A look back at LHH: Out in Hip Hop

By Liam McGurl  @Liiiammm1996

After a much-anticipated episode of “Love & Hip Hop: Hollywood,” VH1 featured “LHH: Out in Hip Hop” on Oct. 19.  The hour-long panel discussion centered around LGBTQ representation and homophobia in the hip hop industry.

The special, hosted by ABC News’ T.J. Holmes, proceeded an episode of “Love & Hip Hop: Hollywood,” where cast member Miles tells 10-year girlfriend Amber that he’s bisexual. Complicating the situation, Amber also finds out that Miles had been talking to Milan, another rapper and openly gay man.

While fans of the show had mixed opinions on Miles’ approach to the touchy situation, as well as Amber’s dramatic reaction to the news, “LHH: Out in Hip Hop” explained the delicate nature of the situation.

Highlighting both broader LGBTQ issues, as well as those specific to the music industry, “LHH: Out in Hip Hop” brought together some of the biggest LGBTQ rappers and allies in the industry. Some panelists included Big Freedia, “The Queen of Bounce,” a transgender rapper who helped popularize “bounce music,” DMC, one of the founding members of the ground-breaking group Run-DMC and D. Smith, a transgender music producer.

The program also featured a number of up-and-coming artists and notable members of the entertainment industry, including Buttahman, Cakes Da Killa, Chuck Creekmur, Clay Cane, Emil Wilbekin, Fizz, Fly Young Red, Felicia Pearson, Karamo Brown, Michael Arceneaux, Sharon Lettman-Hicks, SIYA and Nneka Onuorah.

Miles and Milan both attended the panel as well, commenting on their own personal and professional experiences being stereotyped in an industry trademarked by its anti-gay propaganda.

“We can’t be ourselves,” Milan said.  “We have to put on a mask and be somebody else in order to be mainstream.  Now, I’m an avid Frank Ocean (an openly gay, mainstream rapper) fan.  All of his music when he first came out was heterosexual-sounding music.  He dropped that letter, the next day he dropped his album and it was like ‘damn, he’s really gay.’”

Milan also explained that he believes Ocean wouldn’t have been nearly as popular if he had come out as gay at the start of his career.

Interestingly, while we’ve seen openly gay artists, such as Sam Smith and Elton John, rise to mainstream popularity, reaching A-list status as a gay rapper is rare.

According to the panelists, it’s likely this unfair reality is due to the hyper-masculine expectation rappers are held to, however, the panelists argued that focus should be put on the vigor of artist’s music—rather than their personal lives.

Over the course of the controversial conversation, the panel also covered a variety of topics from rappers’ common use of homophobic language to stories of artists coming out in the industry. Several audience members also chimed in on the conversation, sharing personal stories and reactions.

Overall, this program catered to every viewer, whether they’re directly affected by the issue or not.  Since the panel consisted of a diverse spectrum of both individuals inside and out of the LGBTQ community, everyone’s viewpoints were represented fairly.  A number of pastors even added to the discussion, explaining their viewpoints on gay rights in terms of their religious convictions.

While prejudices and stereotypes are impossible to rid from our society, this program made it clear that it is important to take proactive steps towards fighting them—and “LHH: Out in Hop Hop” seemed to do just that.

By having a discussion like this, gay rights issues are getting more and more mainstream publicity.  Through this sort of attention, which highlights people’s personal experiences, many viewers may feel a sense of empathy and compassion they would not have living isolated lives of comfort and “norms.”

It is easy to excuse someone’s pain when there’s no face to put to the beatings, ostracism and exclusion.  However, individual’s bold choices to vocalize their experiences on major platforms, such as VH1, allows for clarification and personalization of these issues that impact citizens.

Anyone who missed “LHH: Out in Hip Hop,” or wants more information on LGBTQ issues, can watch clips from the program and find resource links at outinhiphop.vh1.com.

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