GLAAD, the world’s largest LGBTQ media advocacy organization, took the stage at TCA today and gave an in-depth look at the representation of lesbian, gay, and bisexual characters on scripted TV as well as trends in storylines and character development. Zeke Stokes, VP Programs at GLAAD, was joined by Lena Waithe (Master Of None), Stephanie Beatriz (Brooklyn Nine-Nine), Wilson Cruz (13 Reasons Why), Emily Andras (Wynonna Earp executive producer), Pete Nowalk (How To Get Away With Murder creator/exec producer), and Megan Townsend (Director of Entertainment Research & Analysis at GLAAD).
Townsend presented data in regards to the representation of the LGBTQ community that gave details about the inclusion or lack thereof of the queer community. She said there are 278 regular and recurring LGBTQ characters on TV — 71 on broadcast, 142 on cable, and 65 on streaming platforms. Although broadcast and streaming numbers were up, characters were still overwhelmingly male and white.
But a focus of the panel was on the “bury your gays” trope, which is often seen in television. In the past two years, 62 gay and bi women characters were killed off in on TV shows, a statistic the panel takes to heart.
“It’s good to check your blindspots,” said Nowalk in regards to the trope. He points out how its somewhat different for How To Get Away With Murder with all the nefarious characters. For Andras, she seeks out better writing for more three-dimensional LGBT characters.
“We need to be more aware of these tropes — especially the ‘bury your gays’ trope,” she said. “We, as writers, should challenge ourselves to write more interesting and complex queer characters.”
Cruz, who stars as a gay character in the upcoming Star Trek: Discovery on CBS All Access, points out that telling LGBTQ storylines and having these conversations are important to empower the community.
“When I came out, I was adamant about being out,” says Cruz. “I wanted to send a message directly to young people that they can live their life and love a person of the same sex. There’s much less pressure today. There’s so many upcoming services to create more content and reach a wider audience. Given all these opportunities, it would be great to see more (representation). ”
But including LGBTQ characters on TV shouldn’t be a novelty, nor should it be to fill a quota to make a show more diverse for the sake of being diverse. “We’re not furniture, we’re not there to jazz things up, that’s when it becomes exploitative,” said Waithe.
In addition to cracking down on harmful tropes and finding better stories for queer women that don’t end in death, GLAAD aims to find better stories for queer people of color, a topic about which Waithe is passionate.
“I always want to write stories about queer people of color because I’m familiar with stories where queer people of color are the center,” said Waithe. “I am trying to make that happen, but I need the business to work with me.”
Waithe, who wrote the acclaimed “Thanksgiving” episode alongside Master Of None co-creator Aziz Ansari, is a landmark episode not only because of its portrayal of queer woman of color’s journey of coming out to her family, but because it earned Waithe an Emmy nomination. It marks the first time a black woman was nominated for comedy writing. Before that, Mindy Kaling was the first woman of color to be nominated.
Waithe says that the episode was “so black and so gay” and says she was happy when two straight white guys said it was their favorite episode. “That’s when I know I’m doing my job — when anybody can relate. It speaks to where we are,” said Waithe, regarding her nomination. “We are making progress, but we still have a lot of work to do.”
Also a priority for GLAAD is more inclusion of LGBTQ characters as central characters as well as representation in all-ages programming — something audiences have seen more front and center on TV with shows like Steven Universe and Doc McStuffins, which will feature a same-sex couple featuring the voices of Portia de Rossi and Wanda Sykes, both LGBTQ actors. Danger And Eggs, a show that chronicles the endless adventures of fearless D.D. Danger and her ever-cautious best friend, a giant talking egg, is the latest join the fray of all-ages queer-oriented series.
Beatriz, who lends her voice to the show, is so proud of the progressive show that she has a character tattooed on her arm. She says Danger And Eggs presents interesting ideas in a gentle way and helps promote that “there’s a way to go out in the world and find people to love you.”
“The more that we develop these characters, the more that these kids can see themselves,” said Beatriz. “It’s necessary and I hope it opens more doors.”