Television characters enforce stereotypes

Representation of LGBTQ characters on TV is on the rise, according to the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD). But any representation is not always good representation.

GLAAD recently released their 17th annual “Where We Are on TV” report. This annual report looks at the prevalence of the LGBTQ community in mainstream television. It also looks at the gender ratio among characters and the prevalence of ethnic and racial minorities. The report found that 4.4 percent of the regular and recurring characters on the 2012-2013 broadcast network television season are members of the LGBTQ community, according to Mercury News.

This is an increase from the prevalence of LGBTQ characters in the 2011-2012 television season, which was 2.9 percent. “Mainstream” cable networks also improved from last year by adding six more gay characters to their 2012-2013 lineup, moving the count from 29 to 35 gay characters, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Over the last 15 years, the prevalence of LGBTQ characters has increased dramatically. However, there is a difference between having gay characters and having characters that are truly representative of the LGBTQ community. These characters are often simply stereotypes of gays, lesbians and bisexuals.

Gay men still make up the majority of the gay characters on television. Some shows like Modern Family and Happy Endings are better about their portrayal of gays but still fall short of displaying the complex and nuanced nature of the LGBTQ community.

The majority of the gay characters on TV are stereotypical. They are depicted in a stable relationship or as the faithful, flamboyant side kick. Lesbians on TV are typically very feminine, and their sexuality is often overplayed. Bisexual characters are usually depicted as having had some kind of relationship with the same sex in the past, but tend to end up in a heterosexual relationship.

This formulaic and predictable portrayal of gays on television is quickly becoming rather tiresome. The focus when writing these characters should be quality, not quantity. It is time to start adding real depth to these characters.

Real progress is going to come from giving gay characters the same complexity and depth that audiences expect from straight characters. If these networks and shows are going to invest their time in these gay characters, they should explore what it actually means to be a member of the LGBTQ community in America. The members of the LGBTQ community are diverse and complex. Once television begins to treat them that way, we can achieve a bit more equality.