MTV started as a music channel when it launched in 1981, but its programming has evolved far beyond music videos.
Ahead of this weekend’s Pride celebrations, MTV debuted a new season of the reality dating show “Are You the One?”
The twist: The show features TV’s first sexually fluid cast. In other words, there are no gender limitations in the perfect love matches for its 16 contestants.
“It’s very normal to see a heterosexual dating show. It’s been around since dating shows started,” said Nour Fraij, a contestant. “The fact that this is the first sexually fluid season in the US, it’s groundbreaking.”
It’s not groundbreaking for MTV.
Over its nearly 40-year history, the cable network has become a global trailblazer in breaking down gender and sexuality barriers, showcasing stories that spur conversations among its young audience about what it means to love. And season 8 of “Are You the One?” is no different.
Here’s are some of the most notable moments:
1992: ‘The Real World’ features a bisexual man
Norman Korpi became the first openly bisexual man on reality television when “The Real World: New York” debuted. In 2017, Korpi revealed to CNN that he is actually gay, but MTV had called him bisexual.
Even in the early ’90s, when sexuality was considered too taboo of a subject for television, MTV tried to spotlight LGBTQ young people, including the third season’s Pedro Zamora, a Cuban-American gay man with AIDS. Zamora died in 1994.
1999-2002: ‘Undressed’ showcases similarities
When “Undressed” aired, it was one of the few shows on television to address same-sex relationships with similar candor as heterosexual relationships.
The show featured gay, lesbian and bisexual characters experiencing love like anyone would. It showed viewers that the fun, exciting and anxious moments of our sex lives are pretty universal.
2001: The dark reality in ‘Anatomy of a Hate Crime’
When “Anatomy of a Hate Crime” debuted on MTV, viewers learned about Matthew Shepard, an openly gay college student who died after being attacked and left tied to a fence.
The TV movie’s portrayal of the 1998 case reminded audiences of how cruel the world can be to members of the LGBTQ community.
2003: Britney, Madonna and Christina at the VMAs
They were the kisses that stunned the world. During the MTV Video Music Awards opening act, Madonna kissed both Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, two of the biggest pop stars at the time.
The performance is widely considered a key moment for LGBTQ visibility on televised award shows.
1998-now: ‘True Life’ was ahead of its time
“True Life” made same-sex marriage a reality for people more than a decade before the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in 2015.
The documentary series — which included episodes such as “I’m Gay and I’m Getting Married” and “I Have Gay Parents” — highlighted LGBTQ issues for viewers to watch and understand.
2012-now: ‘Catfish’ continues to tell LGBTQ stories
“Catfish” has been praised for consistently including LGBTQ voices and normalizing their stories.
The TV show has addressed topics such as the challenges some queer people have faced when hiding their gender to loved ones, and the hosts don’t treat these narratives any differently than they do heterosexual dating stories.
2011-17: ‘Teen Wolf’ is free of homophobia
In the world of “Teen Wolf,” homophobia doesn’t exist.
The TV drama introduces LGBTQ characters naturally, not sensationalizing queer love and relationships as it follows Beacon Hills High School’s supernatural students. It’s just another part of the show that can be seen in everyday life.
2014: Laverne Cox breaks down ‘The T Word’
“Laverne Cox Presents: The T Word” followed seven young transgender people as they navigated their lives while embracing their truths.
The hourlong documentary, which also premiered on Logo, was part of MTV’s Look Different campaign, a multiyear initiative to fight identity biases.
2019: ‘Are You The One?’ has a cast like no other
“Are You the One?” cast members Basit Shittu and Fraij said this is the show younger audiences need right now.
Fraij said that while growing up in a traditional Middle Eastern household in New Jersey, she suppressed her sexuality for most of her life.
“I feel like this was something that I needed to do, not just for myself but for people like me,” the 25-year-old said.
Shittu fondly remembers the days when people watched MTV for its music videos but says reality TV can have a stronger influence on youth culture.
“Young people are the ones who are going to be affecting change in this world long term,” the 25-year-old from New York said. “The openness that can be shared by having different experiences being represented on television will only open up the minds of younger people.”