by Janelle Sessoms
Two words: JoJo Siwa. From the beginning of her rise to fame, JoJo has always been an advocate for inclusion and originality. The core of her brand is to be true to who you are and never compromise that in any situation. Her brand reflects in her songs, clothes, social media, and television appearances. It has now even extended to the world of reality TV. True to her advocacy of being proud of who you are, JoJo Siwa became the first contestant on “Dancing With the Stars” (DWTS) to have a same-sex dance partner, Jenna Johnson.
There are no words to describe how significant this is, especially in the television industry. It took 30 seasons for DWTS to agree to have a regularly competing same-sex couple. While this huge victory for LGBTQ+ representation may have taken a while to get to, it has now set expectations for future seasons. JoJo and Jenna are both women and that hasn’t hindered their performances in any way. In fact, they have been killing it all season long and have had perfect performances on more than one occasion.
In an interview with EW, JoJo expressed that her decision to dance with another woman hoped to inspire change and let the world know that it’s okay to be with whoever you want to be with.
"I think it breaks a wall that's never been broken down before," she said. "And it's normal for a girl to dance with a guy, and I think that that's really cool, but I think that it's really special that not only now, do I get to share with the world you get to love who you want to love, but also, you get to dance with who you want to dance with."
It’s so inspiring to not only see LGBTQ+ representation on the screen but to see queer people thrive and succeed. It’s also encouraging to see how Jenna was willing to be paired with the same-sex partner. Though Jenna isn’t in the LGBTQ+ community, it’s just as important to see transparent allyship in the reality TV space. DWTS progressivism will hopefully influence other reality TV shows to follow in their footsteps.
Of all the reality show genres, dating shows have had the least amount of progress in LGBTQ+ representation. In 2019, season 8 of the dating show, “Are You The One?” featured 16 sexually fluid cast members who spent six weeks trying to find their perfect match. For the most part, there hasn’t been any other show like this, especially on American television. To this day, it is extremely difficult to find dating shows that include queer contestants. Think of the Bachelor franchise and their refusal to include any LGBTQ+ representation.
The only exception to this was season 7 of “Bachelor in Paradise,” when Demi Burnett got engaged to her former girlfriend, Kristian Haggerty. The bachelor, Colton Underwood, came out as gay after after his seasonfinished. That could have been the perfect opportunity for the Bachelor franchise to show their support or talk of having queer representation in future seasons. Instead, they remain as the heterosexual dating show they have always been.
Other dating shows, such as “Too Hot to Handle” and “Love Island,” have also neglected to include LGBTQ+ contestants. There is something to be said for the lack of effort towards inclusion that the television industry has in dating shows. If well-known shows like DWTS can embrace same-sex couples, then there is no excuse why other reality TV shows can’t do the same. True inclusion and representation cannot happen if the LGBTQ+ community is being left out of the conversation.
Since JoJo and Jenna’s success on DWTS, there is hope for more representation. Everybody should be able to look at a screen and see someone like them being represented. Whether that be through race, age, gender, or sexuality, there cannot be this continued pattern of lack of representation in reality TV. It is time for a new generation of reality shows to emerge that embrace challenging societal norms and are willing to represent people of all kinds, especially those in the LGBTQ+ community.