TV is gayer than ever, but lesbian and bi women are still killed off way too often
Every year, GLAAD releases a report rating the representation of LGBTQ characters on television, and this year it found that TV is gayer than ever. This is excellent news, but although the organization’s annual “Where We Are On TV” report found that there are more LGBTQ characters (both regular and recurring), bisexual and lesbian women are still being superfluously killed off to further plot lines of cisgender characters. So, Americans are watching more gay stories, but they still come with a side of senseless violence against queer women.
It’s at least reassuring that the organization is not letting networks get away with anything. Seriously, GLAAD basically gives networks a little silver star and tells them, “Now go back and try again. We’re rooting for you.”
GLAAD looked at broadcast networks, cable networks, and streaming platforms like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon to count LGBTQ characters. This is just the second year it counted original programming on digital platforms, so there’s not a lot of data to work with on that front. However, there is a lot of data for the five major broadcast networks — ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, and The CW all had a big increase in regular characters (meaning they’re part of the main cast; think Emily on Pretty Little Liars versus her sometimes GF, Paige) on primetime shows. Out of 895 regular characters on 118 scripted shows on broadcast networks, there are 43 regular LGBTQ characters. Last year, there were 35. That’s a pretty big jump.
There are just three transgender characters on broadcast networks (one regular and two recurring characters). That’s not a lot, but last year there were none. Representation on broadcast is important because it’s what the majority of Americans watch, including your racist grandpa and kids whose families can’t afford fancy cable. So, what happens on broadcast TV matters.
But queer women are still way underrepresented on broadcast television. Here are a few telling facts about primetime:
• Gay men on TV increased by 2 percent from last year, making up 49 percent of all regular and recurring LGBTQ characters.
• Lesbian representation went way down, making up just 17 percent of regular and recurring LGBTQ. Last year, lesbians were 33 percent of all LGBTQ characters.
• But bisexual characters went up 10 percentage points to 30 percent of all LGBTQ characters, with 16 bi women and 5 bi men.
It’s great that bi characters increased (even though lesbian representation went down), but the report found that bi women and lesbians are being killed off “character after character.” GLAAD noted that it was disappointing to see this, since in 2015, it specifically asked networks to take a look at who’s being killing off and why. On shows like Chicago Fire and Supernatural, the organization noted a trend of “superfluous” deaths of queer women.
“This continues a decades long trend of killing LGBTQ characters — often solely to further a straight, cisgender character’s plot line — which sends a dangerous message to audiences,” GLAAD wrote in its recommendations again this year. “It is important that creators do not reinvigorate harmful tropes, which exploit an already marginalized community”
What good is it to see oneself represented on television if the message is that your life doesn’t matter unless it’s to further someone else’s cause? And considering LGBTQ people still face disproportionate rates of violence, it’s harmful to continuously show them die or get murdered.
GLAAD says in the report it “would like to see more lesbian and bisexual women added to broadcast series going forward,” noting, “It is important that these characters exist in significant roles that are able to make a larger impact than recurring characters who only appear sporadically in special episodes.”
The organization wrote in its recommendations, “As GLAAD noted last year, we’d like to see cable do better to reflect the full diversity of the LGBTQ community going forward. Of the 142 regular and recurring LGBTQ characters expected on cable, 72 percent (102) are white characters. This is an unwelcome increase from last year’s 71 percent.”
Just because TV is gayer than ever doesn’t mean it’s an accurate representation of the LGBTQ community as a whole. But it’s getting there.