Film Forward

LGBTQ Characters Are Everywhere On TV But There's Still Room For Improvement

"There is still work to be done."

GLAAD has been tracking LGBTQ representation on television for the last 22 years and, with its analysis of the 2017-2018 season, its findings are that LGBTQ visibility is at an all-time high. Despite this fact— and it certainly is good news — there is still room for improvement (much like there is in film, too).


The "Where We Are On TV" study shows that on broadcast primetime scripted programming there are 901 series regular characters expected to appear in the coming year, and 58 (or 6.4 percent) are counted as LGBTQ. Add in the 28 recurring LGBTQ characters and you're left with a total of 86 total LGBTQ characters on the big five networks — ABC, CBS, The CW, FOX, and NBC. This is an increase from last year's grand total: 71.

"As LGBTQ acceptance in government and the broader American culture reverses course, television is a critical home for LGBTQ stories and representation matters more than ever," Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of GLAAD, said. "At a time when the Trump administration is trying to render LGBTQ people invisible, representing LGBTQ people in all of our diversity in scripted TV programs is an essential counterbalance that gives LGBTQ people stories to relate to and moves the broader public to support LGBTQ people and families."

Elsewhere in the TV world, numbers are mostly up as well. Primetime scripted cable will have 103 LGBTQ series regular characters and 70 LGBTQ recurring characters — up from 92 and 50, respectively. On streaming platforms (Amazon, Hulu, and Netflix), visibility is increasing with 70 LGBTQ characters overall. There will be 51 LGBTQ series regular characters — up from 45 — but just 19 LGBTQ recurring characters — down from 20.

While this is all great, there are a few key areas where TV could do better to represent intersectional people and highlight other important aspects of the LGBTQ experience. Here are a few:

1) More bisexual male characters: A total of 28 percent of LGBTQ characters tracked across all three platforms identify as bisexual. In addition to being slightly down from last year, the numbers skew female, with 75 women characters and 18 men characters.

2) More non-binary characters: This is the first year GLAAD tracked non-binary characters and there were only four characters counted overall. Please give more actors like Billions' Asia Kate Dillon — and the characters they play — a chance to shine.

3) More characters of color: Of all the LGBTQ characters counted across the television landscape, 77 percent of them were White. All three platforms lacked LGBTQ characters of color.

4) More characters with HIV: This sounds like a morbid request, but it's one that needs to be made to accurately depict one of the major health issues concerning the LGBTQ community. There are only two characters who are HIV-positive on TV — down from three last year.

5) More asexual characters: Like those who identify as non-binary, this was also the first year GLAAD was able to track asexual characters. There were one each on cable and streaming — one on Freeform's Shadowhunters and one on Netflix's BoJack Horseman — but none on broadcast. This is one place GLAAD had a request, and it involves The CW's Riverdale. The character of Jughead identifies as asexual in the Archie comics, so it would be easy — and canon — if the character was portrayed this way on the small screen, too.

"Numbers are only a small part of the story when it comes to LGBTQ representation on TV and simply being present onscreen is not enough," Megan Townsend, GLAAD's director of entertainment research & analysis, said. "While we're pleased to see numbers on the rise, consideration of how LGBTQ characters are woven into storylines and whose stories are making it to screen is crucial for judging progress of the industry. And there is still work to be done."

(H/T: TVLine)

Cover image via Michael Yarish / CBS | Jeff Neumann / Showtime


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