LGBTQ representation on television is at a record high, but GLAAD says there's room for improvement

Hollywood’s track record with diversity has been increasingly scrutinized in recent years, so GLAAD’s finding that LGBTQ representation on broadcast TV is at a record high comes as a bit of good news. A look at the organization’s “Where We Are on TV” report for the 2016-17 TV season, however, reveals there’s still room for improvement.  

GLAAD has gauged the presence of LGBTQ characters on television for more than 20 years. Its annual “Where We Are on TV” report tracks the number of regular and recurring LGBTQ characters on scripted broadcast, cable and streaming series, in addition to examining the overall diversity of prime-time scripted shows on broadcast TV. 

The report found that of the 895 regular characters set to appear on broadcast TV’s 2016-17 season, 43 were identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and/or queer. At 4.8%, this is the highest percentage of LGBTQ series regulars ever reported since GLAAD expanded its research 12 years ago to include more comprehensive data. Broadcast networks are also slated to feature 28 recurring LGBTQ characters. 

ABC led the pack when it comes to LGBTQ representation on broadcast TV (7.3%), followed by Fox (6.4%). Trailing behind them were the CW (4.3%), NBC (3.9%) and CBS (2.2%).

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Other positive signs included the record-high percentage of black series regular characters on broadcast networks with 20% (180 total) as well as the percentage of series regular characters with disabilities increasing from 0.9% to 1.7% this year.

Transgender representation more than doubled since last year, with the number of trans regular and recurring characters on all platforms jumping from seven to 16. This includes three trans characters on broadcast TV (up from none last year), all of whom are played by transgender actresses.

However, as GLAAD notes in its report, the numbers tell only part of the story. 

While the percentage of black series regular characters is at an all-time high, black women still aren’t that visible, representing only 38% of these regular characters. Overall racial and ethnic diversity has increased in broadcast TV, with people of color comprising 36% of series regular characters; but Latino representation accounts only for 8%, and representation of   Asian-Pacific Islander characters has stagnated at 6%. Yes, even counting “Jane the Virgin” and “Fresh Off the Boat.”

Additionally, while cable features 142 regular and recurring LGBTQ characters, 72% of these characters are white. The report revealed similar numbers for streaming platforms, with 71% of their 65 LGBTQ regular and recurring characters being counted as white. 

Queer women especially did not fare very well overall, with lesbian representation dropping to 17% of all LGBTQ characters on broadcast television and 20% on cable. The declining numbers, in part, can be attributed to the enduring trope of queer women being killed off “often solely to further a straight, cisgender character’s plotline,” according to GLAAD.  

Many of these characters that were killed off were bisexual women. So while representation of bisexual characters rose on both broadcast and streaming series, GLAAD found that many of these characters are often depicted as untrustworthy, duplicitous and other negative and harmful stereotypes.  

Read GLAAD’s “Where We Are on TV” report here.

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

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