Good Place actor Jameela Jamil has officially come out as queer following backlash surrounding her position as a judge in a new TV show about voguing.
This is everything you need to know about the controversy, the meaning of ‘queer’ and the new HBO show at the heart of the discussion.
Posting a series of screenshots from the iPhone notes app to her Twitter account, Jamil officially came out as queer on Wednesday 5 February 2020.
In her message, Jamil explains that the controversy surrounding her in the lead up to her coming out is “absolutely not how [she] wanted to come out”.
In the notes, she wrote, “I didn’t come from a family with *anyone* openly out. It’s also scary as an actor to openly admit your sexuality, especially when you’re already a brown female in your thirties.”
Jamil explains that, while she never officially came out as queer before, she had always been honest when asked about it on Twitter, and had added a rainbow to her name when she felt she was ready a few years ago.
“I kept it low because I was scared of the pain of being accused of performative bandwagon jumping, over something that caused me a lot of confusion, fear and turmoil when I was a kid,” Jamil wrote.
Why was she receiving backlash?
It was reported that Jamil was going to be the MC in a new HBO show called Legendary, a competition show centred on ballroom. In this context, ballroom refers to ball culture, an underground LGBTQ+ subculture that traces its roots back to 1920s New York.
Ballroom would see people compete against each other with things like their vogue skills, costumes, appearance and attitude being judged. They were predominantly a place for black and Latino members of the LGBTQ+ community to participate in competitions.
At the time of the announcement, it was understood by most that Jamil was a heterosexual, cisgender woman. Cisgender refers to people who identify with the gender they were born as.
Actor Trace Lysette tweeted in response to the news of Jamil's involvement, “I interviewed for this gig. As the mother of a house for nearly a decade it’s kind of blowing when people with no connection to our culture gets the gig.”
After having cleared up that Jamil is merely a judge, not the MC, people were still unhappy with her involvement in the show.
“I mean this with total respect. You just can’t accept a gig with no parts or knowledge of what is going on. You’re judging? You have to have knowledge of what it is to judge. LGBTQ+ people deserve this job and fight for opportunities just for cis people to take it from us,” one Twitter user wrote.
Another tweeted, “It’s disrespectful af for @jameelajamil to sit on a ballroom panel and judge anybody. The judges in the scene must be long time contributors. Why would you take this job?”
After coming out on Twitter, Jamil said in her announcement, “I’m not the MC. I’m not the main host. I’m just a lead judge due to my 11 years of hosting experience, being fully impartial, a newcomer to ballroom (like much of the audience will be) and therefore window in for people who are just discovering it now, and being a long time ally of the lgbtq community.”
Following her coming out, people still were unhappy with Jamil’s part in the show, due to her inexperience of ballroom.
“Girl bye! You never walked any balls, never did anything for the ballroom community so therefore you along with @theestallion should NOT be judging a Voguing competition. Give this to the Vogue legends!” A Twitter user wrote.
Others replied to Jamil's coming out with positivity, and with sympathy for the way things had unfolded.
“I’m so sorry you felt forced to do this. For whatever it’s worth, many of us think you’re pretty darn amazing. <3,” tweeted one user.
Jamil's boyfriend, James Blake, who she has been dating since 2015, replied to the screenshots with a simple message, “I love you”.
What does ‘queer’ mean?
Queer is used as both an umbrella term for someone in the LGBTQ+ community, but also as a sexuality in its own right.
It is generally used to describe someone’s sexual orientation as simply not entirely straight. People can find strict labels like gay and bisexual to be too limiting and feel like they don’t fit them perfectly, so the wide scope of the term ‘queer’ can allow them to express their sexuality in a way that isn’t limited.
For some members of the LGBTQ+ community however, the word queer comes with its own controversies.
While some find it liberating to reclaim the term that has been used negatively against them, others still find it to be a homophobic term that isn’t universally accepted within the LGBTQ+ community.
What’s the new HBO show?
The HBO show that sparked the discussion is called Legendary. It will be a nine episode unscripted series which will see teams battling it out for cash prizes.
Joining Jamil on the judging panel is Law Roach, Leiomy Malldonado and Megan Thee Stallion - who has garnered similar backlash of her own as a straight woman.
Dashaun Wesley will be the MC and commentator of the show alongside DJ MikeQ. Legendary is set to debut in the spring of 2020.