Picture this: the 9 million people in the United States that identify as LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgender). What do you see? Rainbow flags flowing behind an army of millions as they march in a gay pride parade with Elton John singing center stage on a float? Although this is a very specific image, most people tend to associate the majority of the LGBT population with a certain image or stereotype. While everyone has stereotypes from time to time, it stands a very ignorant way to view mass groups. In Key & Peele’s: “Office Homophobe,” Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele take us into the office of Latrell (Key) and his nameless coworker (Peele) to pick apart the traditional gay stereotype in an unique way through humor and an unexpected plot twist.
We begin in a normal office; the camera is on Key’s character, Latrell, the stereotypical gay man. He is dressed in a loud pink-patterned collared shirt, sporting a faux hawk hair cut and has various penis paraphernalia across his desk. In the background, his nameless coworker (Peele) sits, dressed like any white-collared employee. It all starts with Latrell blasting strangely sexual music and his coworker politely asking him to turn it off.
Quickly, a simple request turns into an issue about Latrell’s sexuality. Latrell becomes defensive and says, “So my sexuality is weird. You just can’t fathom a man being attracted to another man.”
Although, you can tell Latrell is a very quirky individual, his statement would not be far off if said 70 years ago. Back in 1952, the American Psychiatric Association published their first Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Amongst the mental disorders listed was homosexuality. Back then, many thought that if you identified as a homosexual you were mentally ill and could be “healed” by seeking psychological help. After 20 years of being scrutinized by the medical community and failing to produce statistical or scientific evidence, homosexuality was eventually removed as a mental disorder in 1973.
After homosexuality was removed from the DSM, “the American Psychological Association adopted the same position in 1975, and urged all mental health professionals “to take the lead in removing the stigma of mental illness that has long been associated with homosexual orientations.” Scientists now agree that there are a lot of factors that play into one’s sexuality and that homosexuals can lead just as stable, fulfilling lives as heterosexuals.
Now that it’s 2015, most of us know plenty of people that identify as homosexual. According to Polling Report, 56% of people in the United States support gay marriage. As of January 6th, 2015 there are now 36 states that have legalized gay marriage. Times have definitely changed, and a more accepting generation is on the rise. Eventually, acceptance of the LGBT community will become the norm for the majority of the United States.
Whatever group we associate with has a stereotype. “Women can’t drive,” “all Muslims are terrorists,” and “all Asians must be smart” are just some of them. Although stereotypes can be either positive or negative, in terms of the LGBT community they battle a negative image more frequently than not.
Even though the media tries to include the LGBT community through representation in shows and movies, they do not do an adequate job. In October of 2013, TV Guide reported, “LGBT characters make up 3.3 percent of regulars on scripted series this season on the five broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC and The CW), down from last year’s record high of 4.4 percent.” Frequently, the media categorizes the whole LGBT community as just gay and lesbian, which invalidates the existence of those that identify as transgender and bisexual. Rarely, is a gay or lesbian person is cast to play the lead role in a movie or television show. They are usually the supporting actor or ‘side kick’ and are more often than not, Caucasian. The media then perpetuates the stereotypes of flashy, bold gay men or “butch” lesbian women with a pixie cut. There are very few shows that depict people of the LGBT community as they really are: normal people, which happen to identify differently than the majority of the population. When the media does this, it continuously sends the message of inferiority to their community.
Of course, there some success stories when it comes to the media representing and supporting the LGBT community. One example is when Ellen DeGeneres came out on her show in the late 90s. Originally, after the episode aired, Ellen gained plenty of support, but after a year her show became clouded with issues, she lost some of her sponsors and Ellen was eventually cancelled. After doing stand-up for a few years she recovered and reestablished herself on the Ellen DeGeneres Show. Later, Ellen wrote a book about her experience coming out, which comforted members of the LGBT community.
Gradually, the world is becoming more accepting of the LGBT community and the media is somewhat recognizing this niche in television that needs to be filled. Orange is the New Black has a wide variety of the community and especially represents LGBT people of color. While other series like Glee, Will and Grace, Modern Family and Degrassi try to depict an accepting and more normalized view. They’re trying their best, but as Andrea Vale beautifully writes in her article in The Huffington Post, “In order to be truly groundbreaking, we must do the unthinkable: We must start thinking of gay men and women as people rather than as caricatures.”
After a few awkward moments of silence, Latrell continues to try to have a conversation with his reserved coworker. He asks, “So you seeing anybody recently?” Shyly, his coworker responds, “Yeah, I mean, kind of I think-” until he gets cut off again by Latrell.
Peele’s character quickly responds, “No, no, no. That’s not homophobic, okay? You’re explicitly talking about sexual things in the workplace.” Peele’s character makes the ultimate point: just because you live yourself differently than others does not make you exempt from the rules of society. Each individual should be held to the same standard of appropriate public behavior.
Latrell begrudgingly agrees. “Fine. There’s plenty of stuff we can talk about”, he says. So he begins discussing the objects on his desk instead, holding up his penis cup and scrotum cozies he’s been knitting recently.
Whipping out his phone he shows his coworker a picture and asks him if it’s appropriate for Facebook.
Latrell begins yelling “homophobe alert” several times, blows his penis-shaped whistle and makes various siren noises. He only stops when another man approaches the office space to talk to his coworker. He pauses, shocked.
Suddenly, the tables have turned. We now know that Latrell is not the only gay man in the office. His coworker can literally “fathom a man being attracted to another man”. If you take the time to rewind back to the beginning of the sketch, you can now contrast the “normal” behavior the coworker displays in the office, to Latrell’s excessive and inappropriate expression of his sexuality.
In the sketch, Latrell represents the glitzy and loud gay man the media constantly portrays as the majority of the LGBT population. While his coworker, represents the real, average person whom identifies as homosexual that goes unnoticed by the media. He is nameless in the sketch for this very reason: the media wants flashy and excessive, not normal. Yet despite this, the viewer doesn’t need to know his name or sexuality to validate what he says or to know he’s right. The workplace is not the place to be explicitly sexual, no matter what sexuality you identify with. Sexuality is something to share with someone else in the privacy of your own home.
Although, the sexuality people identify with should be important to them, it is merely a part of what makes up a whole person. Sexuality doesn’t have to define someone’s whole character, actions and words as it does with Latrell.
Now that Latrell knows his coworker is also gay, he has his epiphany. He realizes his coworker wasn’t actually being homophobic, his own behavior was unwarranted, and that not all gay men have to look and act alike to identify as such. After his coworker leaves to get lunch with his boyfriend, Latrell slowly turns around to face his computer. As Latrell pulls out a penis-shaped lollipop from his desk, he is now alone to grace the audience with his final line of dialogue.
1. Brian Chavez-Ochoa. “Case No. S147999 in the Supreme Court of the State of California, In re Marriage Cases Judicial Council Coordination Proceeding No. 4365(…) — APA California Amicus Brief — As Filed”. http://www.courts.ca.gov/documents/Nat_Legal_Foundation_Amicus_Curiae_Brief.pdf. California Courts. September 17, 2007. February 5, 2015.
2. Gary J. Gates. “How Many People are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender?” http://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/research/census-lgbt-demographics-studies/how-many-people-are-lesbian-gay-bisexual-and-transgender/. The Williams Institute. April, 2011. February 5, 2015.
3. Michael Gold. “Orange is the New Black offers complex look at LGBT women”. http://www.baltimoresun.com/features/gay-in-maryland/gay-matters/bs-gm-orange-is-the-new-black-offers-complex-look-at-lgbt-women-20130719-story.html. The Baltimore Sun. July 19, 2013. February 6, 2015.
4. Key & Peele. “Office Homophobe”. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e3h6es6zh1c&spfreload=10 Comedy Central. December 12, 2013. February 1, 2015.
5. Andrea Vale. “Is The New Normal the New Derogatory?” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/andrea-vale/is-the-new-normal-the-new-derogatory_b_6167358.html. The Huffington Post. November 18, 2014. February 6, 2015.
6. “Ellen DeGeneres”. http://www.biography.com/people/ellen-degeneres-9542420. Biography.com. 2015. February 5, 2015.
7. “Law and Civil Rights: Same-Sex Marriage, Gay Rights” http://www.pollingreport.com/civil.htm. Polling Report. October 9–12, 2014. February 5, 2015.
8. “Should Gay Marriage Be Legal?” http://gaymarriage.procon.org. ProCon.org. January 6, 2015. February 5, 2015