Updated: Feb 12
Over the past several years one of the most noticeable cultural changes on television has been the inclusion of previously marginalized families.
I grew up in Montreal where people of colour didn’t exist, except in faraway lands. My best friend at the time, Craig Mirukami, doesn’t count because his family moved back to Japan when we were 8.
The first time I saw a black person was at the age of seven or eight when I boarded a city bus and to my shock and amazement, there he was, in the driver’s seat.
The entire bus was abuzz, and every passenger was whispering about him. A few people refused to board. I, rudely or not, could not take my eyes off him.
All of this preceded shows like “Good Times” and “The Jeffersons” which were my introduction to ostensibly “normal” black families.
A few years later, audiences were treated to “Love, Sydney”, a brilliant, but short-lived sitcom that scandalously featured Swoozie Kurtz as an unmarried mother and Tony Randall as a gay man who lived and loved together.
Of course, the only reason “Love, Sydney” was allowed to air at all was because both Swoozie’s marital status and Tony’s sexual orientation were only implied.
Fast forward to 2022 and the representation of people of colour, transgendered folk, intergenerational and interracial couples, and the everyday lives of everyone in the LGBT+ community is quickly becoming the norm.
The first time I remember seeing a same-sex couple featured in a mainstream TV ad was a commercial for Tide. I was so pleased, that for the first time in my life, I wrote to Proctor and Gamble to congratulate them.
Earlier this month, I spent the evening alternating between HGTV Canada and Food Network Canada. Both networks are operated by Corus Entertainment.
From 6 pm until 1 am, every commercial that featured at least two humans (BelAir Direct, Car Gurus, RBC, Ikea, AMEX, Nescafe, to name a few) had an interracial couple, a same-sex couple, or all single-race cast.
In Canada, almost every television advertisement that features a couple, depicts an interracial couple, and yet in my lifetime I have only known one or two.
Still, I appreciate the progress and understand the necessity of putting these images in the forefront.
Although I can only assume that US HGTV network is on a similar trajectory, I love HGTV Canada because it has done an outstanding job of “normalizing” the lives of gay, lesbian, and transgendered couples.
The first time I saw a proud, open gay male couple featured on a “Home” show was in 2003.
On the Australian design/game show “The Block”, now in its 13th season, [https://www.primevideo.com/dp/amzn1.dv.gti.c6b7e4e4-0668-c857-c86e-e7a4c613b3ec?autoplay=0&ref_=atv_cf_strg_wb,] couples compete to renovate a rundown building.
“The boys”, as they were referred, were treated just like every other couple on the show.
It was refreshing to see them amicably conspire with other couples when they needed an edge to win the episode. Like in real life, being gay had less to do with it than skill and ability.
Classic shows like Hometown with Ben and Erin. Love it or List it, House Hunters, among others, routinely include gay and lesbian couples.
Nate Berkus, Oprah’s decorator, and his husband Jeremiah Brent were among the first in-your-face queers to grace the airwaves. Regardless of your sexual orientation, you are either enamoured or sickened by the two regularly referring to each other as “Babe”.
Love him or hate him, interior designer David Bromstad disarms every straight couple he meets with his ubiquitous full body tattoos, “love hugs” and outrageous sexual double entendres.
The turning point for me was when HGTV Canada became completely unapologetic about episodes that exclusively featured all black or Asian hosts and families.
MY TOP 3
Hands down, my favourite new shows are all not only hosted by one or more open LGBT+ individuals but also feature regular gay or trans contributors, as well as LGBT+ “clients”.
On “Making it Home”, the gorgeous and ebullient Kortney Wilson and her contractor partner, the beautiful and studly (and openly gay) Kenny Brain play off each other as perfectly as any woman and her GBF.
They regularly throw out double entendres and knowing winks:
Kortney asks a gay couple how they met. One partner responds: “an online app”, to which Kenny jumps in: “Bet I can guess which one!”
Kortney enthusiastically dances on a client’s large, but nondescript backyard deck. Kenny notes: “Everyone loves a big deck, but does size really matter?” “It’s about what you do with it”.
The two playfully burst out laughing.
“Trading Up with Mandy Rennehan” follows the self-described Blue Collar CEO™ and construction mogul who lives in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia with her partner Lauren.
Her motley crew is an eclectic mix that includes Jaymin Luces-Mendes, an apprentice, who also is the first trans man to be a regular on a home show.
Jaymin is also the founder and CEO of Toni Marlow, an inclusive undergarment brand that specializes in underwear for women, trans men and non-binary people assigned female at birth.
But hands-down, my favourite new show is “Bargain Block”.
This is a show with authentic creativity, where couple Keith Bynum, the designer, and Evan Thomas, the carpenter, buy abandoned and seemingly unsalvageable properties and renovate them into amazing and affordable homes for first-time buyers.
Bynum and Thomas, who have been in a relationship for almost 10 years, are pursuing their dream of restoring the Detroit's neighborhoods “one house at a time”. They are open and out about their relationship, announcing in the show’s introduction that they “are partners in business and life”.
Although he is the soft-spoken carpenter on the show, this is a relatively new career for Thomas, who has a PhD from the University of Colorado at Boulder.
The adorable Shea Hicks-Whitfield, a Detroit native, is obviously one of the couple’s best friends and the show’s expert real estate agent.
What makes this show more unique than any other is, at the end of each episode, prospective homebuyers tour the unique and sometimes outrageously-designed finished home and their reactions are priceless.
Bynum and Thomas’s completed homes are not “staged”.
The furniture and décor is included in the price of the house, including restored and repurposed retro pieces and decorative items that the guys make, as well as Bynum’s custom art pieces.
It does not get better than this and I love HGTV for being in the forefront of this long-overdue movement.