Karamo Brown on the Importance of 'Empathy, Education and Evolving' Both Within & Outside the LGBTQ Community
By Emily Krauser
Karamo Brown knows you better than you know yourself. This is equal parts frightening and delightful because, above all else, the Queer Eye star is just the happiest guy to get advice from.
As if that wasn't already obvious by the way one glance from him on the show can instantly spark your soul, the 39-year-old TV host was just as open and honest about himself and the LGBTQ community when speaking to both LinkedIn and ET.
One day after the Supreme Court ruled in favor of adding LGBTQ people to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, Brown joined LinkedIn Get Hired news editor Andrew Seaman for a virtual chat, where he discussed the importance of the spirit of pride both for members of the LGBTQ community and allies, which is "empathy, education and evolving."
"It's about people saying, 'I want equality and I deserve equality and so I'm going to throw this brick and I'm going to get my equality because I'm going to get the attention.' It's about asking people to be empathetic to our experiences and to understand what we're going through so you can join our fight, and it's about asking people to educate themselves so they can get into spaces," Brown said. "And I think that's what people should be reminding themselves right now. I think sometimes during the normal Pride celebration, people get caught up in the rainbows and the pageantry of it all and forget that, within the timespan of me as a 39-year-old man, I've seen rights be taken away and be given to members of the LGBTQ community."
"We just saw yesterday where the Supreme Court finally said, 'Yeah, we can't fire you because you're gay,'" he continued. "I want people to think about that. Yesterday... That means that we should still be in a space of understanding that as we're going to Pride and celebrating where we come from, we're also educating ourselves on where we need to go and having empathy as allies and as members of the community for ourselves and just continuing to try to strive and fight."
The Real World: Philadelphia alum homed in on the importance of equality within the LGBTQ community. As important as it is to educate others, he knows there is still a lot of self-reflection to be done inside this space.
"I think that, a lot of times, we think that the enemy is outside of our community, but there's a lot of individuals within our community who still subscribe to racist, transphobic and sexist ways," he explained. "We can see this clearly in any club you go to where you walk in and it's all cisgender men that all look the same, and you're like, hold on, where is the diversity? Where's the different races, the different cultures? Where are women? Where are the trans individuals? Where are my bi folks? Where are my pan individuals? And I think it's about realizing that the reasons these clubs are like this and these spaces are like this is because there's still, within our own communities, this racism and this transphobia that we need to get over and we need to start addressing. Because if we don't address it, then we're just going to be perpetuating what we see outside in the world within our own community."
"We already go through so much and are so strong and are able to conquer so much out in the world, I want to come into my community and feel safe and supported here, but that can't happen if a member of my community who identities as bi feels as if their voice or who they are doesn't matter," he added. "I can't feel safe in my community if someone who is at the intersection of being black and trans doesn't feel safe. I can't be in this community if women feel as if they are being pushed out and if their voices aren't as equal, and if not more powerful, than men's voices. So I want to make sure as we're looking at Pride, we're looking at our own community and saying, 'How can we get better so that we can truly be proud of our community?'"
The father of two spoke to ET's Keltie Knight last week about Pride coinciding this year with the many Black Lives Matter protests going on around the world, where he doubled down on the idea of educating oneself in light of how Pride began.
"I will tell you what I do love about this protest, about Black Lives Matter and support of black lives, it is reminiscent [of the past]. Pride started because of protests because a black trans woman and the trans community stepped up and said enough is enough, and I think what that moment did, what it continues to do for this and how it echoes, is that people have to educate themselves and understand the struggle of what is happening in the LGBTQ community," Brown told ET. "There are people now waking up that they need to educate themselves on what is happing to black people, so this moment where you step up and truly learn and be there for someone else, and that's what Queer Eye is about: being there for someone else. This is a moment that everyone in this country has a chance to be there for someone else, and I think that is great."
Brown knows that because of his role on Queer Eye as the culture guy and the only black member of the Fab Five -- plus his uncanny ability to get to the root of your problems faster than a psychologist -- people, especially fellow parents, are turning to him for advice more than ever.
"If people are looking for that support, I have taken it upon myself that I am OK with giving education, but as far as being a parent, I can tell you being black kids, they have already had the conversation," he said. "[What] I have been focusing in on with them now is checking on their mental and emotional health, because there's a lot of psychological trauma that is happening right now with people. We don't know the PTSD when it all comes down to it, because it's important that people saw what happened in the videotapes. It's important that people get the information, but it is not healthy for us to continuously see images of violence, so it's a double-edged sword, because I want them to see what's going on."
Brown has two sons -- Jason, 22, and Chris, 20 -- and he's been having positive conversations about their activism, but still wants them to take a pause so they can take care of their mental health. A big part of that is getting his sons to turn off their phones "sometimes." "Post, post, post, but then figure out another way to do activism where you are not seeing images. Figure out how to check in with yourself to make sure your feelings are OK..." he mused to ET. "It's also a lot of, don't feel guilty if you have to check out for a little bit, because sometimes people have shame on social media, like [if] you are not posting Black Lives Matter every day, then there is something wrong with you. I think it's really beautiful that people are and should be actively posting and doing things, but it's OK to say, 'I want to take a mental break so I can get stronger so I can come back,' because you don't want to get fatigued and numb and never want to join this fight again. So, that's the conversation I want to have with my kids."
As for that idea of feeling strong in all aspects of life, while speaking with LinkedIn, Brown also shared plenty of useful advice for LGBTQ job hunters. One of the most important pieces of the career puzzle is having confidence in every part of who you are -- and that goes for outside of the office too. As a child of immigrants who had a son at 16, the Texas-born actor was used to hearing that he shouldn't talk about his past struggles, and it "took time and work to practice walking into spaces and not feel ashamed of who I am or what I've been through." Ultimately, that hard self-work is what landed him on Queer Eye.
"What I realized is I matriculated through life that all parts of my identities are the keys to unlocking the doors of success that I want," he mused. "Because when I walk into a room, if I can show that my identities have brought expertise and experience that someone else who doesn't have my identities, it allows me to be the better candidate, and I think that's so important. When I walked into the... Queer Eye audition, I promise you there were guys in the culture category and they all looked alike, sounded alike. It was like they had the script, and I walked in and I was like, 'No one gave me the script. Where is this script? Because all of you are doing and saying the same things.' And I went in there, and I was like, well, I'm just going to be authentic and tell you about every single part of what my experience is and show you how that's going to help me relate to our heroes better and what we're going to do."
In both his life and on Queer Eye, Brown's goal is to help people shed their fear-based thinking. "When you say they're not going to like me 'because of,' that's fear-based. 'I've got to hide this part of my identity because' -- fear-based. And so I say I love all parts of my identity, and I'm going to show you how this part of my identity is going to make me the best at this job or the best in whatever situation," he concluded.
There's also something to be said about realizing that every experience you've had is for a reason, including any "no" you've heard or that entry-level job you weren't thrilled about. When Brown worked at a Fuddruckers, friends questioned him because he had been to college, so working in the food industry seemed like a step down to them, but he found happiness at the cash register because he loved to talk to people, even if the job wasn't part of his career goals. "It's one of those things where I found a point of happiness in a job that I knew wasn't my career so that I could say to myself, this is somewhere I want to be," he said.
People would come to his register just to talk, which allowed him to practice giving people the space to open up, as he also did in a later social services position, working on intakes. "It's what I'm doing on Queer Eye," he said. "So, yes, the dream was always to be in television, but I needed the skills I learned in social services to help me. I needed the skills I learned at Fuddruckers and being a front-desk agent to also help me."
You could say Brown is finally living the dream -- but he knows there's still more to do.
For more from ET's conversation with Brown and the rest of the Fab Five, watch the video below.