Queer Eye’s Karamo Brown discusses inclusion at UTEP’s virtual Orange Exchange Speaker Series

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Netflix’s “Queer Eye” star, Karamo Brown, speaks at UTEP’s virtual Orange Exchange Speaker Series on June 24 hosted by the Student Engagement and Leadership Center.

Anahy Diaz, Copy Editor

“Queer EyeOn a virtual event hosted June 24 and attended by more than 200 people, ” star Karamo Brown spoke with UTEP’s Communication Studies Center Director Richard Pineda, Ph.D., about identity, inclusion and mental health.   

Wednesday’s conversation, organized by the Student Engagement and Leadership Center as part of its Orange Exchange Speaker Series, began with Pineda asking Brown about his encounter with his identity in 2004, when he became the first openly gay man on reality TV as a cast member of “The Real World: Philadelphia.” 

 “I was happy to talk and be honest about who I liked, but was also nervous about ‘will people judge me?” Brown said. “What I learned in that moment is that I was making a fear based decision…When I started making love based decisions about sharing my identity, is when I saw the world open up. I started loving every part of myself and used that love as a catalyst to choose how I walked through this world.”  

Since then, the 39-year-old has gone on to become one of the five members in Netflix’s reboot of the show “Queer Eye,” where him, Antoni Porowski, Jonathan Van Ness, Tan France and Bobby Berk, also known as the Fab Five, give fashion and lifestyle makeovers to individuals across the country. Brown, the culture expert or life coach on the show, focuses on helping these individuals grow by providing them with motivational talks and cultivating mental health.   

“We are so afraid to talk about our mental health journey, and what happens is that when you don’t talk about something it becomes stigmatized,” Brown said. “What we need to do is start creating spaces in our classrooms, in organizations, and at our jobs, where people can feel encouraged to share that they are on a mental health journey.”  

Despite the show’s success, Brown says he and the rest of the Fab Five members hope to see more diversity within the show’s representation of the LGBTQIA+ community.  

“There’s still a lot of our communities that need to be seen,” Brown said. “We feel like it’s important for people to know that we don’t think this cast should just be like this, we actually feel like this cast should expand. We always say that if there’s a third version of the show, we hope that it looks even more diverse.”  

Brown highlighted that the process of inclusion can also come by understanding and accurately defining the responsibility of being an ally for the LGBTQIA+ community and those whose voices are not often heard.   

“As an ally it’s your duty and job to amplify the voices of those who are not able to use their voice in spaces that you have access to,” Brown said. “On top of that, it’s saying ‘now that I’ve amplified your voice, let me bring you with me to this space where they did not want to see you before.” 

 This was something UTEP student, Veronica Camacho, 41, found particularly interesting.   

“As allies, we need to address the lack of inclusiveness when we enter a space that distinctly says it’s an inclusive or safe space,” said, Camacho, who identifies as queer femme and has known about Brown since the first season of Queer Eye.  

For Camacho, inclusion is having the LGBTQIA+ community stand up for other causes and issues that go beyond the community’s own struggles.   

“As a community of marginalized groups, we need to not box ourselves into a bubble and be willing to stand up for other causes that affect the people we claim to support and care about, such as gun violence and racism.” Camacho said. “I wholeheartedly believe those topics need to be discussed within the queer community.”   

Brown addressed these issues during the conversation, specifically relating to the Black Lives Matter movement, where he emphasized the importance behind voting and holding people accountable when it comes to institutional racism, including one’s own friends and family.  

“Start to challenge them,” Brown said. “Work with that person to help them understand why dismissing who we are and other people’s cultures or experiences is wrong. If it doesn’t happen in our homes, it won’t happen in our communities and it won’t happen in the world at large.”  

Brown hopes to continue spreading his message by working with people to help them achieve the best version of themselves, which he also hopes can someday be through his own daytime talk show.   

“I just hope to figure out how to bring my message into more homes and how to support people with the platform I have while I have it,” Brown said.  

The fifth season of Queer Eye debuted June 5 on Netflix, in which the Fab Five provided makeovers to 10 new individuals, or as they like to call them, heroes.  

 

Anahy Diaz may be reached at [email protected]