Creating a LGBT Love Island isn’t rocket science: An investigation

Love Island bosses are currently against producing a LGBT+ version of the show because gay contestants would pose ‘logistical difficulty’. So naturally, Metro.co.uk investigated just how logistically difficult it would be to create a series that is inclusive of all genders and sexualities alike. And it turns out, not very.

The hit programme, which aims to match young, hot singletons with potential partners, is returning to screens on June 28 with Laura Whitmore in the hosting seat. It’s been off-air for more than a year, with the last instalment cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

It had been widely speculated that the new line-up would feature Love Island’s most diverse cast yet with contestants of ‘all shapes and sizes’, however ITV commissioner Amanda Stavri has said there won’t be gay islanders. 

Why? ‘There’s a sort of logistical difficulty, because although Islanders don’t have to be 100% straight, the format must sort of give [the] Islanders an equal choice when coupling up,’ Starvri stated.

Love Island’s excuse to deny LGBT+ representation on one of the largest platforms in Great Britain is tired, lazy, and, ultimately, segregating. If the format doesn’t allow LGBT+ people to take part in Love Island, the problem isn’t with us – it’s with the format.

In the past, the show has included the ‘token’ bisexual contestant, but often their narrative has been edited like a dramatic spectacle rather than something that just was. A LGBT+ version of Love Island would make space for all the trials and tribulations of queer dating, rather than the one same-sex kiss that is over-sensationalised to the degree of obsessiveness. Other dating shows, such as ITV2’s The Cabins, ITVBe’s Dinner Date, and Channel 4’s First Dates have welcomed queer singletons and have not made their sexuality the talking point. Why won’t Love Island?

‘I get why they are hesitant to do it, but I don’t think it’s working when they [producers] chuck in one bisexual person,’ Megan Barton Hanson, who came out as bisexual after appearing in the fourth series of Love Island in 2018, told us. ‘I think with the whole tokenism thing, the girls just end up with the guy, maybe to stay on the show longer, I don’t know. If they had an all gay line-up, it would just be so much more interesting to watch.

‘How it is right now, you can kind of predict what’s going to happen: If there’s a straight couple who are happy, the producers will just send in a person for whoever they think is likely to stray and send in a person who’s their type. If there was an LGBT+ cast you could be tempted by anyone. I think it would be much juicier.’

‘If [producers] do this, don’t cast just one [LGBT+ contestant],’ Kai Wes, who appeared on the LGBT+ version of the US dating series Are You The One?, agreed. ‘Why don’t you do something like make a third or half the cast not straight? When I say not straight, I don’t mean they have to be gay. I literally mean just not straight. There’s a lot of variety there! 

‘I think that we’re missing that nuance, and I think the public knows that too, because we can churn this sh*t out over and over again, but we’re seeing so much online that we want more variety. I think it’s about time that our screens reflect what our social media screens are already reflecting.

‘We’re smarter as a public now to see through a trope. Either you’re gonna have a fully heterosexual season, or you’re going to really do it. But don’t half-ass it, don’t just throw one in. That doesn’t work.’

A separate season of Love Island is something Kai would also recommend, calling for ‘many different’ seasons, featuring all-female casts, all gay men, all queer Black men and so on.

Megan shared that many of her LGBT+ following have messaged her to voice their interest in a queer Love Island, but one group in particular have stood out. ‘I’ve had cis-gendered bisexual men saying they’re never represented in mainstream media or on primetime TV,’ she said. ‘I get so many DMs from bisexual men saying they’re worried to come out and they’re just categorised as gay. People never really see cis-gendered bisexual men on TV so I think that would be a great platform for that, especially as bisexual people have such a hard time, even in the community. We’re told “you’re greedy, you need to make up your mind”.’

Pitching a date for when a LGBT+ Love Island should air, Megan suggested that it could simply just replace the winter series, which previously broadcasted in January 2020. That means the summer series could remain as it is. ‘I think they should have one straight one and one queer one, that would be great and quite interesting too rather than having the same thing twice in one year,’ she continued. ‘I think people need to see representation because it’s just not out there enough.’

And of course, should it get the greenlight at ITV, Megan assured us that she’d definitely sign up to go in. So how hard would it be to change up the current Love Island format to make it inclusive of LGBT+ people?

One LGBT+ producer told us that while a queer version of the show would ‘technically be more complex than when the cast of a show are split 50/50 down cis-hetero binaries’, this would be relatively easy to overcome.

‘It would need to be more narratively layered and forward planned to make space for more unpredictable or narrower coupling options,’ they added. ‘It would also have a more interchangeable cast, so there would need to be tweaks to ceremonies and Casa Amor and a lot more contingency planning.’

Despite this, the producer pointed out that many long-running series have updated their formats in other ways that require reworking the casting and forward planning. ‘It’s not rocket science, it’s literally what making telly is,’ they said plainly. 

‘It’s definitely doable to tweak the format while still keeping the Love Island brand and feel of the show,’ another LGBT+ producer insisted, adding that they’d want to see a queer presenter hosting it.

‘I see absolutely no reason why Love Island as a franchise couldn’t have an LGBT+ spin off, with a host that represents the community,’ a producer and ally to the community told us. ‘In fact, you’d imagine they would jump at the chance. It’s insulting to presume a straight man like myself wouldn’t be just as interested in watching gay, trans or queer people date as a viewer. After all, we get sucked into the human stories, the fights, the making up and laughs and silliness in between. And those things aren’t exclusive to straight people.’

And producing a LGBT+ Love Island is far from impossible, just look at US reality show Are You The One?, which reworked its format for its 2019 series and welcomed a gender fluid cast with no limitations on their potential matches. The LGBT+ edition of one of MTV’s most popular programmes was titled Come One, Come All, and was met with applause from critics and viewers alike, with many rejoicing at being ‘seen’ on TV. MTV bosses broke new ground with the season, offering up a platform for LGBT+ stories on prime-time TV – with the results being one of the most exciting, heartwarming and dramatic seasons so far. The series captured every moment of love, heartache and fun the cast experienced in Hawaii. 

Kai, who was a contestant on the series, explained what it was like to be a part of such an important show. ‘I know that reality TV gets a bad rap in general, but my specific experience was really, really positive,’ he said. ‘I had an awesome time. I point that out to people because I’m like, what we did was reality TV, but was important because it was the first of something. Also a lot of queer people were involved in the production so they felt passionately about making it a positive experience.

‘Overall I got a paid vacation to live in Hawaii, where everything was paid for, alcohol was provided and I was told to make out with pretty queer people. I was like, “This is like an adult summer camp. Holy s**t”. 

‘We really were like, “we’re doing something important, this is really amazing and we’ve really impacted each other.” Being someone who’s sexually fluid or in any type of bisexual space, that is quite often negated or not validated in many ways. So all of us had this commonality of being queer people who felt ostracised in our own queer communities and found a real big bond there.’

Kai and his castmates showed that important stories could be told and shown on our screens without dropping in quality or the drama aspect, with the star joking ‘if you know anything about queer people, we’re just that dramatic’. 

Season eight is the second-highest fan-rated series of Are You The One? on IMDB. He put this down to having the support of everyone on set – including the mostly queer crew – to let their stories flow naturally. Those behind the scenes met with GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) to make sure their narratives were shared in the most positive way possible.

This understanding and the conversations beforehand is something Kai found especially helpful following his transition, as he continued: ‘For me, for example, I was able to say, “Can you just make my life easy and make sure that all your crew knows my pronouns ahead of time? Because I know that I’m in a place that people might say “she” and I don’t want to have to correct people all the time.” And there wasn’t a single time I had to correct a crew member, because they all knew. It’s simple stuff like that. A lot of the crew themselves were queer so they got it.’

Kai insisted that, the more viewers see LGBT+ representation on our screens, especially on prime-time television, the more acceptance will grow in public. ‘The great thing about reality TV is, it’s a genre that I haven’t recognised how important it actually is now in pop culture, because what it does is it really shows you this is what’s happening and this is what at least some of the Earth is like,’ he said.

‘We need to make it more regular on screen because people think it’s just a small part of the population when in reality, we’re all just mixed all up in between. Your neighbour could be trans, your other neighbour could be queer. You have no idea about any of these things.

‘I know for a fact that when you see things more, you become less afraid of them, and you’re not going to be a f*cking ar*ehole in public. I got this lovely message from this dad [who told me] his kid was born female, but he’s been saying he’s a boy ever since he was five. They saw me on screen and it really just opened up a conversation in their family. This is exactly it, just to open up a conversation and be like, “Look!”’

So how would a LGBT+ Love Island work? Would it be better to have one show for queer men and another show for queer women? Kai suggested eliminating the gender binary. This would allow all genders and sexualities to take part in the search for love on our screens, instead of just catering to straight male and straight female singletons.

Calling for Love Island producers to ‘be revolutionary’, he said: ‘I know it’s gonna be a stretch… I shouldn’t even feel like it should be a stretch. This should be normal… I would say eliminate the gender binary. It doesn’t have to be all male, female. There are other people in between, and I know there’s plenty. [Having no trans people] has been a choice on them because y’all got some beautiful motherf*cking trans people over there.

‘Eliminate the gender binary, because I think that’s one of the biggest issues. You’re limiting it to heterosexual binary people and that’s fun and all, but we’ve seen plenty of those for a long, long, time. That’s all we’ve seen now. So maybe let’s switch it up a little bit. I don’t think it’s that hard because also… guess what? Queer people date, trans people date. 

‘Be revolutionary and show us why it’s [not] revolutionary to love a trans person. Show somebody being unabashed about loving a trans person, fighting for them. I want to see that type of s**t on there.’

Megan also agreed, saying that a queer Love Island should open its villa doors to all genders and sexualities and that there’s always going to be one person without a partner as it’s the nature of the show.

‘People are going to couple up anyway, it doesn’t matter if there are more girls than boys because that always happens and there’s always one person left single,’ she said. ‘I don’t see why it would make a difference if people are gay or straight because there are always going to be people left over who aren’t coupled up.’

Love Island 2021 is due to hit our screens in a matter of weeks, and promises to be the ‘most diverse’ series yet – but this hasn’t extended to allowing LGBT+ contestants to take part, which is unacceptable. The reasoning behind this is that including gay contestants is a ‘logistical difficulty’ for those behind the scenes – but this is a lazy excuse and shows a lack of understanding of the general public, and an unwillingness to move forward and be a part of the conversation. 

All the evidence we’ve uncovered from those in the know – either producers or former contestants – shows that not only is an inclusive series or spin-off definitely ‘logistically’ viable and needed, there is also a ready-made slot for it in the TV guide, with the winter season the prime candidate for a shake-up.  

It’s time for Love Island bosses to wake up and listen to the LGBT+ community and be an ally. If not, the biggest dating show in the country could be left behind.

Love Island returns Monday June 28 at 9pm on ITV2.

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