On the Sept. 17 finale of Bachelor in Paradise, 4.4 million viewers watched Demi Burnett’s dream come true. She got down on one knee in a floor-length orange dress, pulled out a blinding square-cut Neil Lane engagement ring and asked her girlfriend Kristian Haggerty, dressed in a creamy white dress, for her hand in marriage. With the serene backdrop of the Mexican seaside behind them, Haggerty dropped to her knees alongside Burnett, as they hugged and kissed to celebrate their engagement. There was no heteronormativity; it was just unconditional love.
The two made headlines this month as they became the first-ever gay couple to be part of the show. The Bachelor franchise chose to show Burnett and Haggerty’s physical relationship as frequently as all the other straight couples. Their decision to openly show the couple on the show was courageous, as they risked losing viewership and fans that are unaccepting of LGBTQIAP+ people.
We were first introduced to Burnett on Colton Underwood’s season of The Bachelor earlier this year, but she was sent home about halfway through the season. She came back to our TV screens when she was invited to spend her summer in Sayulita, Mexico for the sixth season of Bachelor in Paradise. At that time, no one knew about her sexuality; many viewers assumed she was straight. During her first couple of days in Paradise, she formed an instant relationship with contestant Derek Peth, before sharing with the viewers that she identifies as sexually fluid and had Haggerty from back home on her mind.
At this point, the franchise could have decided to send Burnett home and back to Haggerty, which is what they’ve done in the past. But this time was different. During the sixth episode, they made the best choice by bringing her down to Mexico to join the rest of the cast and build her relationship with Burnett.
When Haggerty arrived in Mexico, producers surprised Burnett. As soon as Burnett saw Haggerty, she threw her hands over her mouth, crying with excitement, and jumped into her arms. The show has made other steps to show more progressive content, including naming Rachel Lindsey as the first black Bachelorette in 2017 and allowing Caelynn Miller-Keyes to share her story of sexual assault when she was a contestant on The Bachelor last year.
I had a conversation last week with a friend who had stopped watching any of the Bachelor shows because of their heteronormativity but decided to start watching this season after hearing that there was a lesbian couple. Another friend had expressed how they felt represented in reality TV by seeing two people of the same gender kissing and holding hands on the screen. Although there are more and more movies and TV shows out there that focus on or incorporate same-sex relationships into their storylines (such as Love, Simon and Modern Family), having a gay couple on reality TV expands LGBTQIAP+ representation in the media. Reality TV has such a unique influence over our lives (as seen through the #influencer trend). it has the power to reflect the realities of the world. By showing an openly gay relationship, it brings attention to the necessity of LGBTQIAP+ representation and how that affects people’s lives personally.
Like all reality TV couples, Burnett and Haggerty have faced their fair share of ill-intentioned tweets, but many have shown them love and support. I heard one person say she felt disgusted watching two women making out on her TV; she explained that it wasn’t the way the show worked and wasn’t what viewers wanted. However, the positive response for Burnett and Haggerty’s relationship is far more important than what any individual thinks about LGBTQIAP+ relationships. The root premise of this show is to help people find their lifelong love, which is exactly what happened to Burnett and Haggerty.
During the live taping of the finale, Burnett shared her struggle to come out to her friends and family, and then the whole country soon after, while also settling into engaged life. Because Burnett was the one to initially propose on the beach in Mexico, Haggerty took the opportunity to propose back to her, pulling out another Neil Lane ring, this one a 2-carat emerald-cut set with 48 small diamonds.
“It’s been hard, but it’s liberating, and it feels great. And there’s no more hiding a part of me, you know. And it just feels good to just be who I am,” Burnett said.
The show still has many issues to fix in order to create an environment that is accurately reflective of the viewers’ social status, genders and races, but their decision to allow the country to watch Burnett and Haggerty’s beautiful love story unfold right in front of our eyes was the best decision the franchise has ever made. This was about nothing more than celebrating Burnett and Haggerty and proving that love is love.
Aime Fukada is a junior sociology major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.