On the night of the Here Comes Honey Boo Boo season finale, I was at a posh rooftop party. But I really wanted to be in front of my television set instead. I was tired of talking to hipsters who enjoyed hearing the sound of their own voices. Finally, as the time crept closer to 10 p.m., I was bursting with impatience. I told someone how I wanted to be home watching seven-year-old Honey Boo Boo eat sketti, her mom's homemade sauce made of ketchup, butter, and a hint of mustard.
The man I was talking with looked at me like I was high on go-go juice and said, "You'd rather be at home right now watching that show instead of talking to all of these people?"
Heck yes I would.
The dismissive way he said that show perturbed me. He was quick to trumpet his more pretentious than progressive views on equal rights, but even quicker to put down a family he had never watched in action. And he's not the only one. I have seen the tell-tale smirk of those who call the family a bunch of rednecks that they claim are exploiting Honey Boo Boo - real name Alana Thompson - for monetary gain. But if these self-proclaimed hip people read between the lines of the show, and not watched as a fair-weather voyeur, they would see Honey Boo Boo and company are sweeter and more accepting than they are most of the time.
Take the episode featuring Uncle Poodle. In the Sept. 26 season finale, Honey Boo Boo's gay uncle helps his niece rework her dance routine for an upcoming beauty pageant. When he arrives at the family's home in the rural town of McIntyre, GA, Honey Boo Boo bear hugs Poodle - a loving, yet blanket term she uses to refer to all gay men - and gives her deceptively profound take on equality: "Ain't nothin' wrong with bein' a little gay" and "Everybody's a little bit gay."
Honey Boo Boo and her family seem to embrace the rainbow, as they do each other. June Shannon, her partner Mike "Sugar Bear" Thompson (the biological father to Alana) and her older children Jessica, Anna, and Lauryn Shannon spend time together while school is out for the summer, whether they are playing in a water park or celebrating Christmas in July. Each person knows the other so well they can identify each other's breath while blindfolded in a game of Guess My Breath. Sure it's a little gross, but it's a family tradition that works for them and isn't hurting anyone.
As to whether the family is exploiting Honey Boo Boo for cash, the show airs no evidence of it. We never see June forcing Honey Boo Boo to practice nine hours a day for her pageant or yelling she's too fat to fit into her frilly dress. When Honey Boo Boo says she looks like a chunky lemon in her yellow life vest at a water park, her mom says she's beautiful. If TLC, a channel known for showing the worst in humanity, had footage of June screaming at Honey Boo Boo, they would air it without compunction.
These qualities set the family apart from your average Southern brood on reality television, where deep-seated intolerance is often coated in a zealous Christian faith. On 19 Kids and Counting, another TLC reality show, you can see the Duggars would never embrace Poodle like Honey Boo Boo. Parents Jim and Michelle Duggar would only "tolerate," not embrace, him. The Duggar family even endorsed Senator Rick Santorum, who is known for his hateful comments about the LGBT community, in his presidential bid for the Republican party earlier this year.
I'm not alone in my support for Honey Boo Boo. Anderson Cooper is a genuine fan without putting the family down in the same sentence. The show had higher ratings than the last night of the Republican National Convention, attracting 2.9 million viewers to the RNC's 1.2 million. Honey Boo Boo even tied in the ratings with Bill Clinton's barnburner speech at the Democratic National Convention with 2.4 million viewers.
Stereotyping Honey Boo Boo and her family would make me just as bad as small-minded people who condemn all gay people. And the family is not stupid and proud of it. They may actually be a secret weapon in the fight for full LGBT equality. Instead of lampooning rural voters at cocktail parties, we need to sift through the true anti-LGBT crusaders to find allies, the diamonds in the rough. Especially if they want to learn about a community they already love, perhaps imperfectly, in their hearts.