Welcome to the eighteenth article in our Pride series for the month of June! Each day we will be highlighting a different LGBTQ+ character who we think is a great example of representation, dynamic characterization, and overall badassery. Check out the rest of the series here.
From his first entrance, NYPD Captain Raymond Holt (Andre Braugher) commands respect.
An openly gay black man, Holt takes his first command as the new captain of the 99th precinct, despite having come out in 1987 and serving years with distinction. Experiencing initial friction, especially with Jake Peralta (Andy Samberg), Holt finds his place in the squad as the no-nonsense, but slightly mischievous leader, mentor, and even father figure to some of the detectives. While he is expected to hold himself to a higher standard as captain, he loosens up with his detectives and learns to shed some of his layers and trust his team.
What makes Holt a great character is that he is not presented as a stereotype of either a gay or a black man. He is himself in every situation, which is a testament to the writers of Brooklyn 99 and their ability to write well-rounded characters. It is worth noting the importance of this representation in an accessible workplace comedy like Brooklyn 99, one that almost everyone can find some part to relate to and one that seeks to subvert many of the tropes we typically see in a sitcom. Shows like Brooklyn 99 and characters like Holt further positive LGBTQ+ representation in media, particularly because of their handling. They are not “token” characters, and repeatedly prove their value as human beings.
Because of this, Holt is an excellent example of positive gay and gay person-of-color representation, because he is not gay for the sake of having a gay character. His sexuality is just a fact of his existence and doesn’t dominate his personality or his contributions to the squad. He does use the lessons he learned from prejudices he faced as an openly gay black man as a strength at times, but he doesn’t let his sexual orientation or his race be all that he is, which for me, is a step in the right direction for representation. Representation shouldn’t be a checklist, and I’m grateful that Brooklyn 99 does not approach it that way.
It’s also good to see (though as I am not a person of color, I cannot speak to the full extent of its importance) a person of color in a leadership role who is well-regarded and respected by his peers (with the exception of Madeline Wunsch) and subordinates. He is someone who has worked hard and persevered despite facing many professional and societal barriers. Yet despite his work, he sees the value in what he has done in aiding the progression of rights for those officers that came after him. During his time as an officer he founds AAGLNYCPA (the African-American Gay and Lesbian New York City Policeman’s Association). In season 1’s “Full Boyle,” a younger officer by the name of Brian Jensen (Marque Richardson) approaches him about running for AAGLNYCPA president. While he is at first apprehensive that a man who has not had to struggle nearly as much as he has is challenging him for the presidency, he eventually realizes that he founded it so that future members would not have to struggle as much as he has. Conceding that a fresh face will do well for the organization, he withdraws his name from candidacy, allowing Brian to lead the organization into the modern day.
Holt, throughout and previous to the series’ beginning, is married to Kevin Cozner (Mark Evan Jackson), the Chair of Columbia University’s Classics Department. His relationship with Kevin is not treated at any point in the series with scorn or inappropriate curiosity. It is presented from the very first time we meet Kevin as a loving, committed relationship that happens to be between two men. Holt and Kevin’s marriage is also not idealized, but presented realistically as a couple who has been together a long time, (knowing each other’s routines, being able to recognize each other’s moods, taking care of their corgi named Cheddar, arguing with each other about seemingly pointless things, and so on.) In season 2’s “The Wednesday Incident”, Jake enlists Kevin’s help in tracing Holt’s steps to discover the origin of his bad mood. Kevin discovers that Holt had been hiding a stab wound from a mugging attempt, and is naturally distraught by this, but the incident leads to them forming a more solid foundation as a couple. Holt and Kevin have the same character development and dual growth as any other well-written married couple on television. This presentation helps to normalize LGBTQ+ relationships in media and in life and show them as no different from heterosexual relationships. Love should not have a color or gender barrier, and Holt and Kevin are a prime example of this.
Additionally, the humor shared between the two is loving, and their relationship and sexuality are never the butt of the joke. One of the more notable jokes between them in the series is how quick their wedding was, out of concern that the Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges would be revoked. LGBTQ+ oriented humor is often utilized in Brooklyn 99 in similar manners, a valuable and refreshing sight as decades of LGBTQ+ jokes on television have often been thinly veiled or outright homophobic. The jokes are also not always linked to Holt or Rosa Diaz (Stephanie Beatriz), the show’s other canon LGBTQ+ lead. Jake often makes transpositive statements on the show, which has helped its journey to becoming a cult favorite among LGBTQ+ viewers.
In short, Captain Raymond Jacob Holt represents the best of representation. After a long struggle in media to get LGBTQ+ representation beyond token placeholders, we have been blessed with an openly gay black male character who comes with his own set of struggles and proves time and time again that he is valuable as a person, a leader, and a friend to his squad. From his often comically stern disposition to his loving relationship with his husband and deep understanding of the needs of his precinct, he has fought and earned his position in the 99 and in our hearts.