From RuPaul to Versace, taking a queer eye to the very very queer Emmy Award nominations

LGBTQ folks and their stories were all over the Emmys this morning — and it's the latest sign of tangible progress in queer representation.

LGBTQ folks and their stories were all over the Emmys this morning

Clockwise from top left: Darren Criss in American Horror Story: Cult, RuPaul's Drag Race, Sarah Paulson in American Horror Story: Cult, Queer Eye, Lily Tomlin in Grace & Frankie, Tituss Burgess in The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. (Courtesy)

Queeries is a weekly column by CBC Arts producer Peter Knegt that queries LGBTQ art, culture and/or identity through a personal lens.

By now, there should be little debate about how much visibility matters at awards shows. Dismissing them as silly showcases of celebrity worship looks past what a remarkable platform they can be for diverse voices — certainly LGBTQ voices. The big issue is whether those voices get invited to the party in the first place. While historically the norm has been very problematic in that respect, progress seems to really be happening in the past few years — and this morning's Emmy nominations were no exception.

For what it's worth, the Emmy Awards have a pretty respectable track record when it comes to rewarding LGBTQ folks and the television that represents them. Sure, Queer as Folk and The L Word were essentially snubbed, but come on, didn't they kind of deserve to be? Besides, the landmark coming out episode of Ellen won an Emmy for writing (in addition to nominations for directing and acting) in 1997; HBO's Angels in America miniseries won a then-record 11 Emmys (including four for acting alone) in 2004; and Six Feet Under, Will & Grace, Modern Family and Transparent have all been substantially embraced by the awards (collectively, they have received 54 wins and 236 nominations). And considerably more openly LGBTQ artists have received attention Emmys than Oscars. In the past three years alone, Kate McKinnon, Lena Waithe, Sarah Paulson, Jill Soloway and Lisa Cholodenko have all won Emmys for writing, directing or acting.

Paulson and McKinnon were both nominated again this morning, for American Horror Story: Cult and Saturday Night Live, respectively — part of truly incredible group of openly LGBTQ nominees, particularly women. Jane Lynch (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel), Lily Tomlin (Grace and Frankie), Cherry Jones (The Handmaid's Tale), Titus Burgess (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt) and Ricky Martin (The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story) join Paulson and McKinnon to make up a total of seven openly queer acting nominees — a few of them even playing queer characters! That's more than the Oscars have nominated, ever (because no, if they weren't out at the time, it doesn't count).

Move over to the category for reality television host and it gets even queerer. We're talking 2/3rds: Ellen DeGeneres, Jane Lynch again, Tim Gunn and RuPaul Charles made up an impressive four of the six nominees (Heidi Klum and W. Kamau Bell being the others).

And then there are all the LGBTQ-themed stories represented. Major nominations were given to The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story, RuPaul's Drag Race, Queer Eye and Will & Grace (though barely — only Megan Mullally made the cut). Great Canadians Sandra Oh (Killing Eve) and Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black) were both nominated in the lead actress category for playing characters who are definitely not quite straight, and Oh also became the first Asian woman ever nominated in the category. Ditto Samira Wiley and Alexis Bledel for The Handmaid's Tale. There's even a song literally called "I'm Gay" that's nominated in the original song category for Netflix's Big Mouth. And if you think, "That's all great, but what about Pose?" — don't worry, the F/X series actually wasn't eligible this year.

It's all pretty exciting, though the Emmy voters can't quite take all the credit: television itself has done a lot of the work for them by upping its game with LGBTQ representation. It isn't perfect, but we've come a long, long way from even just a few years ago — and certainly from when Ellen DeGeneres's coming out episode brought her to the Emmy stage in 1997. Here's hoping a few folks follow in her footsteps (or she follows in her own) when the awards are handed out September 17th.


Peter Knegt (he/him) has worked for CBC Arts since 2016, writing the LGBTQ-culture column Queeries (winner of the 2019 Digital Publishing Award for best digital column in Canada and nominated again this year) and spearheading the launch and production of series Canada's a Drag, variety special Queer Pride Inside, and interactive projects Superqueeroes and The 2010s: The Decade Canadian Artists Stopped Saying Sorry. Collectively, these projects have won Knegt four Canadian Screen Awards. Beyond CBC, Knegt is also the filmmaker of numerous short films, the author of the book About Canada: Queer Rights and the host of the monthly film series Queer Cinema Club at Toronto's Paradise Theatre. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter with the same obvious handle: @peterknegt.