Jameela Jamil has announced she is “queer” after receiving criticism for being cast in a new LGBT-interest show.
US broadcaster HBO announced on Tuesday that the actress and model would be a judge on its new unscripted voguing contest Legendary.
The news prompted an online backlash from people who said The Good Place star was not representative of the black LGBT community.
That prompted her to issue a statement addressing her sexuality.
Opening with “Twitter is brutal”, she explained that she identified “as queer” and had previously struggled to discuss the topic because “it’s not easy within the south Asian community to be accepted”.
She mentioned that nobody in her family was “openly out” and that “it’s also scary as an actor to openly admit your sexuality, especially when you’re already a brown female in your thirties”.
The term queer is both embraced and frowned upon. Having been seen as derogatory, it is being reclaimed by some non-heterosexuals who say they don’t identify with more traditional categories of gender identity and sexual orientation.
Jamil went on: “This is absolutely not how I wanted to come out,” adding that she was logging off Twitter for the time being “because I don’t want to read mean comments dismissing this”.
She told critics: “You can keep your thoughts.”
‘Privilege and power’
Voguing is a genre of dance that originated in New York in the late 1980s. It was founded by black and Latino LGBT people, many of whom were disowned by their families for their sexuality and gender.
It came to mainstream attention through Madonna’s 1990 hit Vogue and the accompanying video, as well as the documentary Paris Is Burning. It has long been seen as a movement of LGBT resistance.
Several people were critical of Jamil’s involvement in a show about the phenomenon, saying the cast should have connections to the ballroom scene.
In response, Jamil said: “I’m a long time fan of ballroom and just wanted to help this show get made to celebrate this beautiful community.”
She went on to clarify why she believed she was an appropriate fit for the programme.
“I know that my being queer doesn’t qualify me as ballroom. But I have privilege and power and a large following to bring to this show… and its beautiful contestants and hosts.”
With Jamil trending on Twitter, reactions to her statement appeared to be more negative than positive, with many criticising her for coming out as queer while being in a heterosexual relationship with musician James Blake.
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One person accused the star of coming out “to avoid being criticised for not being representative of the LGBTQ community”. Another said that, while Jamil had the presenting experience to appear on the programme, producers “could’ve found someone from the culture” instead.
Celebrity performers Trace Lysette and Michelle Visage, who are not involved in the show, joined in the debate.
Visage retweeted a comment saying there were “literally so many others who actually KNOW about ball who should [be] on”.
And Lysette, who has lived experience of ballroom culture, said it’s a disappointment “when [people] with no connection to our culture gets the gig”, but stressed that her comment was “not shade towards Jameela”.