Multiple TV producers were left at a loss for words about how to reconcile the “Bury Your Gays” trope during a Thursday night panel discussion at the Writers Guild.
The topic was top of mind during the wide-ranging panel, which included How to Get Away With Murder showrunner Pete Nowalk, Faking It boss Carter Covington, American Crime Story writer Sonay Hoffman and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend writer-star Rachel Bloom.
The trope — in which gay characters are routinely killed off — came to a boil after a massive fan backlash following the death of leading lady Lexa on The CW’s The 100. Other shows this season followed suit, including The Walking Dead and The Magicians, among others, resulting in a seven-part pledge from numerous writers to “refuse to kill a queer character solely to further the plot of a straight one,” avoid “story choices that perpetuate the toxic [Bury Your Gays] trope” and make other improvements to counter the long history of killing off gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender characters, often as punishment for their sexuality.
But balancing those goals with creative freedom can lead to hard questions, panelists said Thursday.
“If a character dies and it had a bad message, I support [the Lexa pledge],” Covington said. But otherwise, “It’s dangerous to tell the showrunner how to tell a story.”
“You have to serve the story [and] serve the character,” Hoffman said. “It’s so tricky.”
“For [characters that are] gay, lesbian, people of color, there’s probably a feeling that they’re more expendable,” she added. “It would be very hard for me to do that, to kill them off, because I’m aware of how much that character means to people.”
But emotional arcs often mandate storm clouds, including for LGBT characters.
“Once you’ve achieved happiness [in a story], you want to bring conflict back,” Bloom said. “That’s a general storytelling thing: ‘Where do we go with this character?’ But gay characters are more than their sexuality. We should move past that trope.”
That’s not to say that sexuality wasn’t on topic at the evening event, especially as panelists discussed millennial actors’ willingness to play explicit or highly suggestive scenes. “I think that’s their job,” Nowalk said. “The younger actors just want to make it look real,” he said, pointing to a sex act not necessarily for the squeamish that would confound a network’s standards and practices censors.