Omar and Kima are The Wire‘s most popular homosexual characters. I would go ahead and say only, because I can’t remember any other characters who aren’t just the significant others of Omar or Kima, but there is the suggestion that Rawls is gay in Season 3. In each case, it is in part because of their sexuality that they are such interesting characters. Particularly for Omar, sexuality is more a political deployment than something that lends character depth.
Omar’s motivation through the first season is revenge for his boyfriend, a plot line that takes advantage of Omar’s surprise sexuality to hide the fact that blind vengeance is pretty trite. In the scene pictured we see Bailey express his distaste in gay affection, a reaction shot that likely does not categorize the sentiments of The Wire’s demographic of people-who-can-afford-HBO, but is a reaction shot nonetheless. Simon certainly expects people to think “Woah, this gangsta killer from the projects is openly gay,” and from discussion of the show I gather that not only does this moment happen for most viewers, but they are impressed by it as well. “Good for Simon to extremely defy stereotypes.”
But what does it really mean for Omar to be gay? Barksdale’s crew certainly takes advantage of his identity to tap into a separate reservoir of insults, but the more important thing is that he steals from them. That’s what gets him a bounty. We do not see Omar struggling with a partner in the same way that McNulty, Kima, Bunk, Barbara, and Daniels all poorly navigate their romantic lives. He never address, like Kima does, the social judgement of his identity; this is an especially important omission considering how bold of Omar it is to be out in an aggressively homophobic context. This is not to say that Omar should be defined by his sexuality, as neither of the other characters are (though Kima’s sexual life is always presented sensationally, and her strength as a female character is almost exclusively determined by how manly she is considered), but when his sexuality has so little bearing on his character, we should question the writers’ treatment and intentions, and thus the nature of our own reactions.
An argument could be made that the show’s shallow treatment of Omar’s sexuality is intended to reveal the homophobia, but is this really news to anyone, much less the HBO crowd?