TV, Venue

Queer Representation on Modern TV: A Deep Dive

It’s clear to anyone that we’re in a seemingly ‘Golden Age’ of Queer Television. Contrasted to 20 or 30 years in the past, where representation was sparse or villainised, we have a somewhat fair number of queer characters we can turn to in order to see ourselves represented. But it still isn’t enough. I discussed this back in July in Normalised, or Needs More?, and I’m back to dive down deeper into this sticky situation, this time, with receipts. 

In February, GLAAD released their annual Where We Are On TV report, detailing the statistics of queer representation. This report works by season, looking at every scheduled series regular across broadcast, cable and streaming services. It breaks down which characters identify as queer and works out the percentages. For the 2021-2022 season, 92 characters on broadcast primetime TV identify as queer, making up 11.9% of series regular characters. This is an all-time high and a 2.8% increase from the 2020-2021 season. Including recurring characters, there’s a total of 141 LGBTQ+ characters on broadcast. Now, to break it down into identities. Maybe it’s because of how certain shows are more mainstream, but I fully imagined gay men to be the most represented by far. I was mistaken. For this season, the majority of queer characters on broadcast are lesbians, with 56 characters, making up 40%. This is 6% higher than last year. Coming in close with 35% is gay men, with 49 characters. Bisexual+ representation has increased slightly to 19% with 27 characters, leaving only 6% for Trans, Nonbinary, and other LGBTQ+ characters.  

With queer representation, most mainstream shows tend to focus on white queers. However, GLAAD has found that it’s fairly equal. On broadcast, 58% of LGBTQ+ representation are people of colour, outweighing white LGBTQ+ people for the fourth year in a row. On streaming, there was an increase to 49% of queer people of colour, but a decrease to 45% on cable.  

From original scripted programming on eight streaming services, including Disney+, Amazon and Netflix, there are a total of 358 LGBTQ+ characters – 245 series regular, and 113 recurring. Across all three types of platforms – broadcast, cable, streaming – there are only 42 regular and recurring transgender characters – 20 trans women, 14 trans men, 8 nonbinary trans characters. This is up by 13 characters from last year. There are also an additional 17 nonbinary, non-trans characters.  Of a total of 637 queer characters, there are only two asexual characters. I don’t have to point out that this isn’t enough. Out of 775 series regulars on scripted broadcast TV, only 22 characters have a disability, and even fewer are queer too. Across cable and streaming originals, there are only ten disabled queer characters this year. This is far too low. 

I could go on about the statistics for ages, getting more and more frustrated at the lack of representation. Instead, I’m going to discuss some iconic queer characters from the past ten years, many of which have made history in some way.  

Anissa Pierce, Black Lightning – as a lesbian, Anissa was the first queer superhero of colour on TV. 

David Rose, Schitt’s Creek – one of the first openly pansexual characters on TV, never met with any homophobia, making Schitt’s Creek a very comforting watch. 

It’s A Sin broke many barriers and astounded us all with representation. The main cast includes Roscoe, a Nigerian with a religious family, and Ash from an Indian family. Also, a lot of HIV and AIDS representation. 

Raymond Holt and Rosa Diaz, Brooklyn Nine-Nine – Rosa came out as bisexual in season five, played by Stephanie Beatriz who is bisexual in real life. Holt is an openly gay Black man. When Rosa comes out, Holt has a wonderful line that always makes me cry, “every time someone steps up and says who they truly are, the world becomes a better, more interesting place.” 

Elena Alverez, One Day at a Time – Elena is a Latinx lesbian with a nonbinary love interest, Syd. Her coming out story is probably one of my all-time favourites. 

Wilhelm and Simon, Young Royals – This show has a MLM (male-love-male) relationship at its centre, with Wilhelm currently unlabelled, and Simon identifying as gay. A second season is on its way, and many fans speculate some favourite female characters coming out in season two. 

Sex Education has made its rounds and continues to do so, with representation of all sorts, with two nonbinary characters, a pansexual character, queer men, queer women, and the potential for even more explorations in the fourth season.

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Louise Collins

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May 2022
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