several shows with positive LGBTQ themes over the past decade.

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Sports

Mexico soccer fans punished for anti-gay slur chanted at games

FIFA sanctions team by banning spectators from first 2 World Cup qualifier matches

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Estadio Azteca Mexico City

MEXICO CITY – When the Mexico men’s national team play their all-important 2022 World Cup qualifiers come September and October, they will do so without a single fan cheering them on. As Yahoo Sports first reported, FIFA has sanctioned the team and ordered it to play to an empty home stadium because its fans won’t stop using a controversial chant—widely seen as anti-gay—during matches. 

For years, fans have shouted “puto” during opposing goal kicks at almost all Mexican men’s national team games, a word that one soccer fans site described this way: 

“For some, it’s a harmless word that they’ve been shouting at opposing goalkeepers for decades. For others, it’s a salty, inappropriate swear word you’ll hear at some soccer games. And for many others it’s a homophobic slur that denigrates LGBT individuals and makes attending a soccer game feel like an unsafe space.” 

“On behalf of the FMF, the players, the Liga MX, the clubs and all the national teams: Let’s stop. Let’s stop the fucking cry, please,” said Yon De Luisa, president of the Mexican Soccer Federation (FMF) at a press conference Friday, as reported by El Economista. “It is taking us away from our team and although many think it is fun, it is not.” 

Coach Gerardo Martino, added: “I invite our fans to make a reflection so that they understand once and for all the meaning and scope of this type of attitude. They are great at cheering, but we ask that you focus exclusively on the selection. We have a great concern.”

The punishment of banning spectators will reportedly impact two World Cup qualifying matches against Jamaica and Canada in September and October at Mexico City’s Aztec Stadium. It is in addition to a fine of 60,000 Swiss francs—roughly $65,000 specifically being levied for the chanting of “Eh, puto” at two Olympic qualifying games held in March in Guadalajara, according to Mexico News Daily. An investigation has also reportedly been opened into chanting of the word at Mexico’s friendly against Iceland last month in Arlington, Texas.

Despite what the coach and FMF president said, there are many straight soccer fans who argue against “puto” being considered a slur. Soccer writer Elliot Turner, who has lived and worked in Spain, Argentina, the Dominican Republic, and Nicaragua, explained that in a 2014 piece for Fusion:

“In Spanish, the term puta means prostitute, and Spanish, like other romance languages, has gendered nouns (a noun is either male or female). Thus, the term puto is the masculine form, meaning a male prostitute. (The feminine form is puta.) 

Did you just get a big tax bill from Uncle Sam? You’re likely to say ‘putos impuestos!’ Did your boss just give you a shitty assignment? You may mutter under your breath ‘puto trabajo.’

‘Puto’ is thus used similarly to ‘bloody’ in the United Kingdom and ‘fucking’ in the United States. It’s pervasive. The chant only reflects the ugly linguistic reality of Latin America and Spain. Everything that provokes rage is a ‘puto.’”

“Puto” can also mean “coward,” Turner argues, and writes “the typical El Tri fan means ‘coward,’ not ‘fag’ or ‘queer.’ And contextually, that has some support. Fans only use the term when the opposing goalkeeper punts the ball up the field.”

But because it also means “faggot,” a clearly hateful slur, Turner concludes the puto chant is “a form of prejudice and homophobia.”

This year, Mexican officials have stepped up efforts to stop the chant but social media campaigns and stadium announcements have failed, according to the Washington Post.

The chant was widely used at Mexico’s June 3 and 6 games against Costa Rica and the U.S., but as Yahoo Sports reported, officials enacted only Step 1 of FIFA’s three-step protocol, which call for match stoppages and PA announcements whenever the chant is heard; temporary match suspensions – with players returning to locker rooms – if the chant is heard again; and forfeits if it arises a third time.

Whether having to watch the team on TV, playing in front of 87-thousand empty seats, has an impact on this fan tradition remains to be seen.

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