In the ever-changing landscape of television, representation and inclusion have become more and more prevalent. Significant strides have been made for women, people of color, and the LGBTQ community as of late and it is reflected in GLAAD’s annual “Where We Are on TV” report, which analyzes the overall diversity of primetime scripted series regulars on TV. This year’s report found that of the 901 regular characters expected to appear on broadcast TV this season, 58 identified as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, questioning and/or queer. The 6.4% of LGBTQ characters on broadcast TV marks a record high since GLAAD started the study.
To add to the 58 LGBTQ characters on broadcast TV, GLAAD tracked an additional 28 recurring LGBTQ characters. On the scripted cable front the number of regular LGBTQ characters increased to 103 while recurring saw an uptick to 70. Amazon, Hulu, and Netflix tallied 51 LGBTQ regulars and 19 recurring for their original scripted series which marked an increase of five characters from last year’s report.
Now in its 22nd year, GLAAD’s “Where We Are on TV” examined series regulars on broadcast networks and assessed the number of LGBTQ characters on TV platforms for the 2017-2018 TV season. The report comes at a very divisive time in our country, where oppression of marginalized communities is becoming emboldened.
“As LGBTQ acceptance in government and the broader American culture reverses course, television is a critical home for LGBTQ stories and representation matters more than ever,” said Sarah Kate Ellis, President and CEO of GLAAD. “At a time when the Trump administration is trying to render LGBTQ people invisible, representing LGBTQ people in all of our diversity in scripted TV programs is an essential counterbalance that gives LGBTQ people stories to relate to and moves the broader public to support LGBTQ people and families.”
Although the record high of LGBTQ characters on TV is a notable benchmark, the report still found a lack diversity among LGBTQ portrayals on television. Overall, the report shows that racial diversity is up on broadcast TV from last year, but still, LGBTQ characters are still predominantly white (77% on streaming, 62% on broadcast, 64% on cable) and are men (55% on broadcast).
Still, not all is totally lost when it comes to strides for TV representation of people of color in the LGBTQ community. On broadcast TV, 18% of series regulars were black; 8% were Latinx and 7% were Asian-Pacific Islander. It provides a minimal dent in the study, but the report points out that it could be better.
To add to that, lesbian representation increased to 24% from 17% from last year and is up on cable to 27% from 20%. Women are 43% of series regulars on broadcast, which is a decrease of one percentage point from last year.
However, bisexual women far outnumber bisexual men on every platform — despite many of the characters falling into bisexual stereotypes. Bisexual representations on broadcast fell from 30% last year to 26% this year and
on cable from 32% to 28%. On streaming, it went from 20% to 30%. Bisexual women far outnumber bisexual men on every platform. Many of these characters still fall into dangerous stereotypes about bisexual people.
In addition, the majority of LGBTQ characters represented are cisgender, meaning their gender identity aligns with the gender and sex assigned at birth. The report found that there are only 17 transgender characters on broadcast, cable, and streaming platforms. Of those, nine are trans women, four are trans men, and four are non-binary. This is notably the first time GLAAD has been able to count non-binary characters.
This year also marked the first time that GLAAD tracked non-binary (characters identifies as neither male nor female) and asexual (people who do not experience sexual attraction) characters. Asia Kate Dillon and her character on Billions, Taylor, identify as gender non-binary while Raphael (played by David Castro) on Freeform’s Shadowhunters and Todd (voiced by Aaron Paul) on Netflix’s BoJack Horseman are asexual.
As the TV landscape begins to expand, we are seeing more and more change when it comes to LGBTQ narratives. The Disney Channel’s Andi Mack recently revealed that one of their characters is gay while Ryan Murphy has set the largest transgender cast ever — many of which are people of color — for his upcoming scripted series Pose. That said, the increase of diverse stories within the LGBTQ community is a necessary growth. In GLAAD’s Accelerating Acceptance survey, 20 percent of Americans aged 18-34 identify as LGBTQ. Twelve percent of 18-34 year olds would call themselves “not cisgender,” and four percent identify as asexual. This reflects the emergence and representation of LGBTQ narratives and characters on TV.
“Numbers are only a small part of the story when it comes to LGBTQ representation on TV and simply being present onscreen is not enough,” said Megan Townsend, Director of Entertainment Research & Analysis at GLAAD. “While we’re pleased to see numbers on the rise, consideration of how LGBTQ characters are woven into storylines and whose stories are making it to screen is crucial for judging progress of the industry. And there is still work to be done.”