There is good news and bad news in the visibility of LGBTQ characters in US television.
The influential Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation has released its annual “Where We Are on TV” report and found the highest percentage of LGBTQ series regulars ever in its 21 years.
Of the 895 series regular characters on broadcast scripted primetime programming in the coming year, 43 (4.8%) identified as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer. There were an additional 28 recurring LGBTQ characters.
“While it is heartening to see progress being made in LGBTQ representation on television, it’s important to remember that numbers are only part of the story, and we must continue the push for more diverse and intricate portrayals of the LGBTQ community,” GLAAD president and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis said. “GLAAD will continue to work with Hollywood to tell nuanced LGBTQ stories that accelerate acceptance — and hold the networks, streaming services, and content creators accountable for the images and storylines they present.”
However the report also blasted the “Bury Your Gays” trope which attracted mainstream coverage after multiple deaths of characters on The 100 (pictured), The Walking Dead and more. With more than 25 lesbian and bisexual characters being killed off of scripted TV on both broadcast and streaming series in 2016. GLAAD says US TV has “failed queer women” this year.
The report also found:
The number of regular LGBTQ characters counted on scripted primetime cable series increased from 84 to 92, while recurring characters decreased from 58 to 50. This is a total of 142 LGBTQ characters, regular and recurring.
GLAAD also counted LGBTQ characters on original series that premiered on Amazon, Hulu, and Netflix. GLAAD found 45 series regulars and 20 recurring LGBTQ characters for a total of 65 characters. This is up from last year’s inaugural streaming count of 59 LGBTQ characters (43 regular and 16 recurring).
The number of regular and recurring transgender characters across all three platforms tracked has more than doubled, from seven characters last year to 16. There are three trans characters counted on broadcast, six on cable, and seven on streaming original series. Of the 16 characters, four are transgender men.
Lesbian representation dropped dramatically on broadcast television, down 16 percentage points to 17% of all LGBTQ characters. Lesbian representation is also down on cable, to 20% from 22% reported last year.
Bisexual representations on broadcast rose to 30%, up by ten percentage points from last year. Bisexual representations also rose on streaming series, from 20% to 26%. However, cable series have dropped in bisexual representations from 35% to 32%. Bisexual women far outnumber bisexual men on every platform. Many of these characters still fall into dangerous stereotypes about bisexual people.
Each platform tracked (broadcast, cable, streaming) counts one character who is HIV-positive, though only broadcast television counts the character as a series regular (Oliver on ABC’s How to Get Away with Murder).
Cable and streaming platforms still need to include more racially diverse LGBTQ characters as a majority of LGBTQ regular and recurring characters on each platform (72% and 71% respectively) are counted as white. Overall racial diversity is up again with 36% (325) of 895 series regular characters on broadcast counted as people of color, which is a three-point increase from last year’s report.
While this year’s report marks a record-high percentage of black series regulars on broadcast (20%), black women remain underrepresented at only 38% of all black series regular characters.
GLAAD found a record-high percentage of series regular characters with disability on broadcast television at 1.7% of all series regulars, this is up from the 0.9% reported last year.
This year, 44% of regular characters on primetime broadcast programming are women, which is an increase of one percentage point from last year but still greatly underrepresents women who make up 51% of the population.