Last night I witnessed a profound statement on LGBT equality while watching the most recent episode of USANetwork's popular show White Collar on Hulu. In the episode titled "Pulling Strings" FBI agent Diana Berrigan, identified as a lesbian since the show's pilot, mentions that she and her partner have become engaged.
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The engagement becomes a running point of discussion in the episode, but the fact that it's a same-sex engagement is treated as unremarkable. The focus of her coworkers and friends is entirely on their happiness for her and helping to ease her concerns about the prospect. The only time that her sexual orientation is mentioned as relevant is when she's pressed about her apparent ambivalence about getting married. She tells the main character Neil (played by out actor Matthew Bomer) that after a lifetime knowing that she can't get married, it's strange to have it suddenly have it on the table.
What I find stunning and relevant here is that Diana's engagement is featured without fanfare or drama. Marriage is legal now in New York, where the show is set, and so her partner proposed. It isn't the first time that Diana's relationship has been a plot element either. Previous episodes have included a dinner party at her and her partner's home, and her experiencing anxiety due to her partner's reluctance to settle in New York City. Again, the fact that she was in a same-sex relationship had little or no bearing on how her personal life was used in the development of the plot.
In my mind, this is what progress on the front of equality looks like: portrayals of LGBT people simply living their lives openly. What makes Diana's engagement so groundbreaking is precisely how ordinary it is. Not to mention where all this is happening. USANetwork is not known for pushing limits or taking risks in their programming, which could be described as the definition of fun and mindless TV entertainment.
I would say that USA should be commended, but perhaps there's less to commend them on than one might think. Could it be that having an important character on one of their flagship shows enter into a same sex engagement just isn't the risk it once was? I certainly hope so, and hope that this sets the stage for future nonchalant inclusion of LGBT characters and storylines.