On Sept. 18, the U.S. saw its first gay “Big Brother” winner after 15 seasons. I would otherwise be elated, but this year, I just wasn’t.

Andy Herren, a 26-year-old public speaking instructor from Chicago, Ill., walked away with the $500,000 first-place prize. Not too shabby for such a young man.

However, in making it to the end to capture this win, he, along with a host of other cast mates, spit out a rash of vitriol that would make any normal human being shudder. In fact, this season was the landmark show’s most controversial in its history. Even host Julie Chen was appalled at the things said during its 90-day run. And, Herren was the brunt of some of it himself.

Fraught by racism, homophobia, hate speech, anti-semitism and inappropriate sexual overtures and behavior, I was aghast, and for the right reasons. I was astounded that CBS would permit some of the things said to continue. I guess ratings were more important? I dare to think not! In the end, two of the cast lost their jobs, one is under review by its employer and union, one was removed by the real estate company at which she worked and another employer publicly distanced itself from its part-time employee. In the last case, it was Herren who has worked as an adjunct instructor at the College of DuPage.

All of the house guests have now been brought up to speed on what transpired while they were sequestered during their sojourn on the show. Some find it hard to believe. Some think that their words were taken out of context. Not so. There were 24-hour live feeds and live shows to counter these claims.

Which brings me to the core of my concerns. I realize that we all have times in our lives that we say or do things of which we are not too proud. When we mature, we seem to get with the program and are able to see through this distorted portrayal. Now, that does not mean that we are absolved of what we say or do, we just have to make amends.

Herren told the Hollywood Reporter, “If I lost my job over this, I’m going to be very upset because I don’t think I did anything to merit me losing my job. Sure, some of the stuff I said might have been ridiculous or vulgar but at the same time I did comedy and things like that so people understand it’s my personality. … If this hurt my career, I would definitely be upset about that. Hopefully people will see the true me and realize that if I’m associated with that stuff, it’s wrongfully so. I hope all will be well.” He knows internally what he said, so own up to it and truly make amends. Again, it’s all about integrity, of admitting we were wrong and doing something about it. And, for a gay man who was ridiculed in the house, why would you lower yourself to simply fit in? Former First Lady Nancy Reagan once said, “Just say no!”

I’m not a “fuddy duddy,” so don’t even go there. I am, however, someone who chooses to use my words respectfully and responsibly. I also try to maintain an honorable life. And, I think that we owe it to ourselves to make that our life-long mission. We should honor ourselves and our community, past, present and future, so that we are shown in the best possible light to combat negativity and stereotypes that are so often shown of us. We ought to share the best of who we are admist any anti-LGBT focused statements made against us.

You see, I feel so strongly that if we are to continue to make big strides in the LGBT community — for rights, for equality, for acceptance — then we have to behave well and act responsibly. It is our duty and obligation to be an example to others on how to live life with integrity. Don’t you think that the nay-sayers that challenge us would be more approachable if we were to speak in a way that embraces diplomacy? I am sure that if we did, that we’d find making strides to be a bit easier. It’s hard to argue with someone who chooses to remain calm and composed. Perfect to extinguish the flames of bullying, violence and more.

We owe it to ourselves to stand proud, without stooping to the depths of offensive language and more.

I remember a song from times gone by lesbian artist Cris Williamson in which she sang, “you got to kill them with kindness.” It’s a great mantra and one that I hold near to my heart. : :

Lainey Millen

Lainey Millen was formerly QNotes' associate editor, special assignments writer, N.C. and U.S./World News Notes columnist and production director from 2001-2019 when she retired.