Ken Barbie Gives a Voice to Richmond’s Black Gay Community
The sun has set and the city is winding down but one man is just beginning his 30 minute countdown. Ken Barbie, is dressed, focused, and checking Instagram and Twitter as the crew of hosts from the previous show pack their things and head out for the night. Barbie and his team quickly unplug and head to the studio to set up. It’s almost showtime for Dirty Laundry.
Barbie, 23, gay, light-skinned, hair short on his head, is the host of the local public access show Dirty Laundry, a show that examines life for the black community here in Richmond, and touches on LGBT issues along the way.
As a teen, Barbie often faced opposition in how he expressed himself and his sexuality. He would retaliate with words; and while never violent, he often found himself in trouble with teachers and authority figures. His ability to catch eyes and minds as a youth led him to reach out on multiple social media platforms for a new audience. Before long, Barbie had gained more attention at which point he developed a full-blown website of his own, ItsKenBarbie.com. He took all of the naysayers and hate speech from his youth, and hopes to turn it into a legacy.
“Two years ago, I started [ItsKenBarbie.com] just simply on a dream and off of what I loved, and thousands of hits later, it’s a constant force in some people’s everyday life and I think that’s dope,” says Barbie. ItsKenBarbie.com is still owned and operated by Barbie, where he keeps up with his fans, posts gossip, and features new music and the Hollywood lowdown. He also continues to make new fans with new media outlets like Instagram and Twitter.
“I think that’s a bit tough because, in a sense (gay black media is) almost nonexistent,” says Barbie about working as a media figure. “Of course you have a few trailblazers and people who have been doing things here and there, but I feel like no one has really been able to tap into the mainstream outside of the gay community.” He aspires to make larger media impacts, and hopes to shift the focus of his voice from his sexuality to a more inclusive message. “No gay, no black, just media and entertainment.”
Producer, Quinton Lee, shuffles from each of the three cameras in the studio to make sure each angle is just right and all the lighting falls in the right place. Barbie, alongside faithful friend and co-host Pumpkin “P”, work on the backdrops and seating. The team moves quickly despite minor equipment misplacement.
“Sometimes it takes a woman to do a man’s jobs,” jokes Pumpkin as she easily finds a solution to the problem. Pumpkin is one of the original three co-hosts of Dirty Laundry. For the majority of season one Barbie hosted the show along with Pumpkin and Italia, a.ka. “Boobs and tattoos”. The three are good friends and work well together.
Cameraman Shaquan Harrison has been working with Barbie since the beginning of not only Dirty Laundry but also ItsKenBarbie.com. Harrison, who calls himself a long time friend, says he is always laughing behind the scenes and it can sometimes get in the way. “I’m putting off work to help out,” says Harrison jokingly.
But don’t let the bright studio lights and relaxed atmosphere of the show make you think that is all there is to Ken Barbie. Co-host Pumpkin has a radio show of her own (The P Show) on 101.1 FM, The Fam, and Barbie is a regular contributor. P’s show highlights independent hip hop artists in Richmond and Barbie brings a bit of diversity to program. Pumpkin, who’s had successes of her own, believes Barbie has real talent. “Ken is so young and he has done just about everything I have done,” says P. She not only wants to see him succeed and go further, but she is willing to help him out along the way.
“I’ve never had a gay phobia and I’ve been around people who do,” Says P. “He is one of us like there is no problem.” Barbie is the host of The P Show’s entertainment section. And in world like hip-hop, where homosexuality still carries a stigma, P believes Barbie is making great strides. “All my straight friends love him,” continues P. “If someone does something to him everybody gets upset.”
Stubbz Spencer has known Barbie for 8-years. She’s is in charge of the switchboard for the studio while Barbie is on-air. Spencer is willing to help out anyway she can, but is mainly there for moral support. “We are just here for him, to support him,” says Stubbz. “[We’re] not ones to say ‘he’s in the light’ and try to use that to get in the light too, no. It’s all about him and his success.” Stubbz barely gets a chance to stop laughing as another caller phones in and she is down to business. “We get a lot of calls,” states Producer Lee. “So somebody’s watching.”
Those ‘somebodys’ are mostly from the black community; a community that often still struggles with the idea of homosexuality. Many gay black men are not featured as main characters in the media, and when present, they often are portrayed as a tertiary character to give a moment of comic relief or provide a surprising twist.
When it comes down to his core audience, Barbie shows complete love for his Pretty Boos, a name he’s given his adoring fans. Male and female alike, fans don’t hesitate to thank him for his on-air advice. “All the time I have girls come up to me or contact me just saying how they applied something I said to their own situation,” says Barbie. “It’s just a great feeling.”
Beyond his fledgling media empire, Barbie has established his own line of merchandise and products. May, which was Ken Barbie Appreciation Month, paved the way for the launch of Barbie’s new makeup line, For Pretty Bitches, the newest addition to his merchandising portfolio.
“I speak so much about branding and taking advantage of your platform and I feel that’s the perfect example of making moves, following your dreams, and expanding your empire,” said Barbie. Each of the makeup shades and shirts are inspired by one of Barbie’s famous phrases.
Don’t forget to catch his show on Comcast channel 95 and Verizon 36 live, Tuesday at 9pm. If you miss it check out ItsKenBarbie.com for recent and past shows as well. Listen to him and Pumpkin on The P Show at 1011TheFam.org.
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