The nineteenth season of The Bachelorette wrapped on Tuesday and season eight of Bachelor in Paradise is about to begin. That changeover makes the Bachelor franchise’s television presence seem as certain as death and taxes. And yet one major question consistently hangs over the franchise: will it ever get more progressive? For example, with LGBTQ+ representation?
Five years ago, the franchise had its first openly queer contestant, in Bachelor contestant Jaimi King. But what representation has happened since? What barriers remain? Tagg asked King and another former contestant for their thoughts.
King made history in 2017, when she told Bachelor Nick Vial that she’d previously dated a woman. Flash forward to 2022, and four other contestants have come out, including two women this spring: Becca Tilley, from the 2015 season of The Bachelor, went public with her four-year romance with queer singer Hayley Kiyoko; and recent Bachelor contestant Elizabeth Corrigan came out as bisexual in an Instagram Pride Month post. However, the franchise is far from sufficiently inclusive, and the road has been rocky.
To start, King notes several problems with her experience. She feels that even though she wasn’t hiding anything, the show manipulated her into “coming out;” on Bachelor in Paradise that year, producers made her sexuality her defining trait; the media labeled her bisexual before she used any label herself; she was referred to during Paradise as “wild” – a stereotypical implication that bisexuality equals promiscuity; and show producers discouraged her from actually pursuing any women on Paradise.
On the positive side, the public criticized the show for mistreating King’s sexuality on Paradise, and King thinks it could have contributed to the seemingly more authentic experience that Demi Burnett (from Colton Underwood’s season) had in 2019, when she came out as bisexual. Not only was Burnett allowed to bring on a woman from home to pursue a relationship with, but King notes they also had Burnett’s family speak, and showed Burnett’s emotions, including her fear about coming out.
“She was able to cry and talk about things,” says King. “I feel like mine was just a ‘Tila Tequila’ experience.”
At the least, King got the ball rolling. Her openness moved people – she notes two people involved with the show praised her for her courage and the impact she could make. Likewise, after Elizabeth Corrigan came out—first privately, then publicly—people in her life told her about their own struggles.
And yet, Corrigan and King feel contestants may still choose to remain closeted. Home lives and fear of general societal views are likely primarily to blame, but the women feel the hesitation could also stem from attitudes of some Bachelor fans.
“It’s a very particular community of very hardcore fans,” says Corrigan. “A lot of it comes from classic conservative Christian culture, and I think those cultures harbor the most fear regarding [lives outside the prescribed norm].”
Given these and other characteristics of much of the fan base, it’s easy to wonder whether a contestant’s image is a secondary factor in how their coming out is received. King says that’s possible – perhaps Burnett being white, with blonde hair and blue eyes and a “bubbly” persona made fans (and people behind the show) more endeared to her and thus, they took her queerness more in stride than with King, who’s mixed-race, with tattoos and piercings. Corrigan echoes this sentiment, noting that if fans can relate to people who look like herself and Burnett in ways they don’t with King, they might be more apt to accept the women’s queer identities. But that’s not to say that Burnett, Corrigan, or anyone is immune to fan ire.
As evidence, whenever Corrigan would post about queer identity – or her progressive views on other topics like abortion – she’d lose a significant amount of Bachelor-made social media followers. But it wasn’t losing followers that Corrigan was concerned about regarding coming out, but rather real-life discrimination. She took the risk nonetheless to use her moment in the spotlight to potentially help people who are going through their own struggles.
“When you make people feel comfortable, you give people a safe space and a good example,” says Corrigan, who plans to support the LGBTQ+ community in Denver through coming initiatives.
Thinking about the future of the Bachelor franchise, King and Corrigan hope it does eventually embrace more LGBTQ+ participation – perhaps, via a stereotype-breaking lesbian spinoff, but more likely via bisexual contestants on Paradise or an out gay male Bachelor. However, neither Corrigan nor King really believes the franchise will make such updates anytime soon.
Neither Corrigan nor King really believes the franchise will make such updates anytime soon, but they fully believe it would be meaningful to have that representation in Bachelor Nation.
“I’m not holding my breath,” says King. “But it would be nice to see.”