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In announcing the findings of its annual “Where We Are on TV” report, which assesses the presence of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer characters on primetime television and streaming services, media advocacy organization GLAAD revealed on Thursday that representation is holding fairly steady overall despite drops in a few areas.
Looking at the 2020-2021 season, in which there was a decrease in total shows due to the COVID-19 pandemic delaying or halting many productions, the report indicates that 9.1 percent of series regular characters — 70 of 773 — on broadcast scripted primetime television identify within the LGBTQ spectrum, which is a decrease from last year’s figure of 10.2 percent.
Consistent with last year, gay men make up the majority of LGBTQ characters on broadcast, cable and streaming television, while the CW network repeats its first place position among the broadcast networks that offer inclusive representation. One of its series, Batwoman, made headlines in 2020 when lead actor Ruby Rose departed her iconic role, in which she has been replaced with out bisexual actor Javicia Leslie, who will make her debut in the Jan. 17 series premiere as the first Black Batwoman. Additional series with LGBTQ ensembles include the CW’s Supergirl and Black Lightning, and NBC’s Brooklyn Nine-Nine.
Primetime scripted cable shows were found to have the largest decrease of LGBTQ representations, from 121 to 81 series regular characters. This percentage drop was expected due to COVID-19 and is anticipated to change when several cable shows return in next year’s report, such as The L Word: Generation Q and Euphoria.
On Amazon, Hulu and Netflix, regular and recurring LGBTQ characters on original scripted series have decreased, bringing the total to 141 LGBTQ characters (down 12 from last year). Meanwhile, racial diversity amongst LGBTQ characters on streaming platforms increased by six percentage points.
Interestingly, nearly one in every five of these LGBTQ characters can be traced back to one of just four creative executives: Shonda Rhimes, Greg Berlanti, Lena Waithe and Ryan Murphy. With their combined 16 series, 17 percent of all LGBTQ representation — which is 62 of 360 characters — originate from the work of these veterans, which include shows such as How to Get Away With Murder, Pose, Love Simon, The Chi.
Also of note, the report indicates that, for the first time ever, over half of LGBTQ characters on primetime scripted cable television are people of color, which meets and surpasses the challenge set forth last year by Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of GLAAD. Prior to this achievement, only broadcast had reached this goal. Among the cable shows that offer LGBTQ characters of color is Freeform’s Good Trouble.
“In the midst of a destructive pandemic, a long overdue cultural reckoning with racial injustice, and a transition into a new political era for this country, representation matters more than ever as people turn to entertainment storytelling for connection and escape,” said Ellis in a statement. “This time of unprecedented change matched with increased demand represents an opportunity to break new ground with stories we have not seen before and create LGBTQ characters that do not reinforce harmful stereotypes.”
Consistent with last year’s record high, regular and recurring female characters is still at 46 percent on primetime broadcast scripted series. The report further found that there are 29 regular and recurring transgender characters across all platforms, which include 15 trans women, 12 trans men and and two non-binary trans characters. Representation of bisexual characters makes up 28 percent of LGBTQ characters across all platforms, but has decreased on broadcast for the second year in a row.
“LGBTQ-inclusive shows dominated the conversation in 2020, with series like Schitt’s Creek, Batwoman, The Haunting of Bly Manor, Veneno, She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, and others celebrating high viewership, critical acclaim, and passionate fanbases,” said Megan Townsend, GLAAD’s director of entertainment research and analysis. “However, with LGBTQ inclusion in the industry still being led by a concentrated number of creatives and several inclusive series ending in this year’s study, networks and streaming services need to be taking note of the value of this dedicated audience.
In terms of characters living with HIV/AIDS, which has historically been an area that involves much stigma, representation in that area has dropped significantly with only three characters counted across all platforms — and all appearing on one show, FX’s Pose. This has prompted Ellis and the GLAAD team to extend a new challenge to the television community and introduce three recurring characters with HIV each year on scripted primetime broadcast, cable shows or original series on Hulu, Amazon and Netflix.
“Hollywood must tell these stories that not only entertain, but which also have the opportunity to inform and educate its audiences,” said DaShawn Usher, GLAAD’s program officer – communities of color and HIV and AIDS advocate. “While there have been so many advances and developments in HIV education, prevention, and treatment, I cannot say the same when it comes to Hollywood telling these diverse and compelling stories.”
Elsewhere, the percentage of characters with disabilities has also slightly increased from last year’s 3.1 percent up to 3.5 percent. Despite the rise, the figures continue to severely under represent the U.S. population living with disabilities, which is estimated to be over 61 million adults.
Asexual representation continues to be non-existent, since the only asexual character in recent history was Todd Chavez on the Netflix cartoon BoJack Horseman, voiced by Aaron Paul (the show has since been cancelled). In upcoming series, there is one lesbian asexual character expected on a Freeform show.
GLAAD, which was founded in 1985 with the mission to drive forward LGBTQ acceptance in the entertainment landscape, has been issuing the “Where We Are on TV” report for 25 years. In the early days when there were only 12 LGBTQ characters on television. Now, there are 101 total LGBTQ characters on broadcast television, down from last year’s 120.
“It must be a priority to introduce nuanced and diverse LGBTQ characters in 2021 and beyond, ensuring that this year’s decreases do not become reverse progress as the industry continues to evolve and adjust to this unique era’s challenges,” urges Townsend.
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