For far too long, LGBTQ+ characters have been consigned to the margins of television, dismissed as stereotypes or shied away from altogether. But that is changing, and there’s no clearer sign of that than the rapid rise of queer storylines, characters, shows, and TV stars. This is only the beginning of queering the small-screen—the time to recognize and celebrate LGBTQ+ stories and characters is now.
1. What LGBTQ+ Representation in Media Means
As society progresses, so does media. LGBTQ+ individuals are gradually being recognized in the television and film industry, offering ample opportunities to better represent the queer community. Queering the TV screen creates the opportunity to portray LGBTQ+ characters as complex, diverse, and more accurately representative of real-life stories while enabling the community to exist beyond the binary.
We are currently witnessing an increase in queer characters on television screens, offering more conscious representation in comparison to earlier years. Issues that arose from past media portrayals such as tokenism have fortunately reduced, allowing for greater understanding and acceptance of the queer community. A 2021 research report by GLAAD highlighted the importance of embracing LGBTQ+ storylines, citing that “the inclusion of LGBTQ characters in media positively impacts viewers, by helping to reduce anti-LGBTQ attitudes and encouraging understanding and acceptance.”
Providing Representation and Inclusion
The presence of queer characters further allows for the creation of stronger, more committed storylines. With a broader scope comes more queer characters from various backgrounds and races, presenting storylines from unique perspectives and helping to quell bad representation and stereotypes. Though there is still some superficial tokenism when it comes to queer characters, we are starting to observe more individuation: differentiating between characters in an effort to better represent and relate to members of this community.
Offering Visibility and Acceptance
Due to the wide availability of media, a large audience can witness the representation of queer communities, enabling people to become more committed to the queer cause through education. It enables viewers to connect to characters and understand the various struggles faced by the LGBTQ+ community.
The role of media in portraying accurate queer stories is crucial. Television and streaming services offer a platform for people to speak openly and embrace different identities. It also contributes to the fight against homophobia and encourages us to become accepting allies. As progress is made, we may well be on the way to becoming a more diverse and inclusive society.
2. Introduction of LGBTQ+ Characters in TV Shows
The advent of televisionsignificantly opened up the possibilities for characters, storylines, and modes of representation; the introduction of LGBTQ+ characters, in particular, consumed a traditionally restrictive genre with an intersection of identities and realities, making room for positive, dynamic, and nuanced stories. Queering the screen is now more mainstream than it ever was before, sometimes in roles that appeared more naturally in their existence, such as a couple among a house of seemingly “conventional” relationships. Despite the progress, there is still a dearth of LGBTQ+-centered narratives, and much of the existing representation still falls short in many ways. Here are some of the more wide-reaching examples to have premiered on television:
- Will and Grace – A classic example of early LGBTQ+ representation, Will and Grace led the way as one of the first series to feature a gay main character. It ran for 8 seasons, won 16 Emmys, and showcasing the comedic dynamics of a fabulously-gay lead and his over-the-top bestie.
- Sense8 – Sense8 featured a sprawling multi-cultural, multi-sexual cast, with 8 queer characters from around the world. This show cemented its place as one of the most LGBTQ+-inclusive series in recent times.
- Pose – Centred around 1980s New York City’s ballroom scene, Pose brought to life a universe full of bawdy queer glory and diversity. It also won a handful of Emmy and GLAAD awards.
- Schitt’s Creek – The beloved series features a pair of gay dads raising their son, and single-handedly accusing television of just how much fun LGBTQ+ representation can be.
This list only barely scratches the surface of all the amazing queer-positive characters and narratives seen on television, but it serves as evidence of how far representation has come. While most of these characters were part of a heteronormative construct, they still remain as groundbreaking examples that everywhere, both in the physical and the virtual world, should try to emulate. It is not enough that these characters exist, but also that their arcs should be varied and powerful. Fortunately, television is slowly recognizing that queer storylines are no longer a “special” topic, and networks are incorporating them into wider, more diverse plots.
3. Analysis of Media’s Representation of Sexuality
Today, television shows are making gradual progress to become more inclusive of LGBTQ+ identities. Although there is much room to improve, the climate is changing, thanks to a series of blockbuster LGBT-oriented TV programs. Gay and queer characters are increasingly featured on all sorts television series, from the mainstream to the niche. In the past, LGBTQ+ characters were mainly portrayed in a stereotypical manner, but now, LGBTQ+ characters are being represented in complex and diverse ways.
The media is both reinforcing and challenging prevailing ideas about sexuality and gender. Shows such as Orange is the New Black, Transparent, and RuPaul’s Drag Raceare featuring LGBTQ+ characters in accurate and meaningful ways. By representing characters with LGBT identities, these shows not only show diversity, but also challenge cultural norms of gender and sexuality. The characters in these shows are not simply defined by their sexuality or gender identity, but rather portrayed as regular people with intersecting identities. In effect, television is queer-washing out prejudice and creating a more accepting society.
Television also plays an important role in normalizing LGBTQ+ characters and creating visibility. Seeing diverse characters in everyday scenarios has helped change attitudes and make queer identities more mainstream. Additionally, queer characters serve as role models for members of the LGBTQ+ community, providing them with a sense of belonging and recognition. It may take some time for television to fully recognize and embrace LGBTQ+ representation, however, it’s clear that it has come a long way.
So, what does “queering the TV screen” look like? Queering the TV screen means featuring characters of all shapes, sizes, gender identities and sexualities in everyday TV scenarios. It means looking beyond queer stereotypes and challenging cultural norms. It means allowing LGBTQ+ characters to take up space and be represented in all areas of life, from sports to business, from the home to the workplace. Queering the TV screen is about embracing diversity and dismantling homophobia and transphobia.
4. Exploring the Impact of Queer Representation in TV
Thanks to recent decades of evolving cultural attitudes, LGBTQ+ representation has slowly been growing in the world of television. Gone are the days when queer characters were hidden away or merely used as a one-off source of comic relief; now, they are fully-fleshed-out people living alongside everyone else, pushing the boundaries of traditional roles. It is clear that our entertainment industry is in desperate need of more queer characters and storylines.
Blazing a Trial: Paving the Way for Social Progress
- Beyond providing positive visibility for the queer community, queer representation on television can also serve as a platform for sparking difficult conversations and normalizing LGBTQ+ identities.
- By putting queer characters into everyday scenarios, we open up opportunities for audiences to better understand queer experiences, become more accepting, and ultimately reduce discrimination.
- We are seeing more and more LGBTQ+ characters taking center stage in various television shows, and they are being portrayed in a more authentic and honest light – something that wasn’t possible in previous decades.
- Furthermore, these very characters are becoming more and more complex, with more depth and nuance. This is a sign of real progress.
The Benefits of LGBTQ+ Representation
The positives of LGBTQ+ representation in TV are twofold. For the queer community, it presents the chance to see themselves reflected in the media they consume, giving them a sense of belonging and even providing much needed role models. For non-queer people, representation can give them the opportunity to become educated on sometimes-alien issues.
Weighty topics such as gender identity, bisexuality, and healthy relationship dynamics are no longer taboo. Rather, we can explore them in a safe way, creating more informed attitudes and sympathetic outlooks on what it really means to be queer.
A Call for More Progress
As far as queer representation in TV has come, it has yet to come far enough. By and large, LGBT+ characters remain invisible or underrepresented in the media. Now is the time to emphasize the need for more sources of queer visibility. We must continue to encourage programmers to consider more inclusive casting, writing, and storylines.
For the queer community to continue its progress, TV must continue to queering its screens with diverse LGBTQ+ characters. It is only when these characters are made into an integral part of society that real change can happen – change that extends beyond television screens and into the real world.
5. Empowering Representation of LGBTQ+ Characters
The visibility of LGBTQ+ characters on TV screens has been on the rise in recent years, and with that comes a greater understanding and acceptance of the community in mainstream media. Unfortunately, many of these characters suffer from lack of proper representation, oftentimes being used solely for clichéd jokes or simplified plotlines that do nothing to humanize the relatable and genuine experiences of such an incredibly diverse group of people. Additionally, much of the casting of LGBTQ+ characters and actors in queer roles themselves, is insufficient in promoting the intersectional empowerment of today’s queer population, from racialized and disabled communities to those of religious and cultural backgrounds.
Pitfalls of Stereotypical Representations:
LGBTQ+ characters are often depicted in television media with stereotypical and oftentimes two-dimensional personalities that fail to tell the stories of the complete experiences of real queer individuals. For example, gay men in comedic series are usually portrayed as sex-crazy or ultra-feminine, while lesbian women and transgender characters are regulated largely to one-off episodes or special arcs that actively exclude them from the regular main cast of characters, further marginalizing their place in the LGBTQ+ movement.
Empowering Queer Representation:
More empowering portrayals of queer characters in television media should be promoted to counter the industry’s troubling track record. This includes developing more positive, nuanced, and intersectional storylines for LGBTQ+ characters that demonstrate an awareness of the many varied and unique intersecting identities that shape the community. It also means advocating for casting decisions of queer actors in queer roles, which has been an area long lacking in the industry.
Integral to creating truly empowering representations of LGBTQ+ characters is the recognition of how powerful it can be to elevate the voices of the actual community they represent. This includes creating space for prominent members of the LGBTQ+ community, both in front of and behind the camera, to bring with them the invaluable insights and perspectives needed to make sure TV viewers of all ages, orientations, and backgrounds get to experience the breadth and complexity of the queer experience in a respectful and honest way.
By establishing better representations of LGBTQ+ people in TV media, viewing audiences can become more informed and aware of the real lived experiences of queer people. Accurate and positive portrayals can help reduce the stigma and discrimination that many members of the community confront in their everyday lives, and create understanding and acceptance of LGBTQ+ differences within the mainstream narrative. With this comes a more diverse and inclusive industry, and greater appreciation of the invaluable and important role that queer people play in society.
6. Conclusions and Recommendations
As we reach the culmination of this examination of queer representation in television, it is clear that significant strides have been made towards increasing LGBTQ+ visibility and acceptance on the small screen. There have been a range of innovative programmes that have both normalised and celebrated queer characters, stories, and experiences. To ensure this progress continues, here are six key conclusions and subsequent recommendations to consider:
- Context Matters: The context in which LGBTQ+ characters are portrayed is essential to ensuring appropriate representation. It is vital that characters are not presented as caricature or stereotype, but that their stories are told in the same depth and complexity as those of their heterosexual counterparts.
- Authenticity and Relatability: Recognising the diversity within the queer community is fundamental. Marginalised subgroups should be given space to be portrayed authentically, be that disabled, trans*, or other. Additionally, positive representation should strive to be accessible and believable, resonating with the viewers’ experiences.
- Visibility and Inclusion: Representation and visibility are key to providing accurate, positive, nuanced, and relatable portraits of the LGBTQ+ community. Casting actors who identify as LGBTQ+, especially for queer roles, encourages more authentic reality-clashes that triggers a greater acceptance.
- Explore Intersectionality : The exploration of different identities, such as race, gender, ability, etc. should be increased, both in terms of LGBTQ+ characters and expanded storylines.
- Avoiding Tokenism : LGBTQ+ characters should be integral to stories, not mere figments for tokenistic purposes. Further, having queer characters should never be used to elicit empathy through tragedy, which perpetuates damaging stereotypes.
- Breaking the Narrative : Since the Mickey Mouse Club aired, television has been dominated with hetero-normativity. It is time for new stories to be told, which move away from the typical gay storyline and embrace the intersectional nuances of the LGBTQ+ experience.
If these are put into practice and embraced by the TV industry, we are likely to feel further empowered to see ourselves positively, accurately and authentically depicted on screen.
The visibility of LGBTQ+ characters on television shows has brought a much-needed wave of change to the television landscape, creating more diverse programming that better reflects the world we live in. With this new wave of representation, we have undoubtedly been shown that representation matters, and that we can all embrace a new era of inclusion.