GLAAD released their second annual report on LGBTQ representation in Spanish language media titled Still Invisible. The study looked at scripted programming of three broadcast networks and found that the needle hasn’t moved much since the first study and that the representation of many LGBTQ characters on the shows unvaried and unrelatable, which sends a message about the perception of the LGBTQ culture in Spanish-language cultures.
Still Invisible looked LGBTQ representation at UniMás, Univision, and Telemundo between the hours of 7PM and 11PM, Monday through Friday. The study (which can be read here) found that out of 698 characters in scripted programs on primetime television, only 19 were LGBTQ — which amounts to 3%. That being said, things seemed to have stayed relatively the same.
Even though there wasn’t a major decline or uptick in representation, there was still a lack of ideal LGBTQ stories. “It remains troubling that producers cannot imagine a way for LGBTQ characters to have successful relationships, families and/or success in business the way the heterosexual and cisgender characters do in the same programs,” the study said.
Of the 19 characters’ storylines, four were in the closet; three were solely about coming out; six did not have their own motivations and were there to service the arc of other characters; five were there for comic relief; and six died — but not because they were LGBTQ.
“Writers seemed to face challenges when creating LGBTQ characters that audiences could relate to and root for,” the report pointed out, “especially since more and more of the stories occurred in the world of drug trafficking: four of the LGBTQ characters were villains who worked for criminal organizations.”
From the study, it seems that the LGBTQ characters studied were like two-dimensional tropes. The report points out that the closeted LGBTQ characters weren’t able to experience fleshed out relationships as other straight characters. Although English-speaking television is becoming more open to LGBTQ relationships, it still faces the same challenge. Only three of the characters in the study had a romantic relationship. This included characters from the telenovela El señor de Los cielos, Perseguidos (also known as El Capo) as well as La querida del centauro.
Above all, the study found it troubling that the characters “were still not representative of the racial, ethnic diversity of the Latinx community.” And at times, it seems that many of the shows use stereotypical narratives with overused storytelling devices for their LGBTQ characters.
Tadeo Jimenez from La doble vida de Estela Carrillo has a storyline centered on him coming out to his family. Tadeo’s stepfather ends up beating him up after he is found meeting with another man. Óscar Lucio from La piloto remains in the closet in fear that his peers in the hyper-masculine world of narcotics crime would not respect him, but another character caught him in an erotic embrace with another man. This all feels pedestrian and lacks dimension for a solid LGBTQ storyline.
The study also found only one transgender woman and no transgender men in the scripted programming on primetime — and even then it wasn’t an accurate portrayal. “A male actor played Azucena, a practice that problematically reinforces the inaccurate idea that transgender women are not women, but rather men in a dress,” said the report.
The lack of diverse LGBTQ representation is the result of not knowing how to fame these stories. The report states that “writers, producers and networks still seem uncertain about whether and how to represent LGBTQ Latinx people, working both in English-language or Spanish-language entertainment media.”
The inclusion of LGBTQ characters in media is the first step, but it goes beyond that and, like other underrepresented voices in media, is important in terms educating people with cultures they are unfamiliar with. GLAAD says, “Non-stereotypical inclusion makes stories better and the opposite contributes to harmful tropes and misrepresentation.” They also add that “this lack of inclusion leads so many to feel invisible and forced to have to say, ‘I exist’.”