Yesterday, GLAAD released their annual report on LGBT representation on TV. And the numbers ain’t that great: after steady increases over the past few years, the number of LGBT characters on network television has dropped. They will make up 2.9% of scripted series regular characters this season, down from 3.9% last year. Cable’s regular characters number has dropped a bit as well, though an increase in LGBT recurring characters means there will be close to the same number of total queer characters. Which isn’t great, considering the number of characters should be increasing a lot each year if we really want to be seeing improvements in representation.
When we start to look at intersectional identities the numbers get even worse. Of 19 announced LGBT characters on broadcast tv, only five are people of color. None are people with disabilities, none are black, and none are transgender.
It’s worth noting that the quality of representation of gay characters has improved. There are major gay characters and storylines on Glee, Modern Family, and Grey’s Anatomy, all very popular shows (though Modern Family seems to be uncomfortable with their gay characters kissing). On cable, True Blood has gay characters in storylines that have very little to do with their gay-ness – they’re just characters. These are all very popular shows that are humanizing gay people for mainstream audiences.
Fox is leading the broadcast networks (a lot of that is Glee). Fox was called out in the report for “problematic LGBT programming” two years ago, so this is an improvement (yeah, you can certainly call Glee problematic, but it’s better than what we used to get on the network). ABC, which was leading the pack for the past few years, dropped from 7.2% LGBT regular characters to 3.4% this year. The CW, which took over first place last year, only has 1 gay series regular this year. HBO and Showtime lead the cable networks (a lot of that is True Blood and Shameless).
As I’ve said before, representation matters. Seeing oneself reflected in pop entertainment can help show a person they’re not that weird, and that their life story does have value. Seeing queer and trans people represented on TV can go a long way to humanizing us in the eyes of straight folks. That’s why it’s such a shame that stories of some of the most marginalized in our communities, like black and trans folks, are not being told.