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The Queerbaiting Quarrel

By Navpreet Singh, Linda Cheung and Helee Shukla

Queerbaiting is a practice where companies and celebrities use queer-coded characters, characters that are implied to be members of the LGBTQ community, to profit from LGBTQ representation. Initially, media companies used queer-coded relationships to attract their LGBTQ audience. Now, critics believe that companies evolved the term to maximize publicity.

Artwork by Lindsay Kim

Celebrities, such as Harry Styles and Billie Eilish, are subject to criticism regarding their LGBTQ-suggestive songs, with some claiming the two hide behind their ambiguous sexuality.

The term was developed in the early 2010s, with many tracing its origin to the television show “Supernatural.” It was among the first of many shows that had queer-coded characters: Dean and Castiel. Fans claim the show includes “romantic subtext” between the two in moments like when Castiel exclaims his love for Dean.

Queerbaiting has not only been practiced by companies but also by individuals. Due to Harry Styles’ more feminine style of dressing, and his queer-coded lyrics in his song “Medicine,” Styles has dealt with the controversy around his sexuality for quite some time creating a debate about whether he stands to support the community or to profit from the community. Many staff at NHP discuss how the motive of their ambiguousness matters.

“I think it's horrible for someone to profit if they are just using their sexuality for personal gain, but if they use their platform to create a certain amount of awareness, I don’t think it is that bad,” GSA adviser Ms. Katz said.

“Now, critics believe that companies evolved the term to maximize publicity...”

Despite its negative connotation, some argue that queerbaiting is an indicator of societal progress, since it is able to reflect these strides regarding the acceptance of the LGBTQ community.

“The impact of queerbaiting can be argued both ways,” GSA Treasurer Vanessa Sim said. “It's harmful because it can take away importance from the LGBTQ+ community; when companies try to use sexual orientation to sell, it takes away seriousness on the topic. Then you can also argue that it's a good thing. It brings representation of the LGBTQ+ community to the media. You can argue that it's a step forward in society but in all, it can be seen both ways.”

On the other hand, queerbaiting can also potentially harm the LGBTQ community. Oftentimes, many celebrities and companies profit from queer-coded representation in the media as they draw the attention of the LGBTQ community. However, these said companies fail to practice their allyship toward the community.

While queerbaiting was initially used by media companies to attract their LGBTQ demographic, it is now argued to garner publicity for companies as well.


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