GLAAD has released their annual “Where We Are on TV” report which looks at lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer characters (and beyond) in broadcast television. While their report on film this year marked a historic low, turns out there's more LGBTQ representation on TV than ever.
Here's the main crux of the report:
Of the 895 series regular characters expected to appear on broadcast primetime scripted programming in the coming year, 43 (4.8%) were identified as LGBTQ. There were an additional 28 recurring LGBTQ characters. This is the highest percentage of LGBTQ regular characters GLAAD has ever counted on primetime scripted broadcast programming. The five broadcast networks are ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, and The CW.
Other encouraging findings include a record-high percentage of black series regular characters on broadcast television (20% of all series regulars), and a record-high percentage of regular characters with disabilities on broadcast television (1.7%). Additionally, the number of regular and recurring transgender characters across all platforms has more than doubled since last year (from 7 to 16 this year across broadcast, cable, and streaming series). Last year, there were no trans characters counted on broadcast.
Freeform (previously ABC Family) has the most LGBTQ characters (Showtime came in second) on cable with 27, but the report says it's not the whole story as “there were also a handful which fell into harmful tropes.” Out of the broadcast networks, ABC ranks number one in representation with Fox coming in second and The CW third. It's interesting considering CW superhero executive producer Greg Berlanti spoke earlier this year about increasing diversity and promised a “significant character” would be exploring their sexuality. We recently surmised Supergirl's Alex was that character. GLAAD tried to confirm this:
While it was announced at this summer”s Television Critics Association presentations that there would be a new LGBTQ character on CBS”s The Great Indoors, as well as a central character exploring their sexuality on either The CW”s Supergirl or The Flash, the respective networks were not able to confirm the identity of those characters, and so they are not included here.
This is also the second year the statistics include “original series which premiere on the streaming content providers Amazon, Hulu, and Netflix.” On cable networks, LGBTQ characters saw a small drop from last year while on streaming both regular and recurring characters were up. GLAAD also notes that while the racial diversity of the LGBTQ characters is up “Cable and streaming platforms still need to include more racially diverse LGBTQ characters as a majority of LGBTQ regular and recurring characters on each platform (72% and 71% respectively) are counted as white.”
While these numbers are generally very positive, the GLAAD report couldn't ignore the negative trend we saw skyrocket this year. I'm talking about the “Bury Your Gays” trope, something which was highly publicized earlier this year after The CW's The 100 killed off a major character.
“Over 25 lesbian and bisexual female-identifying characters have died on scripted broadcast and cable television and streaming series since the beginning of 2016,” GLAAD writes. “It continues a decades-long trend of killing LGBTQ characters – often solely to further a straight, cisgender character's plotline – which sends a dangerous message to audiences that LGBTQ people are secondary and disposable. It is important that creators do not reinvigorate harmful tropes, which exploit an already marginalized community.”
In case you think this means they're suggesting LGBTQ characters get preferential treatment solely for being LGTBQ, they're not.
“LGBTQ characters should be treated the same as their straight, cisgender counterparts by the rules of their series” worlds. This means having the same opportunities for romance, nuanced motivation, developed backstory, and the same odds of death,” said Sarah Kate Ellis, GLAAD President & CEO. “When the most repeated ending for a queer woman is violent death, producers must do better to question the reason for a character”s demise and what they are really communicating to the audience.”
They also mention a harmful trend they've noticed with bisexual characters, that a lot of them are villains.
“Television needs to include a wider variety of bisexual+ (including pansexual, fluid, and queer) characters. Of course, villains and antiheros may happen to be bisexual, but bi characters are rarely given opportunities to also be heroes and multidimensional people living their everyday lives. Too often, creators overwhelmingly choose to portray bisexuality as a villainous trait rather than a lived identity. This trend of inaccurate portrayals undermines how people understand bisexuality, which has real life consequences for bi people and their wellbeing,” said GLAAD”s Senior Strategist, Global and U.S. South, and bisexual advocate Alexandra Bolles.
So where does this leave us? Another year of looking at trends and seeing where things can improve. Discussing these issues is the first step towards progress, something I'm constantly driving home in my own writing.
“While it is heartening to see progress being made in LGBTQ representation on television, it”s important to remember that numbers are only part of the story, and we must continue the push for more diverse and intricate portrayals of the LGBTQ community,” said Ellis. “GLAAD will continue to work with Hollywood to tell nuanced LGBTQ stories that accelerate acceptance – and hold the networks, streaming services, and content creators accountable for the images and storylines they present.”