The GLAAD Media Award-nominated drama The Chi has always been an inclusive space for LGBTQ characters and actors. Now in its sixth season on Showtime, the series created by Emmy winner Lena Waithe has evolved and continues to bolster representation with the show’s first-ever principal gay characters: Deondray (Jabari Redd) and Quincy (Thomas Mackie).
The characters in the coming-of-age drama set in the titular city were introduced in response to the lack of masculine gay characters on television — and they were named after Deondray Gossfield and Quincy LeNear Gossfield, who worked closely with Waithe to introduce the characters named after them to breakdown stereotypical portrayals of queer people in TV and celebrate the rich diversity within the community. The duo also produced the sixth season and directed three episodes in the second half of the season.
On The Chi, the character of Deondray is a campaign manager who understands the ins and outs of the political landscape and is helping Victor “Trig” Taylor (Luke James) run for office. The character of Quincy is a real estate broker who works for one of the gangsters on the show and is highly educated.
As we have seen with characters like Nina (Tyla Abercrumbie) and her partner Dre (Miriam A. Hyman) as well as trans narratives and characters including Fatima (L’lerrét Jazelle), The Chi has always been inclusive with its queer representation .
GLAAD had the opportunity to talk to Deondray and Quincy, who like Waithe, is a Chicago native, about the new season, creating these characters, and how The Chi helps push the needle forward when it comes to amplifying diverse queer narratives — specifically Black queer narratives.
What was the journey like and the conversations surrounding having the show’s first-ever principal gay characters?
DEONDRAY GOSSFIELD: These characters were born out of an Instagram conversation we had with Lena Waithe in passing about the influx of fully realized gay, Black male characters in TV in the early 2000s and then their rapid decline.
Where are the gay, Black male characters who are part of the community and not regulated to gay ghettos and enclaves or designated as social misfits, rebels, or antiheroes? As a gay, Black man, queer enclaves were and are a respite from my day-to-day life. I spend the vast majority of my time existing within the greater community as a co-worker, neighbor, family member, or friend.
It hasn’t always been peaches and cream, and for the first seven years of my adult life, I was closeted, but after coming out, I didn’t have the option to retreat into safe spaces, and this is true of many Black gays living in the ‘hood.’ Instead, I had to take the heat and answer the often ignorant and hurtful questions as well as the innocent, curious ones.
In the end, the person I was speaking to came away educated and forced to reason with their homophobia, and to the rest, gay folks seemed less like unicorns.
We wanted to see this reflected in gay, Black characters on TV. We wanted to see open, gay Black men living and thriving within their community as not just wallpaper but valued, needed, and respected people. Lena listened and agreed. A few days later, she called and said she would write these characters into the show and she would name them Quincy and Deondray! We were floored and so happy that, FINALLY, these kinds of characters would make it to the screen.
QUINCY LENEAR GOSSFIELD: Lena understands the power and potential that the success of the show has to not only entertain but to educate and make change. Her favorite phrase is “for the culture.”
I love how she uses her platform to create challenging stories and affirming characters for the African-American community, the LGBTQIA community, and African-American men and women. She’s very strategic about her characters and storylines because the greater goal is to create a positive impact.
The Chi has long featured a same-gender-loving lesbian couple and their blended family. She then introduced a groundbreaking trans character in a loving relationship with a man who doesn’t identify as gay but is a part of the Queer spectrum. The beauty of these characters is that they are humanized and aren’t played for stereotypes. They are grounded as people and grounded in the reality of the series. I absolutely love that. These characters are a part of that ongoing commitment to representation.
What does it mean for each of you personally to have these characters front and center in The Chi?
DG: It means a great deal to us personally. Not only are they named after us, but they represent all the gay, Black men who live and exist in the inner cities. It’s a unique and particular walk: being true to yourself while also battling attacks and demotions on your manhood and humanity. Your defenses are always high; always having to be ready with the quick 1-2 response when someone passes judgment or throws a Bible verse at you.
As tiresome as these moments become and as fatigued as you get from folks always trying to condemn your “lifestyle,” teaching moments are often the result. These same conversations will now be featured on a hit, mainstream primetime TV show, allowing our viewing audience to have moments of introspection in the safety of their own homes. This is the stuff that needle-moving and change are made of.
QLG: Our work has always been about championing inclusion and giving room to stories that capture the existence of queer men of color within our community.
In media, we’re often shown as living separate from the real worlds we live and navigate in. Our existence, lives, and contributions to our communities have always been pivotal and necessary. We need to see that represented because we aren’t walking through life invisibly, nor are we all living in Boy’s Towns across the country. We’re very well integrated – even with the challenges we face for being ourselves. These two characters take up space in the world of The Chi as proud same-gender-loving Black men in a committed relationship who become integral to the lives of these characters – not because of their sexuality – but because their personal value is significant. They literally embody the world of the late, M.L.K. “judged… by the content of their character.”
We’re honored to have them named in our honor and to help shepherd these characters onto the show.
In the scope of representation, THE CHI has been making waves since its first season. How has it been like working on THE CHI compared to other shows when it comes to queer representation?
DG: Well, what’s great about working with Lena Waithe is that she is a part of the queer community. She’s also Black and grew up on the south side of Chicago. She has a first-person point of view of all the LGBTQ+ characters she writes about. We never have issues with authenticity. What I love most about the queer Black characters on this show is that they have ALWAYS been written three-dimensionally and always portrayed as valued members of their community, which is how most of us experience being openly gay in our everyday lives in our neighborhoods. Are there dangers to this? Absolutely, and the show is honest about those as well. It’s complicated, and it’s not easy, but in the end, we’re still seen as members of society, which almost always leads to respect and understanding.
QLG: I will add that the love, support, and sense of community felt by the network and the cast and crew have incredibly supported the inclusion. Lena set the tone early on that this world is inclusive in front of the camera and behind the camera.
Masculine queer representation is part of this huge LGBTQ spectrum. How do you think the characters speak to audiences beyond their identity?
DG: First, we want to shout out the actors who play Quincy and Deondray: the amazing Thomas Mackie and Jabari Redd! Again, what we love about these characters is that they challenge every gay stereotype. They’re just ordinary 9 to 5’ers who go to work, chill with family and friends on their time off, and come home and love on each other at night. There is no pomp and circumstance, no fancy clothes (though Quincy KILLS it in his suits thanks to our costume designer, Mercedes Cook), no deep bass thump score, just two dudes who are in love and engaged, no more, no less. Even as blended in as they are with the world around them, they are not going out of their way to fit in or acculturate. They are unapologetically SGL. They don’t make excuses or hide it and very much have a presence that says, “If you don’t like it, go F yourself.” They are a breath of fresh air and a piece that has been missing from Black, gay TV portrayals in recent years.
QLG: These characters are introduced to the audience and the world of The Chi for the value of what they contribute as people. The focus is not on their sexuality or otherness but on their sameness. The characters are not closeted, nor are they going out of their way to throw off the scent of being gay or to conform. They are not on the down-low or playing up toxic notions of hyper-masculinity. They are simply professionals and walk through life as they exist. They don’t meet the assumption of what is expected of gay men, and many of us face those challenges in real life. What’s acceptable to this group? What’s acceptable to that group? How can I just be comfortable in my own skin?
I also love that the viewers who are not LGBTQIA become vested in the humanity of these characters before they learn the T. It’s a bit disarming. Then, they are forced to question their own biases and fears when they discover that they are an openly gay couple and what that can also look like. It’s a teachable moment. There is no one way to be proud and same-gender-loving and affirming. From masc to fem to gender-non-conforming, there should be no value judgment on how any of us show up in the world. These two characters, along with the other queer characters on The Chi, represent the beauty of the diversity that is our community. It’s progress.
What do you see in the future for the characters of Deondray and Quincy?
DG: This will be ultimately up to Lena Waithe and our Showrunners, Justin Hillian and Jewel Coronel, but we do know that the men, like all the characters on The Chi, will be affected by the criminal mastermind, “Douda” (played by Curtiss Cook). He spins a web that none of our characters can seem to avoid getting stuck in, and this will be no different for Quincy and Deondray. Throughout it all, though, the show will continue to highlight their love for each other and how they support each other through crises while also showing up for their community.
QLG: The Chi is full of twists and turns, and although we are the Producing Directors of the show, we are still big fans of the series. So, if I had to theoretically remove myself from the production equation, I would like to see this couple thrust into the drama and intrigue like everyone else while watching how they navigate it all as they try to maintain their personal relationship. I would love to see the couple tested at home and in life. There are already so many threads that can be followed this season. We have a whole 2nd half of season six to explore. Who really knows what’s next? Lena does. Stay tuned.
What do you hope people take away from this season of The Chi?
DG: The Chi, at first glance, is a crime drama, but when you look deeper, you discover that it’s actually about family. This entire community bonded over the death of a neighborhood teenager. Folks who may not have even spoken to one another had it not been for this terrible tragedy, leaned on each other, healed, and loved one another. As tragedies continue to besiege our characters, I hope the viewing audience learns to love and thrive in the face of adversity, learn to love when it seems like all hope is lost, and embrace the least among them in their communities.
QLG: Love. I hope they feel the love poured into this show from everyone involved. It’s ultimately a show about family, biological and chosen, and that’s honestly the spirit of everyone involved. We are a big family with all its love and complexities who get to tell great stories about families of all kinds – and in my hometown, of course, CHICAGO!