GLAAD releases index of LGBT representation on television

GLAAD has released their third annual Network Responsibility Index, a review of LGBT representation on television. I found this report particularly interesting as I’m a pop culture addict who constantly finds myself consuming deeply problematic media that seldom represents my community.
Some key findings:

• HBO led all networks with 58.5 (42%) of the network’s 140 total programming hours featuring LGBT representation. This is an increase of 16% over the previous season. Of HBO’s 14 original series, 10 included LGBT content and of the four that did not, three were sports news programming.
• For the third year in a row, ABC led the broadcast networks in LGBT-inclusive content. Of its 1,146.5 total hours of primetime programming, 269.5 hours (24%) included LGBT impressions and 9% were transgender-inclusive, making ABC the most fair, accurate and inclusive of the five broadcast networks.
• For the first time since GLAAD began this analysis, the network rankings changed and Fox rose to third place with 82.5 (11%) LGBT-inclusive hours, out of 782.5 total primetime programming hours. This is an increase from last year’s analysis, in which Fox’s LGBT content was tallied at 4% and received a “failing” grade. However, Fox also aired some problematic LGBT programming.
• CBS saw the greatest decline among the broadcast networks this year, dropping to last place with 60 hours (5%) of LGBT-inclusive content, out of 1,148 total hours of primetime programming.
• Of the 10 cable networks evaluated, Showtime was the only network to receive a Good rating, airing 20.5 (26%) LGBT-inclusive hours, out of 77.5 total hours of primetime programming.
• TNT had the biggest increase among all networks. In last year’s NRI, TNT received a Failing grade for airing a single hour (1%) of content. This year, TNT rose 18%, airing 13 LGBT inclusive hours (19%) out of its 69 total hours of original programming.
• TBS only offered a half hour (1%) and A&E aired two hours (1%) of LGBT-inclusive programming out of 39.5 and 166.5 total hours of original primetime programming, respectively. This resulted in the networks tying for the lowest ranking and score among the 10 cable networks evaluated.

Some of my thoughts, with a few minor spoilers from this past year of TV:

I was particularly happy to see a focus in the report on the racial diversity of LGBT characters, and sadly not surprised that a majority of queer characters are white. Notable exceptions are the CW, where queer people of color are prominently featured on America’s Next Top Model and Privileged (though the latter, which had a very thoughtful storyline about gay marriage, has been canceled), and HBO, which features Lafayette on True Blood and Lloyd on Entourage, though most of the network’s queer characters are male.
I am especially interested in trans representation on television. As the report mentions, Alexis Meade was featured prominently on Ugly Betty, which I thought did a fairly good job of dealing with her gender identity when the character was first introduced. However, the character was unceremoniously written off the show this season at around the same time a lesbian character, Dr. Hahn, was written off of Grey’s Anatomy. The CW got props for featuring Isis King, America’s Next Top Model’s first openly transgender contestant. However, I felt a number of transphobic comments from other contestants went unaddressed. Further, I think producers let Isis’ gender identity become an impediment to her success on the show (Isis was voted off the show after she was visibly nervous during a photo shoot in which she was wearing a swimsuit).
Finally, I was glad to see FOX called out for “problematic LGBT programming.” While blogging at Choice Words I wrote two pieces about the gender politics of the network’s reality show So You Think You Can Dance? (So You Think You Can Dance (Masculine)? and So You Think You Can Dance (Masculine)? Part 2). FOX and other networks absolutely need to be told that homophobic and transphobic programming is not acceptable.
Pop culture representation of diverse communities is important. Seeing oneself reflected in media can be empowering and help with feelings of isolation. As a young person without a trans community it would have been helpful to see that other people like me exist. It is also valuable for straight folks to see representations of queer and transgender folks that show some of the diversity of our communities and present us as complex multidimensional people, not just stereotypes. As a white person I see myself reflected in a vast amount of popular media along the axis of race. This reinforces white supremacy by mirroring it back to the world and further normalizing whiteness. But my sexuality and gender identity are seldom if ever positively represented in mainstream media, suggesting that people like me don’t exist or are not as valuable as cisgender heterosexuals.
Readers, what are your reactions to GLAAD’s report and your thoughts on LGBT representation on television? Do you see your communities represented in pop culture?

Boston, MA

Jos Truitt is Executive Director of Development at Feministing. She joined the team in July 2009, became an Editor in August 2011, and Executive Director in September 2013. She writes about a range of topics including transgender issues, abortion access, and media representation. Jos first got involved with organizing when she led a walk out against the Iraq war at her high school, the Boston Arts Academy. She was introduced to the reproductive justice movement while at Hampshire College, where she organized the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program’s annual reproductive justice conference. She has worked on the National Abortion Federation’s hotline, was a Field Organizer at Choice USA, and has volunteered as a Pro-Choice Clinic Escort. Jos has written for publications including The Guardian, Bilerico, RH Reality Check, Metro Weekly, and the Columbia Journalism Review. She has spoken and trained at numerous national conferences and college campuses about trans issues, reproductive justice, blogging, feminism, and grassroots organizing. Jos completed her MFA in Printmaking at the San Francisco Art Institute in Spring 2013. In her "spare time" she likes to bake and work on projects about mermaids.

Jos Truitt is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Development.

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