OPINION: Queer representation, will you accept this rose?

By Miranda Manier, Managing Editor

Watching “The Bachelor” franchise has become a ritual for my friends and I. Every Monday, we gather in one of our apartments with cheap wine and even cheaper snacks and watch a bunch of blonde women and brown-haired men compete for Instagram sponsorships. And love, allegedly. We, a group of LGBTQ+ people, marvel at the way these men and women navigate their remarkably straight relationships.

This season’s “Bachelor in Paradise” is different for us, though. This season, we have Demi.

Demi Burnett was a contestant on the most recent season of “The Bachelor,” and though Colton Underwood did not give her his final rose, she became a fan favorite for her quick wit and vicious clapbacks. She arrived at “Bachelor in Paradise,” an off-shoot of the typical “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette” format where rejected contestants try to find love among each other, with a surprise announcement: she was already seeing someone. And, it was a woman. Identifying herself as sexually fluid, Burnett announced to former bachelorette Hannah Brown that she was in an open relationship with a woman, and was coming to “Paradise” to explore her options and figure out what she really wanted.

We—and by “we,” I mean the hordes of fervent franchise fans dubbed Bachelor Nation—then watched Burnett enter a relationship with fellow contestant Derek Peth, and struggle to decide what she wants. On an episode that aired Aug. 20, this storyline came to a head when Burnett’s girlfriend, Kristian Haggerty, appeared on the “Paradise” beach, and Burnett was forced to make a choice.

She ultimately chose to be with Haggerty over Peth, and, despite Haggerty not being a contestant on any former seasons, it was decided that the two of them would stay on “Paradise” as they continue to explore their relationship.

And with that decision, a civil war broke out in Bachelor Nation.

On one side, fans are furious that this relationship will play out on-screen because Haggerty is not a traditional contestant. One tweet by @princess_Britt4 read, “They’re already in a relationship! Go home! You found your love! This is so played out.” Another by @t_vaddict argued, “I’m all for Demi owning her truth but honestly there’s no logical reason for her and [Kristian] to stay. You fell for someone outside of bachelor nation, you acknowledged it, but that should mean you go home.”

There has also been copious homophobic backlash, such as from @JudithT70259263, who tweeted at Burnett, “This is the first season I WILL NOT watch [Bachelor In Paradise] due to the same sex disgusting behavior on screen. I have nothing against their choice of lifestyle but I don’t like to have it shoved down my throat on TV. [You] ruined your show for me and 300 others.”

On the other side sit people like my friends and me—LGBTQ+ fans who have been craving just one contestant like ourselves to have a relationship that looks anything like ours do. Burnett is exactly that, and to have her and Haggerty’s love play out on TV gives us what we’ve been craving: representation.

The importance of seeing yourself in the content you consume cannot be understated. For example, this year MTV’s reality dating show “Are You The One?” switched things up for its eighth season. In years past they had a house full of straight, cisgender men and women try to find their supposed “perfect matches.” This year, in what has been lovingly dubbed by fans as “the bi season,” they introduced a 16-person cast of sexually-fluid contestants. People of all gender identities, expressions and every sexuality under the sun have been freely dating each other in their quest for love. The show has received a lot of positive media and fan attention because of this unprecedented representation.

It’s possible that the reason “The Bachelor” franchise has chosen to let Burnett and Haggerty stay on the show is to keep up with this kind of progressive content from its competitors. But as a queer woman, I personally don’t mind being pandered to with LGBTQ+ content. It means I get to watch two women fall in love with each other, and I can count on one hand the number of times I have seen that on TV.

Through Burnett, I feel represented. I feel that my experiences as a viewer and fan of “The Bachelor” franchise matter to the producers, and they want to honor fans like myself by giving us content to which we can relate. By keeping Burnett and Haggerty on the show, producers are also normalizing having same-sex relationships on primetime network TV; this encourages open-mindedness in their audience.

From where I stand, there are no negative effects of this kind of exposure except leaving Burnett vulnerable to cruel, hateful attacks on social media. And while those have certainly rolled in, so have passionate defenses of her and Haggerty, both from fans and from fellow “The Bachelor” franchise participants, such as Underwood.

This progress from such a popular show is indicative of an incredibly important step forward for the TV industry. The producers made a hard decision to keep Burnett and Haggerty on the show, and that speaks volumes to me. It shows me they place value on fans like my friends and me, with our weekly ritual. And I hope our response of love and appreciation for the representation is all they need to give us more LGBTQ+ content.

Next stop? A bi Bachelor. Start looking, Chris Harrison. Queer people need Instagram sponsorships, too.

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.