BLOG: Does Gay Still Mean Happy? – LGBT+ Representation in Television
Alys Roberts on the general lack of LGBT+ representation in television, the accuracy of television portrayals and her hopes for the future.
It’s fair to say that, over recent years, LGBT representation in media has exploded; from big budget blockbusters like Call Me By Your Name, to award-winning programmes with wide reach like Orange is the New Black, but is this representation always fair?
According to GLAAD’s report, Where are We on TV (2020), just 9.5% of recurring television characters were LGBTQ, with these numbers heavily skewing towards cisgender gay characters; lesbians take up around 30%, bisexuals 28%, and transgender people came in at 8%, including just two non-binary recurring characters over all platforms. Even if these statistics reflected the population, LGBTQ characters are less likely to appear on light-hearted shows, are put through harsher situations, and are often killed off to advance the plot.
“My worry, however, is that some of the viewership of these shows comes from a morbid curiosity from conservative communities, and without the counterpart of light-hearted comedies with unburdened gay and trans people, young people who are new to the community see only fear and hatred”
There is an argument to be had on whether it is important for queer representation to go through this dramatic phase in order to expose problems for people in the community (such as the AIDS crisis, transphobia, and issues around coming out) before moving to where cisgender heterosexual people are as the default setting for a character. There are many shows such as Pose and It’s a Sin which do a great job of representing the genuine struggles within our community, both to people outside the community, and to the lucky few of us who grew up without going through these experiences. My worry, however, is that some of the viewership of these shows comes from a morbid curiosity from conservative communities, and without the counterpart of light-hearted comedies with unburdened gay and trans people, young people who are new to the community see only fear and hatred, and become even more scared and ashamed of who they are. In my opinion, a perfect form of alternative representation is Claire in Derry Girls – being a lesbian is a key part of her identity but it’s not all she is. Claire is a character with flaws and quirks and, despite going to a Catholic school in 1990’s Ireland, she is free to openly and unashamedly be herself with the love and support of her best friends.
“Unfortunately, kid’s tv flips the script on other shows and features a disproportionately small amount of male gay and bisexual representation”
On the bright side, there is a revolution occurring on kids’ TV. Looking back, I can’t think of a single outwardly LGBTQ character on the television I watched as a kid in the 00’s (outside of RTD’s Doctor Who era with an obvious side eye to Luke on Sarah Jane Adventures), with some networks going as far as pushing characters together to prove they weren’t gay (looking directly at Disney’s treatment of Kelsey and Ryan in High School Musical on this one). Non-binary icon and children’s tv creator Rebecca Sugar has already made such huge strides as a key force behind the inclusion of same-sex relationships on Adventure Time, and Steven Universe which features a married lesbian couple as one of the main characters (I promise that sentence makes sense within the context of the show)! Unfortunately, kid’s tv flips the script on other shows and features a disproportionately small amount of male gay and bisexual representation, perhaps due to the fact that male same-sex relationships have always been seen as more inherently sexual, and therefore cause more of a stir in conservative parenting communities.
The big issue that seems to still be highly prevalent in this new age of queer liberation, is how trans and non-binary people are disproportionately underrepresented. As well as LGBTQ people of colour, with disabilities, and bisexual people who actually use the word ‘bisexual’ rather than the common “I’m just attracted to people” that we have all become so accustomed to.
Hopefully this is a step in the right direction, and, in 20 more years, my kids will grow up watching LGBT people like their mum on every channel.