Unless you’ve been offline and away from television, you’ve probably heard of Karamo from Queer Eye. Queer Eye is a reality television series by Netflix in which five gay men known as the Fab Five sweep into town and makeover different “heroes” who need a little help learning to care for themselves. One of the Fab Five, Karamo Brown, has led a fascinating life that led him on a path to the Netflix reality show.
Karamo from Queer Eye is a single black gay father of two boys who has starred in everything from MTV reality shows to The Princess Diaries.
Read on to learn more about his life and the path that brought him to the Fab Five.
The Childhood of Karamo from Queer Eye
Born on November 2, 1980, Karamo Brown grew up in the South as the youngest of four siblings. He and his sisters are of Jamaican and Cuban descent. Although he was born in Houston, Texas, he grew up in Coral Springs, Florida.
Karamo’s full name is Karamo Karega Brown, which means “educated rebel” in Swahili.
During his early years, Karamo had a tumultuous time coming to terms with his unique name and the inability of people around him to both understand and pronounce it. This struggle was exacerbated by living in predominantly white neighborhoods. As a result, he went by a number of nicknames during his childhood, such as “KK.”
However, as his college decision approached, his father encouraged him to attend a historically black college. For this reason, he attended and eventually graduated from Florida A&M University, where the solidarity of other black men and women taught him to embrace the power, meaning and cultural significance of his name. Today, Karamo’s name holds enormous significance to him and he encourages other people to embrace their names for the power that they hold.
When Karamo was sixteen, he came out (or as he prefers to say, “let others in”) as gay. He further embraced and explored this identity during his time at Florida A&M University. Shortly after college in 2004, Karamo was invited to be a reality star on MTV’s The Real World: Philadelphia. Surreptitiously, the invitation to participate on the reality show stemmed from a protest that Karamo had staged outside of an MTV production venue, in which Karamo caught the attention of the production executives.
Being on The Real World: Philadelphia was a difficult and dark time for Karamo, because the environment was filled with booze, social pressure, and a lack of space for personal reflection. After this experience, Karamo chose to step off of the television scene for a while. Karamo spent about ten years working as a social worker before diving back into television in 2014.
Karamo’s Time on MTV and Beyond
As mentioned above, Karamo’s first big break came when he starred on MTV’s The Real World: Philadelphia, a reality show that focuses on a group of diverse strangers living together for several months.
Karamo made history as the first out gay black man to appear on reality television during this show. He also went on to star on the Real World/Road Rules Challenge: The Inferno II and in The DL Chronicles.
After his break from the television industry, Karamo returned with Dr. Drew on Call, where he acted as a host, correspondent, and panelist. He did some work with Huffpost Live, Are You the One: Second Chances, and Access Hollywood Live, along with another few appearances.
But the biggest break of his life came when he was cast to be one of the Fab Five on Netflix’s reboot of the show Queer Eye, previously Queer Eye for the Straight Guy when it ran from 2003 to 2007 on NBC.
Discovering His Son
In 2007, Karamo received a subpoena on his doorstep saying he was overdue on paying child support. When he was 15 and before he came out as gay, Karamo had an extremely close friendship with a female friend in high school. While the relationship was mostly platonic, once in a moment of teenage experimentation, they lost their virginity to each other in the shower in what Karamo describes as an encounter that lasted a total of two minutes.
Shortly after the incident, she moved away and the two lost touch, so Karamo never knew that she had been pregnant with his child.
Ten years later, Karamo faced the prospect of being a father with what he described as a mixture of “confusion, sadness, anger, and weird excitement.”
He flew out to Texas to meet his son and took full custody of him later that year. A few years later, Karamo adopted his son’s half-brother, Chris, to keep the family together and became a single father of two adolescent boys.
Before he discovered he was a father, Karamo had struggled with alcohol and drug abuse and addiction. He had picked up what he called “functioning addict habits” while he was in college. He says the campus culture normalized the substance abuse, and those norms continued in his life until he took custody of his sons.
Once he became a father, Karamo took a hard look at the lifestyle he had been leading. He thought about how he would feel if his son had the same relationship with drugs and alcohol that he had. That was enough to convince him to get clean, and Karamo said he has never looked back.
Work with the LGBTQ+ Community
During his time as a social worker, Karamo founded 6in10.org, a group working to eradicate the HIV statistic that plagues 60 percent of black gay and bisexual men. The group provides tailored mental health to these men and education to the black LGBT community.
In 2016, Karamo was invited to work with the Obama Administration White House to create legislation that would provide support to LGBTQ+ youth after school. He currently volunteers as a youth counselor at the Los Angeles LGBT center and has partnered with the CDC and the National Black Justice Coalition as a health and wellness ambassador.
He has also partnered with the pharmaceutical company Janssen as part of their Positively Fearless Campaign and is a national co-chair for Health Care Voter.
Joining Queer Eye
In 2018, Karamo was cast as one of the Fab Five on Netflix’s Queer Eye. The show is a reboot of a show called Queer Eye for the Straight Guy that ran in the early 2000s. While the original show was set in New York and focused on working with straight men, the reboot has worked in Atlanta, Georgia; Kansas City, Kansas; and Tokyo, Japan and works with people of every gender, sexual identity, and background.
When Karamo auditioned for the role of the culture expert on Queer Eye, he took a bold risk that he hoped would pay off. Rather than citing his expertise in theater or art, Karamo declared “I am culture,” saying that culture is in how we connect to ourselves and the world around us.
It took two full seasons of Queer Eye for the show’s producers to fully understand Karamo’s goal of exploring internal transformation among the heroes, instead of talking to them about art and ballet. This is why the first two seasons of Queer Eye show Karamo making scrap books and going to dancing classes, while the later seasons see him doing meaningful and transformative psychological work.
In recent seasons, Karamo has helped Queer Eye heroes to work through the issues that were holding them back from living their fullest lives. His capacity to get to the “core” of a person, a process frequently accompanied by cathartic tears, also earned him an the nickname “Karoprah” (a blend of Karamo and Oprah) from his co-star Bobby Berk.
Separating from Fiancé Ian Jordan
In 2010, Karamo began dating Ian Jordan, a TV director who worked for Disney and Nickelodeon. He is best known for his work on Raven’s Home, School of Rock, and Instant Mom. But Ian also worked on The Suite Life of Zack and Cody and directed almost the entirety of Suite Life on Deck.
In May 2018, Karamo proposed to Ian at the Hyde Sunset in Los Angeles. They went there on the pretense of celebrating Ian’s birthday, but instead, he found a balloon and flower-filled room packed with all their friends. The other four members of the Fab Five were in attendance as Karamo got down on one knee and asked Ian to marry him – and Ian, of course, said yes.
Despite the delight of their love story, the couple split in the spring of 2020. The COVID pandemic gave them the time to slow down and assess the state of things, during which time Karamo shares that he had to assess, “Is my happiness important?”
Once he made that decision, Karamo realized his only possible path was to separate from his fiancé, Ian Jordan, a difficult process as the couple shared family and a home.
Karamo from Queer Eye, an LGBTQ+ Icon
Karamo from Queer Eye has led a remarkable life even outside the bounds of the hit Netflix show. From addiction and discovering a child he didn’t know he had to his work in the LGBTQ+ community, Karamo has been a light to everyone around him.
Catch him on the fifth season of Queer Eye, which is set to air on Netflix later this year.
If you’d like to discover more amazing LGBTQ+ icons, check out the rest of this blog to start discovering more about your favorite LGBT icons.