As one of the Fab Five, Jonathan Van Ness is all about changing people’s hearts and minds on Netflix’s hit show Queer Eye. Alongside Antoni Porowski, Tan France, Karamo Brown, and Bobby Berk, Van Ness is taking his personality and talents to the South, where his affable presence is inspiring people to not only love themselves, but also love the world just a bit more.
That’s why Van Ness, who is also host of the podcast Getting Curious with Jonathan Van Ness, is teaming up with Smirnoff vodka on its “Love Wins” campaign. With every purchase of Smirnoff’s limited edition “Love Wins” bottle, the company is donating a dollar to the Human Rights Campaign. It is also pledging to donate $1 million to HRC by 2021, an organization dear to Van Ness’s heart.
“Smirnoff really supports the LGBT community with real dollar signs, which is really, really cute. I love a company that puts their money where their mouth is when it comes to LGBTQIA visibility,” he says to The Advocate. “HRC does so many important things for so many important people.”
It’s hard to believe the Illinois-bred Van Ness has any time to himself, with his busy schedule filming Queer Eye, which released its second season on Netflix this month. But he knows the importance of Pride month, and how it can encourage queer youth across the world to stand up and be their authentic selves.
“It’s so overwhelming and crazy sometimes,” he says of the love from his fans. “I enjoy it and I feel it, but also sometimes I’m very grateful that we as humans have the ability to detach sometimes because I feel like it would prevent me from putting one foot in front of the other. Sometimes I read things that are so nice, and people thank me, and they’re so nice that I full-on ugly cry for like a burst of 20 seconds and sometimes it lasts like three minutes. And I just got to get cute again and get it together!”
He adds, “I got to go to Pride in L.A. a few weeks ago and [now] getting ready for the Pride parade in N.Y.C. I totally felt like Meghan Markle on this float. I was clutching my pearls and waving and smiling. It’s amazing. It’s crazy. But it’s cute crazy, I’m not mad at it. I love it!”
Van Ness has come a long way since his first Pride parade in Minneapolis in 2006, when he popped by to “see what it was like” while he was busy going to hair school and waiting tables. Now, 12 years later, he was fortunate enough to share a car ride with his all-time favorite icon, American figure skater Michelle Kwan.
“I still haven’t recovered,” he says of meeting Kwan. “I feel like I may have peeked. I got to talk to my idol for like 30 minutes about every Olympics. I got to talk to her about how in 1994 she qualified for the Olympic team, and that whole scandal thing happened with Tanya [Harding] and Nancy [Kerrigan] and she basically had to give up her spot at 14 years old so Nancy could go to the Olympics. And in 2006, she hurt her hip so she couldn’t go to Turin [Italy], even though she qualified! Meeting with Michelle Kwan is my everything.”
He adds, “I watched nationals and the Olympics every year, like forever. Kristi Yamaguchi stole my heart in 1992 and I’ve never been the same since.”
One could argue that countless of fans around the world look to Van Ness in the same way. But finding his own confidence, he says, didn’t come without hardships.
“I think I’ve been in a lot of really uncomfortable situations and I think when you’re in uncomfortable situations, it kind of polishes you up a little. It shines you up,” he says of finding the strength to be himself. “You get rough a little and then you get cute, when you get put through the fire so to speak. I also don’t think that process is ever over. I think life is this ever-evolving polisher. Being willing to be uncomfortable sometimes, and then you’re like, ‘Oh it wasn’t so bad!’ When you’re willing to be vulnerable, you can surprise yourself at how strong you can be.” Still, he says, “boundaries are important. Tan [France] told me boundaries are important, honey. Be firm in your boundaries. We love a boundary.”
His polished spirit is certainly something he takes to the South, where he helps spread messages of love and acceptance.
“I grew up in that country,” he says. “I’m used to wearing shoulderless hoodies and kilts in those Trump-voting towns since ‘87. I can really get along with most people. I don’t really get into who we vote for and what I know we don’t agree on… I think the way to change people’s hearts is just from connecting. You can’t antagonize and evangelize at the same time, but that’s a two way street.”
Additionally, “it’s not my job to make someone who doesn’t agree with me agree with me,” he advises. “As I say in one of the episode, ‘Let your little light shine!’ Either they come around or they don’t, but it’s not my business if they don’t. I’m having a gorgeous Love Wins cocktail, so I don’t have time.”