When simply looking at the statistics, queer characters on TV are more prevalent than ever before. Most shows will feature a queer character at some point, and it is not really a surprise to audiences anymore. However, this is not enough. Inclusion for inclusion’s sake is not representation. If you are writing in queer characters only to deliver ‘sassy’ remarks, or create relationship drama or, as was overwhelmingly the case in 2016, kill them off for shock value, then you are doing absolutely nothing for the LGBTQ+ community.
New show Riverdale, an adaptation of the classic Archie comics that sells itself as a One Tree Hill meets Twin Peaks, hits you over the head with the camp, scathing gay best friend trope within its opening ten minutes, and does nothing but perpetuate the age-old idea that queer (male) characters are only there to drool over the straight lead and provide sharp commentary on the storylines without ever actually being fully emerged in the plot themselves.
Some shows, of course, do manage to get it right. I was an absolute wreck when midwife Patsy Mount was written out of Call the Midwife the other week to care for her dying father in Hong Kong. I was devastated not simply because I might possibly be endlessly in love with her, or that she was one of a few regular lesbian characters on TV, or even that she left her secret girlfriend Delia behind. No, it was because Patsy is one of the rare queer characters on TV who is fully-realised outside of her queerness. We see how she has been shaped by her childhood experiences at a prisoner of war camp, resulting in the death of her mother and sister, and her career as a competent nurse, as well as her friendships with the women around her. We get to see all of that, as well as the struggle she has being a lesbian in a time when such a thing was not spoken of. It was so hard to see her go because of how incredibly rare it is to see complex, well-written queer characters like this.
Other examples include Supergirl, a brightly-coloured, fun, not always well-written, romp of a show. Though the show certainly struggles structurally at times, the recent storyline involving Supergirl’s sister, Alex, who, realising she’s gay and analysing her experiences with compulsory heterosexuality has been, frankly, nothing short of ground-breaking. The late, great Person of Interest also did the unheard of and, influenced by positive fan response, made the decision to romantically involve their two female leads, giving us an amazing series-long queer storyline between a bisexual, neuro-divergent, woman of colour and a lesbian villain-turned-somewhat reluctant hero.
But even these impressive shows suffer from neglecting queer characters. Both Call the Midwife and Supergirl, whilst featuring amazing queer characters in Patsy and Alex, side-line the characters respective love interests, Delia and Maggie. The departure of Patsy will hopefully allow Delia more focus, but Maggie, despite being a regular in season two of Supergirl, and a cop in a city full of crime and extra-terrestrial drama, has not yet been given a storyline outside of her relationship with Alex. There is nothing wrong with including secondary minority characters, but if these characters are the only minority characters in their shows, then all it does is send the message that queer individuals or people of colour do not deserve to have their stories take centre stage. And not only is this just plain wrong, but also wildly irresponsible. Queer individuals deserve to have their stories told, and it is time that TV gives us the platform to do so through the inclusion of regular, complex queer characters.