Fans were elated when fan favorite Darren Ritter came out on the popular NBC drama Chicago Fire. But according to Daniel Kyri, the Chicago-based actor who plays Ritter on the Dick Wolf-produced show, the opportunity has been one of the most fulfilling of his career.
In the episode -- which aired October 2nd -- Ritter is sitting at the bar owned by Fire Lieutenant Christopher Herrmann (David Eigenberg) when the lieutenant, a fellow firefighter and one of Ritter's bosses, invites him to a barbeque and asks if he has a girlfriend he can bring. Ritter hesitates for a moment and then says, "Well, boyfriend actually." After a beat, Hermann jokes, "You're aren't vegan, too, are you?"
\u201cWe need to meet Ritter's boyfriend ASAP.\u201d
Kyri joined the Chicago Fire cast last season, and Ritter, a candidate for Firehouse 51, has quickly become beloved among fans for his sharp sense of humor. Before appearing in Chicago Fire, Kyri wrote, directed, produced, and starred in The T, a Streamy Award-winning web series created with friend Bea Cordelia. The series portrayed the friendship between a queer Black man (Kyri) and a white trans woman (Cordelia).
The actor has also long been a mainstay in the Chicago theatre scene, with roles in Hamlet, Moby Dick and Monster.
In a tweet, Kyri noted the serendipitous timing of his character coming out. The episode debuted the week prior to National Coming Out Day and the October 8 case before the Supreme Court, in which judges will hear oral arguments in a trio of cases that will determine whether it's legal to fire workers for being LGBTQ+.
"May he continue to be a beacon of light and beautiful representation," he wrote.
The actor reiterated those sentiments in comments shared exclusively with Out. As a queer, Black performer, he said that "representation is and always will be one of the things [he cares] most about as a storyteller" and that Ritter's storyline is a reminder "there is no one way to be Black or queer or anything else."
"The more work we can do to shed light on the specific uniqueness of human life, the better off we will be," he said in a statement.
Unfortunately, there remains a lack of queer, Black characters in media, according to a 2018-2019 GLAAD media report. Despite recent strides in queer and trans representation, the advocacy group found that Black characters make up just 19 percent of all LGBTQ+ characters on TV.
That means every time a queer, Black person is depicted on screen -- especially when they're shown being accepted and supported by friends -- it sends an important message to real-life queer and Black people.
The show's fanbase has responded to that message with an outpouring of love for Kyri and the character he plays on Chicago Fire. Some pointed out how rare and wonderful it is to see multiple queer Black characters on the same show (actress Annie Ilonzeh plays bisexual paramedic Emily Foster).
Others, meanwhile, were overjoyed to see Ritter's sexual orientation treated like no big deal. Coming out at work is a scary experience for many, especially in traditionally hetero male-dominated professions like firefighting.
\u201cI can't wait to see if Ritter's boyfriend is as cute and great as he is on Chicago Fire because Ritter deserves the best! #ChicagoFire @NBCChicagoFire @danielkyri\u201d
\u201cY'ALL CHICAGO FIRE HAS TWO BLACK AND OPENLY LGBTQ+ CHARACTERS AT THE SAME TIME. Ritter and Foster deserve to have some love. PLEASE BE GOOD TO THEM DEREK. WE DESERVE THE REPRESENTATION. @danielkyri @AnnieIlonzeh @NBCChicagoFire @derekhaas #proudbisexual\u201d