LGBTQ representation in the main stream media has made strides forward in the past decade, but it would be naive to believe that media has reached total equality. The issue has been at the forefront of arguments for a time now, especially with the advent of gay marriage legalization and more openness in the United States overall. Entertainment in the forms of movies and television has an advantage over other types of media to create more liberalization because it attracts viewers of various demographics-everyone wants to be entertained at some point or another.
First and foremost, it was a huge step for the LGBTQ community when Moonlight won the Best Picture award at The Oscars just weeks ago. It was the first LGBTQ film to ever win the award. Over the past two decades, Americans have experienced a significant evolution process in their acceptance for lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, and transgender people. Media coverage has shifted from its once simplistic storylines and towards more understanding and multidimensional representations. This shift is exemplified by the fact that characters are not just defined by their sexuality. They have lives outside of it with friends and family. LGBTQ peoples’ stories are beginning to be told in the same way that other’s will be told-fairly and inclusively.
When homosexual relationships are portrayed in different mediums, LGBTQ people tend to identify with the characters that they see, causing them to feel more comfortable to be themselves. It is not simply a choice, but a process of acceptance, and entertainment is able to bring viewers who are struggling with their true identity to a healthy place where they can be proud of themselves and who they are. Film and television proves to be a way for their stories to be told in a light of uniqueness and shows them how fundamental they are to the American story.
However, it would be ignorant to think that heteronormativity does not still dominate our screens. Writers and producers in the industry often face challenges with the complexities of storylines that LGBTQ characters come with purely because of their identity in such a one sided, rhetorically charged climate. Moreover, conservatively minded viewers believe that a “gay agenda” is being forced down society’s throats. Many even think that progressive television and movies encourage people to be gay, as if it is a choice in the first place.
LGBTQ media is still most definitely lacking the relatable characters that straight people get to see every day. Relationships lack intimacy and general closeness that is a staple in heterosexual couples. They are often more platonic. It is very rare to see hand holding, kissing, etc. on any general TV network or movie.
GLAAD, a nonprofit organization dedicated to equal representation for the LGBTQ community in media, completed a report this year on where society is on TV presently. Of the 895 series regular characters expected to appear on broadcast scripted primetime programming in the coming year, 43 (4.8%) identified as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer. This is the highest percentage of LGBTQ series regulars the organization has ever found. There were an additional 28 recurring LGBTQ characters, with bisexual representation on broadcast TV increasing 30%.
That being said, lesbian representation dropped dramatically on broadcast television, down 16 percentage points to 17% of all LGBTQ characters. Lesbian representation is also down on cable, to 20% from 22% reported last year. This can be attributed to what many are calling “Bury your gays” trope, which refers to the extreme number of untimely deaths of lesbian characters this past year. The most jarring and publically acknowledged one being Lexa from The 100 since she was violently killed immediately after confirming her relationship with her girlfriend, Clarke. The negative media coverage around her death brought about an entire convention, aptly named Clexacon after Lexa and Clarke’s relationship, happening just a few weeks ago.
The convention focused on positive aspects of queer media and held multiple workshops to increase conversation about representation among society. It brought many actresses past and present for panels to discuss their thoughts on media today. Actresses of the past, tended to discuss the evolution of diversity on TV, while present celebrities conveyed more of what they wanted to see out of networks and other mediums in the future.
As an oppressed community, LGBTQ people understand what it is like to be under-represented and treated poorly. Because of this, it is no coincidence that the community’s characters are treated poorly too-and the community rarely e
xpects anything more. Unfortunately, their minimal expectations are barely even met, as relationships are typically sensationalized in ways that are not realistic.
The importance of positive queer media cannot be overstated. It has the power to change the minds of people who do not accept others’ identity and the power to make people with differences not feel alone. Rather, those differences should be celebrated and embraced by all. One can only hope in years to come that relatable representation becomes a priority for Hollywood.