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Austin Brewer

Professor Katie Lewis

English 2010

24 October 2017

Representation in the Media for the LGBTQ+ Community

When I say, the media, what comes to mind? Do you think of your favorite TV show,

maybe Chicago Fire or This is Us? Does your mind immediately jump to news programs like

Good Morning America or Fox News? Do you think about online entertainment like Hulu,

Netflix, and Amazon Prime? Or do you jump to text media like online articles from The

American Conservative or CNN? Media is a diverse and open word; it means a lot of different

things for everyone. In the most honest sense of the word, it means: the main means of mass

communication, regarded collectively. For this paper, I will be referring specifically to media as

broadcast television and internet streaming services since they have many similarities. With that

out of the way and agreed upon, we need to dissect what people are being shown in the media.

For groups who are a minority, yet still have the same rights as a majority, it is important

to feel equal. That is because we feel unrepresented every day, since the society we live in and

the rules made for it were not made with us in mind. Since media wasnt made with me in mind,

I have never seen a great image of myself in modern TV. If I dont feel represented or included,

does the information Im consuming really pertain to me? Does it have worth? Or is it simply a

reflection of the general output of the American People? Where do I stand in all of it? If I had

had a role model or character on TV that I felt really captured what it means to be gay, maybe I

would have felt more comfortable coming out sooner. I think it is put best by NYC Pride

Managing Director, Chris Frederick, As a kid in rural Ohio, if I had the opportunity to turn on
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the TV and see a sea of rainbows, I might not have felt so afraid. (Wong). Giving people the

opportunity to feel represented in the society they live every day is worthwhile and I would say a

very American idea. We function on the idea that all men are created equal, yet it doesnt feel

that way when you turn on the TV.

Most scripted characters, around 80% on TV are white males, according to a research

piece done by Variety (Ryan). This is an issue, as the population of the US is a lot more diverse

than that. We all want to feel represented, and it seems to be the case that most Americans are

not when it comes to media. Sure, there are a lot of TV shows that challenge this idea, but its

not nearly enough. Groundbreaking show like Will and Grace and Queer as Folk have existed to

much critical acclaim, yet those shows both came out over a decade ago and the landscape today

is still very similar. We need to make a change somewhere and it needs to happen quickly to

keep up with the American demographic. While diversity is on the rise, its not quite enough due

to our current political climate.

LGBTQ+ people represent about 4.8% of scripted, broadcast, prime time TV characters

in a series regular role (GLAAD) according to a study done by GLAAD, which stands for Gay

and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. They are essentially the arbiters of LGBTQ+

representation in modern media. They did research on all 895 series regular roles and found that

a measly 4.8% of them are LGBTQ+. Now LGBTQ+ is a very diverse group and its unfortunate

that the majority, about 49% of these characters were gay men (GLAAD), which means there is

only 51% of 4.8% to represent the remaining LBTQ+. With all that in mind, I do want to say it is

great, that this number continues to increase yearly and has a steady trend. However, the rate at

which it grows is not nearly significant enough to appeal to all the LGBTQ+ people out there.
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Knowing that American media isnt the best at LGBTQ+ representation, it is also guilty

for a lack of diversity. 84% of Americans believe that advertisements should reflect the

population they are targeted towards (JWT), I think it is safe to assume this belief can be

extended to general media as well. With that opinion in mind, we need to take measure to decide

if current media is really representing LGBTQ+ people. The consensus is 5% (Steinmetz)

according to polls done on Gallup, however those numbers are affected by many variables and

only include people who openly identify as LGBTQ+. The issue with being in our community is

that we dont have a physical characteristic which binds us together. You dont know if someone

is gay, lesbian, bi or pansexual unless you ask them, and they are ready to tell you. Polls,

censuses, data collection all fail to account for that. According to recent polling, about one-third

of millennials identify as non-binary on the six-point Kinsey-Scale, which is a method to classify

people as predominantly homosexual, predominantly heterosexual or having instances of same

sex contact. (Steinmetz). That is at least 8% of the population, right there. Identifying and

quantifying LGBTQ+ people is necessary for people of the community to find adequate

resources when they are ill and is a source of economic gain.

I put the idea forward that enriching our media with more LGBTQ+ characters will

encourage people to come out or feel as though they can identify more closely with our

community. We find that when we are being seen and heard adequately we are given the ability

to dispel stigmas and stereotypes: both of which are incredibly prevalent when it comes to

primetime TV and LGBTQ+ characters. Not every gay man is flamboyant, not every lesbian

woman is butch, and not every bisexual person is inherently promiscuous: while these types of

people are certainly found in the LGBTQ+ community; they are not the majority. Our

community is diverse in personality and having characters on TV shows like, Girls Elijah
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Krantz, played by Andrew Rannells,, is counterproductive to the idea that LGBTQ+ people are

more than their stereotypes. Queer people are found in every single culture, whether their

government acknowledges them or not. I am lucky enough to live in a country that supports my

right to get married and to adopt children and to be equal to those around me. We should be

frontrunners, examples, to other nations who do not give their LGBTQ+ citizens the same rights.

We are making leaps and bounds every day in the right direction, however falling into the trap of

stereotyping is incredibly easy to do. Queer people dont have consistently deep role models and

often have the easily accessible stereotypes to rely on, and so they fall into a mold of that

stereotype, reinforcing and perpetuating it. Its a vicious cycle, but it can be broken.

For example, Bob Greenblatt is the chairman of NBC Entertainment, and an openly gay

man. He is a great example to many of the closeted or questioning people in the US. He works

behind closed doors, with almost no public gratitude. Yet he seems to be a powerhouse for

backing the creation of queer characters that have depth and meaning. He worked on two shows

in particular that are landmarks for the LGBTQ+ community, Queer as Folk and The L Word

(Reynolds) Both of these shows have a primarily gay and lesbian cast, this fact allows the

characters to play off each other organically as well as stray away from their toxic stereotypes.

LGBTQ+ representation is at its best when their sexual orientation is not the only part of their

life, because thats not how it is in reality.

Since we know it is possible to create good LGBTQ+ representation, thanks to Bob

Greenblatt, we now have a way to measure what is valuable representation and what makes

something counter-productive to the interests of LGBTQ+ Americans. Shows like Fire Island

on Logo and RuPauls Drag Race on VH1, are not the best examples of queer representation.

While the case of RuPauls Drag Race is a bit less cut and dry as the show often focuses on
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issues that LGBTQ+ people face on a daily basis. Fire Island on the other hand only shows the

beauty of gay men and the unhealthy lifestyle they live as frequent alcohol abusers and their

willingness to sleep around. LGBTQ+ people need a beacon in our media that shows us we are

not trapped in the stereotypes set upon us by a society which wasnt made with us in mind.

While it is easy to say that we need to increase the amount of LGBTQ+ visibility in American

media, we must carefully vet the shows that are produced so that we do not reinforce the

prejudices that already exist. Vigilance on the part of the LGBTQ+ community will be half the

battle. Not throwing money at shows that creates boxes for us, but rather, invest in TV and

streaming services the tear down those boundaries so we may better define ourselves as a group.

With all of that in mind we have some more recent events that are positive for American

media and LGBTQ+ representation. The first ever broadcast of NYC Pride was on WABC this

last May (Wong), shortly after the airing of the NBC special When We Rise, a TV miniseries

detailing the lives of those people involved in the Gay Rights Movements, and its history, that

have led up to the supreme court decision on Marriage Equality. While there are some critiques

of When We Rise as being to scattered and at time convoluted (Bianco), the reviews are still

positive and it was a success. It is a testament that we can create engaging shows while still

avoiding stereotypes and generalizing an entire group, which LGBTQ+ representation

desperately needs. Moments like this make me believe that American media can keep up with the

growing LGBTQ+ population (Steinmetz) and destroy the stereotypes that plague our

community simultaneously, however I am fearful that our group may lose purpose and allow

ourselves to fall back into obscurity. For the time being, I am optimistically hopeful, but I need

to see more from the media that I trust to provide entertainment, because at this point it is not

good enough.
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Our media consumption affects how we view the world and how it views us. Do we want

to look at a time capsule into the past of homophobia, lies and penalties or do we want a glimpse

of the future where we can all be accepted as we are with no ulterior motives? Simply allowing

those with a voice, to speak and tell their story, will open up new avenues for everyone who

hears. That is what media can do best, it give us an opportunity to look at something we may

have never seen before. It is critical that LGBTQ+ representation is accurate, because living in

the closet is no way to live a life authentically and everyone should feel worthy of that

authenticity.
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Works Cited
Bianco, Robert. Review: 'When We Rise' offers flawed but powerful history of gay rights.
USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network, 27 Feb. 2017,
www.usatoday.com/story/life/tv/columnist/criticscorner/2017/02/24/abc-when-we-rise-
robert-bianco-dustin-lance-black/98310870/
GLAAD. "Distribution of Lgbtq Characters in Primetime Programming on Broadcast Networks
in The 2016-17 Season, by Sexual Orientation." Statista - The Statistics Portal, Statista,
www.statista.com/statistics/698053/lgbtq-characters-sexual-orientation/, Accessed 25 Oct
2017
JWT. "Level of Openness towards Lgbt People in Ads in The United States as of April
2014." Statista - The Statistics Portal, Statista,
www.statista.com/statistics/297698/openness-lgbt-advertising-usa/, Accessed 25 Oct
2017
REYNOLDS, DANIEL. "What about Bob? The Gay Chairman of Nbc Entertainment Wants to
Enlighten and Entertain America." Advocate, no. 1093, Oct/Nov2017, pp. 42-43.
EBSCOhost,
search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=124891955&site=ehost-live.
RYAN, MAUREEN. Showrunners for New TV Season Remain Mostly White and Male.
Variety, 8 June 2016, variety.com/2016/tv/features/diversity-television-white-male-
showrunners-stats-fox-nbc-abc-cbs-cw-study-1201789639/.
STEINMETZ, KATY. Gay Americans: Government Begins LGBT Population Count. Time,
Time, 18 May 2016, time.com/lgbt-stats/.
TEEMAN. T. (2016, Nov 03). The 'record number' of LGBTQ characters on TV remains
depressingly low. The Daily Beast Retrieved from https://search-proquest-
com.libprox1.slcc.edu/docview/1842641236?accountid=28671
WONG CURTIS M. NYC Pride Will Make TV History With 2017 Broadcast. The Huffington
Post, TheHuffingtonPost.com, 24 May 2017, www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/new-york-
pride-tv-broadcast_us_5925affde4b0ec129d318a8d.
Where We Are on TV Report - 2016. GLAAD, 31 July 2017,
www.glaad.org/whereweareontv16.