Accusing celebrities of queerbaiting is harmful

A person looking confused as a reporter accuses them of queerbaiting, asking them a question using the LGBTQ+ flag

Jose Gonzalez-Campelo/The Cougar

Anyone who’s familiar with popular queer media will undoubtedly remember the release of “Heartstopper,” a smash hit romantic comedy that gained a large following spanning many demographics due to its heartwarming story and realistic depiction of queer relationships.

With its third season right around the corner, the show has had a largely positive reception and has arguably been one of the most popular series on Netflix since its release. Unfortunately, as with a lot of queer media, this mass reception came with its own set of consequences.

One of the most controversial discussions surrounding the show centered on Kit Connor, a 20-year-old actor who plays the role of Nick Nelson, a rugby player who starts asking questions about his sexuality after meeting his classmate Charlie Spring.

While the series itself is a heartwarming romance with amazing storytelling and representation, many fans of it seemed to have, in the words of Connor himself, missed the point of the show.

Not long after the first season aired, Connor was accused of “queerbaiting,”  or acting like you’re a part of the LGBTQ+ community to draw viewers to the show, after a video came out of him holding hands with Maia Reficco, his co-star on another project.

Connor eventually responded to the onslaught of accusations on Twitter by coming out as bisexual and condemning those who pressured him to do so. He used his “coming out” tweet to accuse fans of missing the point of the show, which is a fair statement considering that his “Heartstopper” character was reassured on multiple occasions that he didn’t owe anyone a label.

Since the incident, while he’s continued to play the character of Nick, Connor has significantly dialed back his online presence.

This isn’t the only case of online attention and accusations pressuring a celebrity to publicly label themselves. For example, the Puerto Rican rapper Bad Bunny has been hit with many allegations of queerbaiting after kissing a male backup dancer of his, performing in drag and wearing skirts.

Another example is Billie Eilish, who faced backlash after sharing behind-the-scenes images from the music video for her single “Lost Cause” alongside a caption that said “I love girls.”

In the case of Bad Bunny, the accusations were based on gendered and homophobic stereotypes. Why, especially as a queer person, would anyone feel the need to police what someone’s allowed to wear or do based on their gender or orientation? LBGTQ+ or not, enforcing rigid gender roles on anyone is backward and harmful to everyone, not just queer people.

Now, there are certainly some benefits to celebrities being openly queer. Many outwardly LGBTQ+ artists and actors have used their platforms to educate viewers and contribute to LGBTQ+ resources. Take Elton John, who’s been out since the 1970s and created his own foundation to support those with AIDS, or Elliot Page, who is a supporter of several LGBTQ+ foundations.

The difference between those two and the aforementioned individuals, however, is that they came out on their own terms.

Accusing real people of queerbaiting not because of something genuinely harmful they’ve created but because of their style or roles they’ve taken, is a regressive practice that reduces queerness to a spectacle. Being queer is not about conforming to a certain way of living based on what others perceive you to be, nor is it a requirement to make yourself known in your labels.

An individual cannot queerbait, and it’s dangerous to push the idea that this isn’t the case or use the term improperly to pressure someone into coming out.

So, what is queerbaiting really?

Queerbaiting is a marketing technique and is not meant to be applied to individuals. When used correctly, the term is used to describe fictional media introducing characters or relationships with queer undertones to attract LGBTQ+ audiences while never confirming their queer identity as canon. This is not to be confused with subtext, which is used to hint at an underlying message and is often used to tease relationships before explicitly canonizing them.

Some examples of queerbaiting come from shows like Netflix’s “Wednesday,” BBC’s “Sherlock” or “Merlin.” Notable examples in animated shows include “Voltron: Legendary Defenders” and “The Legend of Korra.”

While shows like Korra have queerbaited out of necessity, as depicting same-sex couples in children’s television is difficult for a number of reasons, there are plenty of examples of flippant and even malicious uses of queerbaiting that aim to entice an audience that the creators never intend to fully appease.

Creators intending only to pull in LGBTQ+ audiences without following through is a real issue that is worth calling out, but there’s a fine line between creating a problematic piece of media and simply existing without immediately labeling yourself for the public eye.


The desire to relate to celebrities is valid, and wishing to be represented in different media is even more so. However, that desire should never reach a point of policing the identities of others, especially not to the point where you’re pressuring them to come out when they’re not ready.

Being queer is not about making a statement or proving your queerness to others. It’s important to remember that there’s community in queerness, and rather than singling each other out, we should work to foster that community and create a safe place for any LGBTQ+ identifying person.

Coming out is a difficult journey for anyone, and it’s especially hard when so many eyes are on them. Sexuality is incredibly personal, and the risk of backlash is a terrifying scenario to consider for anyone, let alone someone so heavily scrutinized by the public.

It’s important to remember that, whether famous or not, no one owes us a label. No one should have to justify the way they dress, act or exist just to appease an audience.

Parker Hodges-Beggs is a journalism sophomore who can be reached at [email protected]

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