As a self-proclaimed Real Housewives super-fan, I’ve watched nearly every episode of every iteration of the franchise. When I initially began my descent down the Housewives rabbit-hole, I would use the show as a means of escape from the stresses and anxieties of my everyday life as a queer teen. After all, nothing is quite as soothing for the soul as watching extraordinarily wealthy women feuding over petty gossip, flipping tables, throwing wine and embarking on lavish vacations across the globe.
But as the years have gone by and various storylines have unfolded, I’ve become increasingly weary of a particular aspect of the many Real Housewives shows — an aspect that has become impossible for me to simply overlook and cast aside for the sake of guilty pleasure. And that would be the intrinsic homophobia and transphobia that, at this point, seem to be woven into the very DNA of the different series.
After the most recent seasons of Real Housewives of Orange County and Real Housewives of Dallas sparked controversy among LGBTQ viewers for airing what some saw as anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, I decided to take a deep dive into Housewives history, rewatch old episodes and rethink the impact of the many plotlines that have played out over the years. It wasn’t long before I realized that the Real Housewives of nearly every city have a lengthy, well-documented past of problematic LGBTQ moments that have largely been ignored by Bravo in the name of entertainment. Below you’ll find a timeline and in-depth look at some of the most egregious examples.
The Real Housewives of Orange County
The OC women launched a global phenomenon in 2006 when they decided to let viewers have an in-depth look at their personal and professional lives. The first show in Bravo’s RH empire, The Real Housewives of Orange County began with a narrow scope, focusing on a group of friends and acquaintances living in the same gated community of a wealthy California suburb. But as the show went from being a Desperate Housewives knockoff to a franchise that Gloria Steinem once said presents women “as hateful towards each other,” the drama reached new heights.
Innocuous gossip turned into accusations of cheating and on-screen divorces, and, eventually, the conflicts escalated even further — recall the infamous cancer scam that housewife Vicki Gunvalson and ex-boyfriend Brooks Ayers were allegedly involved with in season 10.
Still, the bickering and fighting was mostly in good fun in the early days. The most recent season of RHOC, though, has taken a troubling turn into some truly hateful territory.
During season 12, which ended in December, rumors began swirling among cast members regarding the sexual orientation of longtime cast member Tamra Judge’s husband, Eddie. This questionable storyline emerged at Gunvalson’s 55th birthday bash when Judge’s former bestie — Ricky Santana, who is an out gay man — told Gunvalson and other guests that he had witnessed Eddie “making out with another man” prior to his wedding with Tamra. Cue the dramatic music, shocked facial expressions and a confessional clip of Gunvalson cheerfully proclaiming, “Tell me more!”
After the scene aired on national television, Judge even referred to Gunvalson and crew as “homophobic bullies” in a now-deleted Instagram post.
To watch gay identity being used as a means of ridicule on a national platform — and in 2017, no less — is beyond unsettling, and reminds me of the days when I myself was consumed by the fear of being outed or discovered as a queer person. So paired with the casting of alleged homophobe Peggy Sulahian and Lydia McLaughlin’s bothersome comments regarding drag queens (see the video below), I truly couldn’t bring myself to get through the season — which is a first for me in the 12 years that RHOC has been on the air.
In a recent phone interview with Mic, Kevin Lee, an ex-showrunner of RHOC who worked on seasons seven and eight, referred to the gay “accusations” against Eddie as “unfair.”
“Eddie’s not a paid cast member, he’s a bystander,” Lee said. “He’s not gay and even if he was, why is that problematic?”
Lee also shared that “in general, RHOC shows women gaining power in their lives and breaking out of gender stereotypes because they acquire money and success and fame, and it’s fun to watch that transformation happen. So it’s unfortunate that cast members would use an accusation of homosexuality against Eddie, given the show’s good track-record regarding gender politics.”
Although less glaring, incidents of homophobia in Orange County long predate the latest season of the show. Judge was actually one of the the first OC housewives to be accused of engaging in anti-gay behavior on the show.
In 2009, Judge incurred backlash after saying that former cast member Slade Smiley “looked like a homo” during the RHOC season three finale. She later issued a lengthy apology, writing, “I am reaching out to GLAAD and the gay community today to apologize for the ignorant comment I made on last week’s episode. I wish so badly that I could take it back.” To further veer viewers against labeling her as a homophobe, Judge added that she has “several gay friends and family members.”
Another cast member, Alexis Bellino, was called out by viewers after reprimanding out “friend of the show” Fernanda Rocha in 2011. Bellino said on camera that Rocha and her wife would “unfortunately have to talk to God when they get to Heaven’s gate.”
Much like Judge, Bellino later apologized in her Bravo blog titled Clearing the Air, assuring viewers that she was not homophobic and that she “[has] many, many gay friends,” which appears to be the go-to response when any of the Housewives are accused of anti-gay behavior.
The Real Housewives of New York City
During the early seasons of Real Housewives of New York, speculation that Alex McCord’s polarizing husband, Simon van Kempen, was a closeted gay man was brewing in the Big Apple.
Former NY housewife Jill Zarin was the ringleader of the allegations, even telling McCord during the 2009 reunion that van Kempen is gay — but “just doesn’t know it yet.”
Van Kempen later pushed back against Zarin’s comments in Us Weekly, saying, “If I was gay, I would be gay, but I’m not. I don’t want to have sex with men ... If other manifestations of gay means that I like to wear nice clothes and go shopping, then I guess that’s fine. I love fashion, but I love my beautiful wife. That makes me gay?”
Years later, in 2014, Ramona Singer and Sonja Morgan ruffled some feathers when they referred to Luann de Lesseps as “LuMan” and Singer said that she once mistook de Lesseps for a drag queen.
“If I didn’t love drag queens so much, I would be offended,” de Lesseps responded.
The Real Housewives of Atlanta
The Real Housewives of Atlanta quickly became the most viewed version of the Housewives franchise due to its cast members’ glamorous fashion, masterful shade-throwing and epic one-liners. With their catchy lingo and scathing reads, it’s pretty clear that the Atlanta ladies have heavily tapped into gay culture.
But the 10th and current season of RHOA has already gotten off to a rocky start. In episodes two and three, Kenya Moore went off on a venomous transphobic rant against fellow cast member Kim Zolciak-Biermann — and this was during Nene Leakes’ already problematic “Gurls & Gays” party, which suggested that gay men should act as trendy accessories to heterosexual women.
“Why do you have such a hard-on for me?” Moore asked Zolciak-Biermann. “Didn’t they cut it off during your reassignment surgery? Why do you have such a hard-on? Jack off somewhere. Get it off. Jack off somewhere, and get it off your chest.”
After Moore caught some serious backlash for her comments, Watch What Happens Live host Andy Cohen, in disappointing fashion, more or less let her off the hook. During an interview segment on WWHL, Cohen addressed the transphobic remarks by asking a softball non-question: “You’re getting a lot of heat about what you said to Kim about reassignment surgery. Talk to me about it.”
“Initially, I was just going after Kim,” Moore responded. “I was just incensed by her remarks towards me and her hatred, so I was trying to offend Kim, but definitely didn’t mean to offend anyone else.”
To be fair, Cohen, who has become an integral part of the Housewives franchise and is seated in the center of the chaos at reunions, hasn’t always given the RHOA ladies a pass on their homophobia.
During season eight, Moore suggested that Kim Fields’ husband, Christopher Morgan, was a closeted gay man, sharing that people in Hollywood refer to him as “Chrissy.” The other Atlanta housewives couldn’t help themselves from indulging in the homophobic gossip — with Nene and Porsha laughing and even chiming in with troubling comments of their own.
When Cohen brought up the distasteful speculation during the season eight reunion, the Atlanta ladies continued to question Chris’s sexuality, seemingly treating the concept of outing a gay man as light and even humorous. Amid the laughter, former Atlanta housewife Phaedra Parks offered some input, saying, “True tea, every man on this show has been called gay. They make everybody on this show gay.”
“No, you ladies do,” a visibly disturbed Cohen responded. “It seems like you’re all kind of gay bash-y. It was taunting and derogatory and just not a pretty look.”
It was a noteworthy moment for the Housewives franchise — one in which Cohen, an out gay man himself, finally stood up to cast members of one of the shows for playing into an unsavory and bigoted plot point. It suggested that some storylines should actually be off-limits.
Yet despite Cohen’s rebuke, the following season demonstrated that homophobic rhetoric was still a part of RHOA. Porsha Williams suggested that fellow longtime Atlanta housewife Kandi Burruss was a closeted lesbian as a means of humiliating her.
Burruss fired back, suggesting that Williams was bisexual and turned into an “aggressive lesbian” when drunk.
“She puts the B, in LGBT,” Burruss stated in an on-camera confessional.
Before season nine, Williams ignited a firestorm when a homophobic sermon she delivered in 2010 went viral on social media.
“We Christians are supposed to be telling the hooker on the street, the drug dealer … the gays, the lesbians,” she said in the footage. “We’re supposed to be trying to save them and tell them, ‘You are worthy.’”
Williams, who has since stated that her remarks were “taken out of context,” also sparked controversy after making a crude, transphobic comment to Moore during the season eight reunion.
During the usual sort of reunion bickering, Moore alleged that Williams was an escort who slept with married men.
“You should shut your mouth because if there’s not a dick in it, you don’t even know what you’re saying,” Moore shouted at Williams who was seated across from her on the opposing reunion couch.
“We should talk about the [dick] you tuck before you go to work everyday, bitch,” Williams retorted.
It’s no surprise that the history of troubling LGBTQ-related moments on the show have disgruntled many, including former RHOA guest stars Amiyah Scott and Miss Lawrence, both members of the trans community who have distanced themselves from the series after alleging that producers wanted to tokenize them for entertainment value.
The Real Housewives of New Jersey
During the second season of Real Housewives of New Jersey, the series reached its peak of vulgarity when Danny, friend of the infamous cast member Danielle Staub, called then-NJ housewife Caroline Manzo’s straight son a homophobic slur, creating a rift among cast members.
In the episode, Staub and Danny showed up uninvited to a charity event at the Brownstone, an establishment owned and operated by the Manzo family. Once they arrived, Staub began to complain that the staff at the Brownstone purposefully did not have a table ready for her. As a result, Danny spiraled into a rage, referring to the Manzo children as “punks” and “faggots” while Staub stood next to him, smirking and silent.
During the season two reunion, when her fellow NJ housewives brought up Danny’s use of the word “faggot,” Staub attempted to absolve herself of responsibility for bringing her homophobic friend onto the show.
“It was not me that said it. l needed to get out of there, and when I did so, I did address it with Danny,” she explained. “I am not taking responsibility for that.”
Even though Staub — and, by extension, Danny — left the show after season two, the homophobic slur continued to pop-up in the series.
During the season four reunion, Cohen addressed the repeated usage of the f-word by Teresa Giudice’s husband, Joe Giudice.
“I’ve spent three reunions really going in on Teresa about things that you’ve said about gay people,” Cohen told Joe.
“Growing up, we always used the word ... we call each other ‘faggot,’ ‘homo’ or whatever, doesn’t mean anything. We were friends. We call each other names all the time, it doesn’t mean we’re gay,” Joe explained. “Now I don’t use the word anymore because it’s not appropriate and people don’t want to hear that, so I don’t use it.”
Although Joe vowed to leave the word in his past, Gia Giudice, eldest daughter of the Giudice children, was later criticized by LGBTQ fans of RHONJ for using the same slur that was once a regular part of her father’s on-air vocabulary.
In 2014, while messaging with Twitter follower @nickslaaen, who tweeted, “I miss texting you everyday,” Gia, 13 years old at the time, replied, “@nickslaaen who’s this chick u little faggot.”
Gia later addressed the tweet, telling Star Magazine that although “people took it as a gay slur,” she meant it as a joke. “I have to take responsibilities for my actions because I am always in the public eye.”
Despite the numerous instances of homophobic language throughout the course of RHONJ, the Garden State series has also featured some positive LGBTQ representation, specifically with the introduction of Rosie Pierri, the out gay sister of then-housewife Kathy Wakile, during season four.
Pierri warmed the hearts of viewers after candidly discussing, on camera, her experience of coming out.
“I struggled a lot with it, and it was hard for me to talk to my family about it,” Pierri shared during the season four reunion. “Before I could actually ask somebody else to accept me, I had to accept myself and I wasn’t ready to do that. I was struggling.” It was a statement that resonated with many LGBTQ fans of the show.
The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills
In the Housewives universe, Real Housewives of Beverly Hills has been on the lower end of the homophobia scale, with no blatant gay “accusations” fueling problematic storylines.
In fact, Lisa Vanderpump, the show’s most recognizable star, has been an outspoken advocate for LGBTQ rights. Vanderpump was even named Grand Marshall of the Long Beach Pride Parade in 2017 due to her advocacy work — which has been featured on both RHOBH and Vanderpump’s spinoff show, Vanderpump Rules — with various gay rights organizations, including GLAAD.
But during season five of RHOBH, some LGBTQ viewers rolled their eyes at Kyle Richards’ corny attempt to pander to gay audiences by throwing a gay mixer for, as she put it, “tops and bottoms — and I don’t mean bikinis.”
Throughout the cringeworthy episode, Richards and fellow Beverly Hills housewife Lisa Rinna referred to the gay men in their life as “my gays,” setting off some backlash on social media.
Cohen also addressed the episode on Watch What Happens Live, saying, “Even though some of your friends might be gay, which is great, they are not yours. You do not own them. We are not cattle. We are not purses.”
Richards later responded to Cohen’s reaction by explaining that she “meant no disrespect” by her comments.
The Real Housewives of Dallas
The Dallas edition of the Real Housewives collective is the most recent to debut, yet it’s already wandered into homophobic terrain only two seasons in.
At the center of the second season’s drama was the scene in which Dallas housewife Brandi Redmond drove fellow fan favorite LeeAnne Locken to the doctor for a procedure. In a hot mic moment, the two began to gossip about the husband of fellow cast member Cary Deuber, Marc Deuber, who is a surgeon; somehow, the conversation ended with Locken suggesting that Marc gets serviced by other men at the Round-Up Saloon, a popular country-western-themed gay bar in downtown Dallas.
“Her husband gets his dick sucked at the Round-Up,” Locken told Remond. “I know the boys who did it.”
Locken addressed the controversy at the reunion by stating that she couldn’t recall making the statements that were captured.
Marc, seated next to his wife, took Locken to task, saying, “This is bullshit that we throw this around in any way that it’s a negative. And you know there’s people on social media saying, ‘Marc must be gay because he likes clothes,’ and this is a stereotype from the ’80s.”
“To me, I don’t ever call someone gay as an insult,” Locken responded. “Like, literally 80 to 90 percent of my friends are all gay. I mean, my work in the LGBT community speaks for itself.”
What’s the responsibility of reality TV?
When asked about the lengthy history of homophobia and transphobia within the Real Housewives franchise, Bravo issued the following statement:
“Bravo has a long history of celebrating the LGBTQ community and telling its stories in a positive light. The network takes pride in authentic storytelling, during which views are sometimes expressed by cast members that do not align with Bravo’s core values. We feel it’s often important to present these moments so they have the opportunity to be confronted and addressed with full transparency. It is through these discussions that we hope to create greater understanding, awareness and tolerance of our diverse world.”
The sentiment expressed by Bravo raises an important question: Should television networks be held accountable for airing derogatory language and storylines?
Historically, it has been viewers who have taken on the responsibility of calling out the housewives when they’ve stepped out of line with bigoted statements and problematic plot points. While Cohen has addressed a few of these instances on Watch What Happens Live or during reunions, he’s far from consistent with it.
But at a time when a recent candidate for the U.S. Senate is known for making publicly homophobic remarks and LGBTQ people are disproportionately affected by violence, a simple slap on the wrist during WWHL is perhaps not enough to rectify the damage that’s done when a housewife makes a homophobic or transphobic statement for millions to watch.
One purpose of reality TV is to capture and document “reality,” no matter how ugly. Yet transphobic and homophobic statements amplified on such a prominent platform only serve to reinforce the misconceptions that society already carries about who LGBTQ people are and how we live our lives. For those who belong to marginalized communities and are already widely misunderstood, the bigotry we experience doesn’t end once an episode of Housewives or Watch What Happens Live wraps.