LGBTQ+ Culture

LGBTQ+ Culture Hits Mainstream but Community Faces Continued Stigma, Harm, and Erasure

America has become more familiar with the LGBTQIA+ community over the last twenty years, largely through media and entertainment along with landmark legislation that has prioritized the needs of queer individuals. LGBTQ+ culture has begun to shift from being viewed as a self-deprecating lifestyle to becoming a positive driving force behind many forms of mainstream entertainment in America. An array of this generation’s celebrity crushes, musical superstars, and political heroes identify somewhere on the queer spectrum. Some of today’s trendiest vernacular has roots in queer spaces, primarily within Black and Brown ones. Across music, literature, sports, film, and television, LGBTQ+ stories are shown to generate the most feedback for any televised or streamable event. While LGBTQ+ culture has proven lucrative for many people inside and outside of the community, the lived experiences of queer people has not progressed as significantly as their representation in popular media.


From the Ballroom to the Big Screen

Ballroom is one of the most notable forms of queer culture that has taken media by storm. Before 2018, most people credited Madonna with the popularity of ballroom with her 1990 hit song “Vogue,” and anyone with a deeper understanding of the scene who did not identify as queer themselves probably saw Paris Is Burning once or twice. Ballroom culture has since become even more of a global phenomenon.


The FX original series Pose highlights the dawn of the ballroom scene in 1980’s New York and introduced much of America to voguing, houses, ball culture, and most significantly, the harsh realities and injustices taking place within Black and Brown LGBTQ+ communities. Black and Latinx trans women carry the series, playing a pivotal role in highlighting vulnerable truths about trans experiences in the height of the AIDS epidemic. Pose tackles the daily challenges that LGBTQ+ individuals face in a way that humanizes them and showcases their duality while amplifying the voices of LGTBQ+ talent in an industry that has actively worked to silence them in the past. Though the series is ending after its third season, its impact on popular media persists through the new HBO Max series, Legendary. This series marries the ballroom scene with America’s love of the talent show genre and celebrates the creative ingenuity that develops from LGBTQ+ folks’ respective lives.


Hip-Hop Artists Challenge Industry Standards

The music industry has a longstanding history of erasing LGBTQ+ artists, especially within rap and hip-hop genres. Black male artists often face more backlash for not conforming to the heteronormative, fixed gender constructs the industry has upheld. However, we’ve witnessed an increasing number of artists open up about their sexuality within the last decade. 


Frank Ocean is one of few artists who spoke his truth very early on in his career. In 2012, the R&B singer revealed his first love was a man in a thoughtfully written Tumblr post that surprisingly received many positive responses from seasoned industry moguls like Russell Simmons and Terrance Dean. Ocean’s public statement was a first step in breaking the layers of homophobia within hip-hop, as it has been slow to accept homosexuality despite how many LGBTQ+ people having contributed to the success of the industry.


Today, we are seeing many artists become much more bold and unapologetic in vocalizing their queerness. ‘Old Town Road’ artist Lil Nas X has stirred up significant controversy upon releasing the music video for his latest single, “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)”. The artist has been simultaneously praised, condemned, celebrated, and shunned by many people, including his industry peers. Despite homophobic outrage and overwhelming backlash over the video’s contents, “Call Me By Your Name” debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. Being authentic and bold, Nas X proves that versions of the queer experience not only sell records, but resonate with an increasingly growing demographic as LGBTQ+ individuals become more empowered to openly identify as and support openly queer talent. 


Erasure of LGBTQ Influencers

With the rise of video sharing social app TikTok, LGBTQ+ influencers have been able to generate content from dance videos to makeup tutorials, which have heavily impacted trends in popular culture. However, Black and Brown LGBTQ+ members still face erasure even in this digital space. When rapper Mooski released his single “Track Star,” it went viral on TikTok as it was made into a new, fun dance challenge. The original ‘Track Star Challenge’ creator is a Black gay influencer named City Boy J


As many artists like Megan Thee Stallion, Doja Cat, and even Natasha Bedingfield have acknowledged TikTok creators for their contributions to the success of their songs, Mooskie chose not to follow their example. When the “Track Star” music video was released, fans noticed City Boy J was not included and took to social media to call out the artist, insinuating his decision was rooted in homophobia. As this controversy spread across social media, an important conversation about the erasure of LGBTQ+ people, especially BIPOC people, arose. Despite the lack of initial acknowledgement, City Boy J has garnered over 980k followers and 17M likes on TikTok and continues to create and participate in viral challenges. 


Visibility vs. Reality

Amplifying queer and trans visibility is an urgent matter and mainstream media is a effective way to spread awareness for it. However, there is a disconnect between what’s showcased on screen and what members of the LGBTQ+ community experience daily.


Queer people still face life-threatening violence at school, the workplace, public spaces, and even within the walls of their own homes. The trans community still suffers callous brutality that only intensifies for trans people of color. Black Trans women face a life expectancy of only 35 years and it has been reported that 23 transgender people have been killed within the first half of 2021 alone. People who identify as gender non-conforming are still fighting for inclusivity while many heterosexual, cisgender people are just beginning to learn what the I in LGBTQIA stands for Intersex and the A for asexual. It is the everyday experience of poverty, discrimination, and violence that brought LGBTQ+ people together to form their own communities and their own families for the better part of the twentieth century. These Black and Brown queer families created the very culture that influences the music we listen to and the shows we watch today. 


While LGBTQ+ people are moving culture forward, their identity cannot be lost in translation and their lived experiences cannot be ignored. If so, the inequity that these groups of people endure already is futher exacerbated. The stories told through music, film, and television of queer culture have the potential to inspire more compassion and understanding for the LGBTQIA+ community. However, if they lack the real world context of the hardships that queer people face, it becomes nothing more than a commodity for the sake of entertainment and risks creating more stereotypes that push LGBTQ+ people further into the margins.


Kayla Johnson is an Atlanta-based writer, content creator, digital marketer, and strategist with a passion for diverse representation in media and entertainment. Connect with her on socials @kaylabriana_ on Twitter and @__kaylabriana on Instagram and find more of her work on

Khariff Tyson is a queer interdisciplinary artist, marketing strategist, and a contributing writer for CultureHub. Native to Atlanta, GA, Tyson speaks on conversations around culture, especially within the fashion industry and global DJ community. Find him on Instagram @darkattribute.


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