GLAAD released its annual “Where We Are on TV” report on Thursday morning and found that things have been holding steady when it comes to overall diversity and representation of LGBTQ characters on scripted series on broadcast networks, cable and streaming platforms for the 2020-2021 TV season. This marks the 25th year that GLAAD has tracked the presence of LGBTQ characters on television, and the 16th edition of the Where We Are on TV study.
“In the midst of a destructive pandemic, a long overdue cultural reckoning with racial injustice, and a transition into a new political era for this country, representation matters more than ever as people turn to entertainment storytelling for connection and escape,” said Sarah Kate Ellis, GLAAD’s President and CEO. “This time of unprecedented change matched with increased demand represents an opportunity to break new ground with stories we have not seen before and create LGBTQ characters that do not reinforce harmful stereotypes.”
As the TV landscape changes with the cultural impact of the world, there is a need for connection on TV and an appetite for more and new content — and this has been a huge opportunity for LGBTQ visibility.
As of now, LGBTQ inclusion is largely prioritized by four creators: Greg Berlanti, Lena Waithe, Ryan Murphy and Shonda Rhimes. Last year, characters on series from this quartet accounted for 14% of all LGBTQ characters. This year, that figure saw an uptick with these creators’ series representing 17% of all LGBTQ representation (62 of 360 characters) on TV appearing on their 16 series included in this year’s study. This means nearly one in every five LGBTQ characters appears on a series that is tied to one of just four creatives.
GLAAD’s “The State of HIV Stigma” survey found that nearly nine in 10 Americans believe that there is still a stigma around HIV which is holding back progress. The new report shows a drastic decrease in representation of characters living with HIV. Last year there was nine, this year tallied only three and they were all on FX’s Pose. As a result, GLAAD is calling on the industry to erase the stigma and drive meaningful cultural change with authentic storytelling featuring people living with HIV.
“Hollywood must tell these stories that not only entertain, but which also have the opportunity to inform and educate its audiences,” said DaShawn Usher, GLAAD’s Program Officer – Communities of Color and HIV and AIDS advocate. “While there have been so many advances and developments in HIV education, prevention, and treatment, I cannot say the same when it comes to Hollywood telling these diverse and compelling stories.”
The data presented in the report was unpacked in a virtual event on Thursday which included GLAAD President & CEO Sarah Kate Ellis, writer and actor Ryan O’Connell (Netflix’s Special), actor Harvey Guillen (FX’s What We Do In The Shadows), actor Dyllón Burnside (FX’s Pose), actress Alexandra Billings (ABC’s The Conners) and a presentation from GLAAD’s Director of Entertainment Research & Analysis and report researcher and author Megan Townsend.
“LGBTQ-inclusive shows dominated the conversation in 2020, with series like Schitt’s Creek, Batwoman, The Haunting of Bly Manor, Veneno, She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, and others celebrating high viewership, critical acclaim, and passionate fanbases,” said Townsend. “However, with LGBTQ inclusion in the industry still being led by a concentrated number of creatives and several inclusive series ending in this year’s study, networks and streaming services need to be taking note of the value of this dedicated audience. It must be a priority to introduce nuanced and diverse LGBTQ characters in 2021 and beyond, ensuring that this year’s decreases do not become reverse progress as the industry continues to evolve and adjust to this unique era’s challenges.”
The report also found that of the 773 series regular characters scheduled to appear on broadcast scripted primetime television this season, 70 (9.1%) are LGBTQ, down from last year’s record-high of 10.2%. This marks the first season to stumble since it last fell in the 2013-14 report. This percentage was expected to drop due to the COVID-19 pandemic halting production on several shows and impacting the development of new series. There are an additional 31 LGBTQ recurring characters on broadcast, for a total of 101 LGBTQ characters, down from last year’s 120. There was also a significant decrease in overall primetime scripted broadcast series – down to 96 series from the previous year’s 111.
Of the 773 series regulars counted on broadcast television, 46% (354) of characters are people of color, a one-percentage-point decrease from the previous year’s record high of 47%.
Scripted cable saw the most significant decrease in LGBTQ representation year over year. On scripted primetime cable series, the number of LGBTQ series regulars has decreased from 121 to 81 characters, with 37 recurring LGBTQ characters from 94, bringing the total number of LGBTQ characters down to 118 from 215. Several LGBTQ-inclusive cable series are anticipated to return in next year’s edition after COVID-19 production shutdowns forced delays which kept series from being confirmed to air within this report’s research period, including The L Word: Generation Q, Euphoria, Killing Eve, among others.
The silver lining? Over half of LGBTQ characters on primetime scripted cable are people of color, a first in the history of the report. This not only meets, but it surpasses GLAAD’s challenge from last year’s report for each platform to ensure that within two years at least half of LGBTQ characters tracked on each platform are people of color.
On the streaming services Amazon, Hulu, and Netflix, there are 95 regular LGBTQ characters featured on original scripted series, a decrease from last year, as well as 46 LGBTQ recurring characters. This brings the total to 141 LGBTQ characters, a decrease of 12 from last year’s report.
Streaming was the only platform where white LGBTQ characters outnumber non-white LGBTQ characters, though racial diversity of LGBTQ characters on streaming did improve by six percentage points to 46% of LGBTQ characters also being people of color. Across all streaming television, there was one LGBTQ character confirmed with a disability: Ryan Hayes (Ryan O’Connell) from Netflix’s Special. For the fourth year in a row, lesbian representation decreased on streaming to 28 percent of LGBTQ characters.
The report also found that bisexual+ characters make up 28% of all LGBTQ characters on all three streaming platforms, a 2% increase from last year. There are 29 regular and recurring transgender characters and one lesbian asexual character.
Read the full”Where We Are On TV” report here.