Jonathan Van Ness on LGBTQ Equality: "People Are Too Quick to Congratulate Themselves on Where We Are"

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Jonathan Van Ness and David Letterman

In an interview with David Letterman, the 'Queer Eye' star says he recognizes that although societal progress has been made, violent incidents happen in his community that don't make the news.

Coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, Netflix released a special interview between Queer Eye's Jonathan Van Ness and My Next Guest Needs No Introduction host David Letterman, where the two met in a barbershop and talked about the changing face of the LGBTQ landscape. 

In the clip, Letterman first receives beard-grooming advice from Van Ness, who exclaims, "You are looking fit as a fiddle these days." Letterman replies, "God bless you." Continuing the laughs, Van Ness points out that he enjoys Letterman's "post-retirement beard."

"It's very mysterious, it's like, 'What's going on with him?'" says the hairdresser. Letterman then admits to Van Ness that his self-care ritual simply includes "a bar of soap," prompting Van Ness to encourage him to try beard oil on his gray hair, which is generally drier than hair that has not yet grayed. They later experiment with balm products for Letterman's mustache, as well as cuticle and nail oil, a process which Letterman declares "almost as unpleasant as a trip to the dentist."

Moving on, the two talk about mindfulness and meditation, which they both practice in different variations. "I paid a guy who came to my office and taught me transcendental meditation. I'm kind of snobby about that," Letterman says in reference to the more casual meditation that Van Ness has begun to describe. Van Ness calls out the talk show host for his "ruthless judgement," which prompts a laugh.

On the serious subject of Stonewall, Van Ness discusses how things have changed dramatically over the years. "Now we would have a gorgeous parade, a gorgeous party, and while it is celebratory and can be really fun, it was born out of this literal riot that happened in Stonewall." He goes on to say that he didn't realize until this recent Pride month the extent of the violence and oppression that the LGBTQ community faced. 

Considering his own appearance and clothing choices, Van Ness acknowledges that 50 years ago he wouldn't have been able to wear feminine clothing, as "the crime would have been female impersonation." Letterman notes how "stunning" it is that "what was illegal was only illegal 50 years ago." 

"Just the way that there are 7 billion people in the world that all experience life in a different, unique way, there are that many different unique ways that sexuality and gender can be expressed too," says Van Ness, adding that he identifies as non-binary. "I don't feel like I'm represented in the binary, period," he says, the binary being defined as male and female. 

Letterman later talks about his own family in the sense that acceptability has come with "ease of awareness," to which Van Ness agrees, "Socially, in America, we have made some progress." He then mentions the current administration and its efforts to roll back those protections. 

Looking at the trajectory of equality, Van Ness points out that these issues have been present for longer than many people realize. "Even though we weren't putting a name to it, there were advocates and fierce trailblazers in the '20s, '30s, '40s, and we will never know their names." He goes on to say, "People are too quick to congratulate themselves on where we are," noting that violent incidents happen in the LGBTQ community that don't make the news at all. 

"What's really important for you is that you feature people like me so that other young people, and other non-young people, important decision-making people, can see that people who don't look like them and don't talk like them can be seen as people and not something to be scared of," Van Ness adds.

The two agree that it's a good place to start. 

Watch the full clip below.