Meet the Queer Queen of “Bachelor in Paradise”

Could Demi Burnett help usher in a more inclusive era of the "Bachelor" franchise?

Spoiler websites have long been teasing that reality star Demi Burnett will come out as bisexual on the forthcoming season of Bachelor in Paradise.

But on Twitter Monday night, the feisty Burnett issued a spoiler alert of her own.

ABC also released a new promo on Monday night that shows Burnett kissing an unnamed woman, hinting that this season of the tropical-themed spinoff will deliver the first same-sex relationship in Bachelor history.

“I know that I love this girl,” Burnett says in a voiceover, over footage of her making out with the woman in bed. “I’m just so happy that I found her, and I can definitely picture being with her for the rest of my life.”

Depending on how Burnett’s relationship is presented, this could be a major moment for a television tentpole that has been slow to embrace LGBTQ people.

Back when Burnett was the bathrobe-wearing villain on Colton Underwood’s season of The Bachelor, it would have been hard to imagine she would play such a historic role. She was the best kind of Bachelor antagonist: the fan favorite, the one you rooted for even as the other girls in the mansion wanted her gone. Her unfiltered personality and withering insults were the stuff that reality TV was built to showcase.

But Burnett didn’t discuss her sexual orientation on Underwood’s season. Within the context of an intensely heteronormative dating show—and in a world that erases the existence of bisexual people—it was all too easy for viewers to assume that Burnett was straight. As it turns out, she’s not. And given how beloved she is within the Bachelor universe, Burnett (pictured below) is well-positioned to push the entire franchise forward on LGBTQ issues.

Craig Sjodin/ABC via Getty Images

Honestly, any positive representation of bisexuality at this point would be progress for a Bachelor show. So far, the show has treated bisexuality as either a punchline or as an object of titillation—and in a country where at least five million adults are bisexual, that portrayal has become increasingly grating as time has gone on.

Back in 2015, for example, when two male contestants on Kaitlyn Bristowe’s season of The Bachelorette developed a close bond, ABC teased it as a possibly romantic—or even a sexual—connection. The two men, JJ Lane and Clint Arlis, made several winking comments and social media posts about how close they were, which kept the media guessing as to the true nature of their relationship.

But during the “Men Tell All” episode later in the season, both men denied that there was any truth to the rumors of a sexual relationship, with Arlis saying, “I’m a straight man” and that he was “there for Kaitlyn from the moment that I stepped out of the limo to the moment that I stepped into the depression-mobile on the way home.” (TMZ had already suggested that the “Brokeback Bachelor” storyline, as ABC dubbed it, was simply a savvy ploy for attention.)
 

Nick Viall’s 2017 season of The Bachelor took a baby step in the right direction by featuring Jaimi King as the franchise’s first openly bisexual contestant—but she didn’t progress very far. When she returned for Bachelor in Paradise, the show went out of its way to emphasize that her presence could potentially be disruptive because she could date either men or women. As writer Sesali Bowen noted for Refinery29, King was given a “reductive storyline” that placed an “unnecessary emphasis on her sexuality.”

King herself later opened up to Refinery29, saying that when she came out to producers she “did not think it would be the center of my being” and speculated that they “probably wanted to take advantage” of her sexuality to craft a storyline.

As for the show’s well-known problems with diversity, King said, “I think they’re trying to dabble and play around with things. Slowly but surely, it’ll get there, hopefully.” (That same year, ABC cast Rachel Lindsay at the first black Bachelorette lead.)

Hopefully, Burnett will help accelerate things on the LGBTQ front. If the Bachelor franchise wants to stay relevant, it will have to find a way to acknowledge the existence of LGBTQ people—even if the main entries (Bachelor and Bachelorette) remain focused on heterosexual fairytale romance.

After all, some 7% of millennials are LGBTQ. That number presumably includes if not Bachelor contestants themselves, then at least friends and family members of contestants who get hometown dates.
 

There have been some recent albeit subtle indications that the Bachelor franchise—the slow-moving beast that it is—now takes place in a universe where LGBTQ people exist.

Gay national treasure Billy Eichner made a guest appearance on Colton Underwood’s season of The Bachelor earlier this year. And on Hannah Brown’s drama-filled season of The Bachelorette, which is now approaching its conclusion, RuPaul’s Drag Race stars Alyssa Edwards and Alaska helped judge a pageant-style contest.

If ABC plays its cards right, Burnett could be the bisexual heroine that the Bachelor franchise needs to start atoning for some of its past sins. Burnett is loud, magnetic, and beautifully brash. And because it’s impossible for her to be anyone other than herself, it’s hard to picture Burnett getting too caught up in the pressure of the precedent she will be setting. That would be perfect because LGBTQ people themselves are, well, people, and not always ambassadors for our sexual orientation or gender identity.

Demi is going to be Demi, and ABC just has to get out of the way.

Bachelor in Paradise has its queer queen. All the show has to do now is worship her.

Samantha Allen is the author of "Real Queer America: LGBT Stories from Red States" and a GLAAD Award-winning LGBTQ journalist.
@SLAWrites