Broadcast TV Hits Record Percentage of LGBTQ Regulars, Study Finds

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Broadcast television is enlisting a record percentage of LGBTQ characters and featuring those of color more often than those that are white for the first time in the 2018-19 television season, a report published Thursday found.

GLAAD's annual Where We Are on TV report found that LGBTQ characters make up 8.8 percent of all regular characters this season, up 2.4 percent from the 2017-18 season. (Last season had previously held the record for largest percentage in the report's 23-year history.)

Among those characters, 22 percent are black, 8 percent Latinx and 8 percent Asian Pacific Islander, which represents a historical high for black characters and a tie with last year's findings on Latinx characters. LGBTQ broadcast characters have additionally reached gender parity, with women and men both accounting for 49.6 percent of characters; last year, men were in the clear majority, making up 55 percent of characters and women 44 percent.

Overall, LGBTQ regular and recurring characters on broadcast are posting a 31 percent increase from the 2017-18 season. Meanwhile, on primetime cable shows, the report found that LGBTQ characters have increased 20 percent, from 173 to 208 characters. On Netflix, Hulu and Amazon — the streaming platforms monitored by GLAAD — these characters have increased 72 percent from the previous year, jumping from 65 characters to 112.

The report surveys regular and recurring characters on original scripted TV series that have aired and are expected to air across broadcast, cable and major streaming platforms from June 1, 2018, to May 31, 2019.

"Amid one of the most tumultuous times that LGBTQ Americans have ever faced, what happens on our television screens is now more critical than ever before to accelerate acceptance for LGBTQ people," GLAAD president and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis said in a statement about the report. "Not only do stories that explore the rich lives and identities of LGBTQ people move the needle forward culturally, but they pay off in ratings — shows like Will & Grace, Supergirl, Empire and How to Get Away With Murder all attract millions of viewers weekly and show that audiences are clearly hungry for new stories and perspectives."

The report additionally found that across all platforms, the number of bisexual+ characters has increased nearly 26 percent (from 93 to 117 characters), transgender characters have increased 53 percent (from 17 to 26) and HIV-positive characters have increased 350 percent (from two characters to seven) from the previous year.

The CW was named the broadcast network with the best record for LGBTQ inclusion during the 2018-19 season. Across streaming services, Netflix boasted the highest number of LGBTQ characters, while on cable FX scored the top percentage.

Also notable in the report was its observation that "more LGBTQ characters are in leading roles than ever before," crediting shows like CBS' upcoming The Red Line, The CW's Charmed, Starz's Vida and Netflix's forthcoming Tales of the City, among others.

In addition to sexuality, the report tracked gender, ethnicity and ability representation. GLAAD particularly applauded a "significant improvement" in racial diversity across platforms, with 50, 48 and 46 percent of all LGBTQ characters being characters of color on broadcast, streaming and cable, respectively. On broadcast, women again account for 43 percent of all regular characters, the same figure as last year; people of color account for 47 percent.

Characters with disabilities are still significantly underrepresented compared with their presence in the actual U.S. population: Only 2.1 percent of characters on broadcast are disabled this season compared with 13.3 percent in the U.S. population.

Overall, however, GLAAD suggested this year's results were positive. "This year's Where We Are on TV report has shown important progress toward a media landscape that is LGBTQ-inclusive and portrays the community in a fair and accurate way," GLAAD director of entertainment research and analysis Megan Townsend said. "This year we noted two history-making television moments: the premiere of FX's Pose, which features the largest number of transgender series-regular characters on a scripted U.S. series ever, and this fall The CW's Supergirl introduced audiences to TV's first transgender superhero when Nicole Maines made her debut as Dreamer/Nia Nal. This is all part of a welcome increase in television telling groundbreaking stories featuring characters whose identities have long been left offscreen."