Earlier this year, a student I worked with reached out to ask if I had any recommendations for LGBTQ+ friendly books. The first I thought of was, of course, Allison Bechdel’s much acclaimed graphic novel Fun Home. However, after that, I found myself looking for other titles that might suit their interests and found only a handful. Likewise, the lack of LGBTQ+ characters in television and film isn’t too awe-inspiring either, yet, there are over 10 million individuals identifying as such in the United States alone, according to Gallup.
Let’s talk numbers
While this only comprises 4.1% of the population, the number of gender and sexual minority-identifying persons has consistently grown over the past four years and will likely continue to do so. However, of the 901 characters on major television and streaming networks, only 6.4% of them identified as LGBT. Furthermore, only 18.4% of films have LGBT characters. This is made even worse by the fact that the percentage of LGBTQ+ people of color on broadcast and streaming and in film has decreased over the last several years, meaning that the media isn’t equally representing the racial diversity in the LGBTQ+ community.
…of the 901 characters on major television and streaming networks, only 6.4% of them identified as LGBT. Furthermore, only 18.4% of films have LGBT characters.
Love, Simon came out earlier this year to much acclaim, and rightfully so, it was a major Hollywood film highlighting a gay protagonist. My Facebook and Twitter feeds both filled with affirming stories focusing on the importance of such a story in today’s world. Now, I don’t want to invalidate that; movies are huge, and I’ve no doubt that this one will become a classic, especially in the LGBT movement.
LGBT as seen on TV
However, television media does a much more thorough job representing a wider breadth of the LGBT community. On TV, we see LGBT characters occupy a wider variety of spaces and in more major roles. It’s not a huge difference; there are not many LGBT lead characters, but there are some. Eighty-three percent of LGBT characters in film are gay men, which, while it’s great to see any LGBT characters, it’s important to represent a more diverse range of identities. There was 1 transgender character in film versus 17 on television. The GLAAD report on television media was able to, for the first time, collect data on asexual characters, while none has been able to be collected for film.
Yet, where’s the hype for TV? The big screen does tend to appeal to a wider audience, but television sees much more diversity in story and in importance. Love, Simon tells a great story, and I hope to see more films do this. Personally, I’ve really found that the stories of LGBT characters on television speak to a wider variety of experiences, but the hype around films indicates that there is a larger effect when these stories come from film.
Movies tend to become cultural phenomenons, and their foci extend the reach to a bigger audience. They’re called “blockbusters” for a reason.
Perhaps this is because of the wide reach of the film industry. Movies tend to become cultural phenomenons, and their foci extend the reach to a bigger audience. They’re called “blockbusters” for a reason. Look at what Black Panther has done, drawing a lot more attention to people of color in film, especially in the Marvel universe. While it is also by no means an indication that we’ve reached an end to the need for racial representation, it has drawn a lot of attention to a much bigger issue.
We’re still not there
In the end, no one has reached the perfect balance of representation in television and film. Both media forms still have their issues in how LGBT characters are represented. Coming out stories are primary means of inclusion. There are still stereotypes around bisexual and bi+ characters. Furthermore, we’re not seeing enough representation of asexual (“ace”) and transgender individuals. We’ve made huge strides, and I hope that we continue to do so. As we go through Pride month, celebrating the progress that has been made and looking to the future of inclusivity, I hope that more and more people begin to call for more accurate representation of the LGBTQ+ community in our media.
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