TV has more LGBTQ and racial representation than ever, but queer female characters are still in trouble
The 2016 GLAAD report has been released and it seems that racial and LGBTQ representation on TV is on the rise.
For over 20 years, GLAAD have been tracking the representation of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer characters on television in America, highlighting where networks could improve when it comes to fully rounded characters and visibility.
Well, this years’s GLAAD report has showcased that the number of LGBTQ characters on network television is at a 12-year high.
According to data collected in their annual Where Are We On TV report, GLAAD states that out of the 895 regular characters that are expected to appear in the 2016-17 season, 43 (that’s 4.3%) are said to be LGBTQ. Furthermore, 28 recurring characters were also identified as LGBTQ. That’s a 0.3% increase from last year’s report.
What’s more, the study also showed that there had been a huge increase of LGBTQ representation on cable and streaming services.
The number of those characters that identified as LGBTQ on cable was up from 84 to 92. Similarly, there was an increase from 59 to 65 LGBTQ characters, both recurring and regular, on streaming services like Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon Prime.
Yet, as Vulture reports most of these LGBTQ characters are cisgendered, white gay men. For example, there are only 16 transgender characters on television, while the amount of lesbian and bisexual women has actually fallen from 98 to 92.
Most impressively, TV has also become way more racially diverse, and that’s amazing.
GLAAD report that on network television, 36% of all characters were people of color. Unfortunately, cable networks and streaming services are falling behind in these figures. An overwhelming 72% and 71% respectively of all characters on both platforms are white.
Fortunately, the number of regular black characters on network television has increased to a 12 year high (20%). On the flip side, only 38% of that number are black women.
Of the major networks, ABC was seen to be the most diverse.
The alphabet network was closely followed by FOX, The C.W., NBC, and in last place, CBS.
"TV has done a really good job of having diverse representation, diverse storylines, whereas the movie studios, especially the Big 6, are light years behind, Sarah Kate Ellis, president of GLAAD, told USA Today.
Despite the advances that have been made, the GLAAD report did detail some rather upsetting news when it came to queer women.
Writing in the opening of the report, Sarah Kate Ellis says that queer female characters have, in the last year, been subjected to the “bury your gays trope,” which sees gay characters killed off as a plot device, usually for the advancement or dramatics of a straight cisgender characters.
As Ellis notes, since the beginning of 2016 more than 25 (!) queer female characters have been killed off.
" When there are so few lesbian and bisexual women on television, the decision to kill these characters in droves sends a toxic message about the worth of queer female stories," Ellis wrote. " Indeed, 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."
Continuing, she notes that producers should look at the reasons as to why they’re killing off their queer characters and about the message it sends to audiences.
Furthermore, Ellis also notes that while increased visibility and representation is no doubt a good thing, it’s not enough for LGBTQ and minority characters to become tokenized.
"These [LGBTQ] characters should be reflective of the full diversity of the LGBTQ community, and we desperately need to see the introduction of more LGBTQ people of color (who have long been underrepresented), transgender men, characters living with disabilities, and people who live at the intersections of multiple marginalized identities," she said.
You can read the full GLAAD Where We Are On TV report here.
As Ellis states, it’s great to see that LGBTQ and racial visibility and representation are on the increase, but there’s still someway to go before minority characters, especially women, are full realized and present.