How LGBT Representation On Television Has Changed Over The Last Year
According to GLAAD's annual studies.
With returning characters Blaine (Darren Criss), Kurt (Chris Colfer), and Santana (Naya Rivera) on Glee and Captain Ray Holt (Andre Braugher) on Brooklyn Nine-Nine and the introduction of new ones like Jamal Lyon (Jussie Smollett) on Empire, Renee Montoya (Victoria Cartagena) on Gotham, and Kara's (Zoe Levin) two moms on Red Band Society, Fox has the largest representation of LGBT characters on scripted primetime series among broadcast networks in the 2014–2015 season, according to an annual report released by GLAAD today. The "Where We Are On TV" study, which measures how many expected LGBT series regular and recurring characters there are on broadcast, cable, and streaming shows for the upcoming season, first looks at Fox, NBC, ABC, CBS, and The CW. For the second straight year, Fox came out on top of the broadcast networks, with 10 series regulars and 64 recurring LGBT characters in the 2014–2015 season, the latter of which is a notable 65% increase from a year ago.
ABC was second best in terms of the percentage of LGBT regular characters in the current TV season, with 4.5%, while NBC went from the worst of the five broadcast networks last year to third this year, with an increase from 1% to 3.8% of its regular characters being LGBT. CBS remained in fourth place, with 3.2%, which is still an increase from 1.9% last year. And The CW went from 3% to 0%, having no LGBT regular characters this season, according to GLAAD.
Of both regular and recurring LGBT on broadcast networks in the 2014–2015 season, lesbian characters have decreased 2% from last year, bisexual characters have decreased 4%, and characters of color (of which 11% are black, 11% are Latino/a, 5% are Asian-Pacific, and none are multiracial) also decreased 2%.
Across all of the networks, however, GLAAD found that there were no expected regular or recurring transgender characters on broadcast networks for the 2014–2015 season. The CW's Jane the Virgin, though, features transgender actress Carmen Carerra, who plays the role of Eva, the titular character's cocktail waitress co-worker. Though it wasn't addressed in the pilot, BuzzFeed News confirmed with Carerra's rep that her character will be transgender as well. Since most shows airing in 2014–2015 have not finished filming, nor are they completely written, it is entirely possible that more LGBT characters could appear on broadcast series this season, thus potentially altering GLAAD's findings.
In addition to the "Where We Are On TV" study, GLAAD also released the Network Responsibility Index, which measures how much screen time LGBT characters and storylines were given in the previous 2013–2014 season and grades networks on a scale from failing to excellent. Though NBC didn't have the highest number of LGBT characters, it did give those it did have the most time, earning a "good" grade on the NRI scale. ABC, The CW, FX, and Showtime also earned "good" grades last season, while CBS, TLC, and USA ranked as "adequate." A&E, The History Channel, and TNT all earned "failing" grades. And, though Fox had the largest LGBT representation for the 2014–2015 season, it earned only a "good" grade for the 2013–2014 season, giving LGBT characters 36% of overall screen time.
Perhaps most impressive, however, is MTV's LGBT visibility. The network earned an "excellent" grade for its 2013–2014 season, thanks in large part to the debut of Faking It, a show about two girls — Amy (Rita Volk) and Karma (Katie Stevens) —who pretend to be a couple to gain popularity, only for Amy to realize she has romantic feelings for Karma. Fellow teen network ABC Family also received an "excellent" grade for characters like interracial lesbian mothers of three Stef and Lena (Teri Polo and Sherri Saum) and transgender Cole (Tom Phelan) on The Fosters, lesbian couple Natalie (Stephanie Nogueras) and Lydia (Heather Mazur) and gay character Matthew (Daniel Durant) on Switched at Birth, and lesbian character Emily (Shay Mitchell) on Pretty Little Liars.
Though there's been some improvement overall in terms of LGBT representation across the television spectrum, cable outdoes broadcast networks. In the 2014–2015 season, the number of LGBT characters on cable has increased by 34% and there is one recurring transgender character. Of the LGBT characters, 66% are white (a decrease of 5%), 10% are black, 11% are Latino/a, 5% are Asian-Pacific, and 8% are multiracial. Plus, there's been increased visibility for bisexual characters: Bisexual women make up 20% of all LGBT characters on cable, a 5% increase from last year, and bisexual men make up 10%, a 4% increase from last year.
HBO has the most LGBT characters of any cable network, with 15 across five shows: Looking, Game of Thrones, True Blood, Girls, and Getting On. Patrick (Jonathan Groff), Agustín (Frankie J. Alvarez), and Dom (Murray Bartlett) are the central gay characters on Looking; Elijah (Andrew Rannells) is a recurring gay character on Girls; and there's also Loras Tyrell (Finn Jones) on Game of Thrones. The cabler also increased its LGBT characters' screen time from 5% in the 2012–2013 season to 31% in the 2013–2014 season, earning an "excellent" grade on GLAAD's NRI scale.
However, streaming shows have blown both broadcast and cable out of the water. Though a large part of streaming's high numbers are due to Netflix's original series Orange Is the New Black — which has lesbian and bisexual characters and a transgender character — Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu have included LGBT characters in nearly all of their original series, like Amazon's groundbreaking Transparent. That series, along with Netflix's House of Cards and Hemlock Grove, Hulu's Coronation Street, Neighbours, and Hollyoaks, and Amazon's Alpha House, includes more than one LGBT character.
While GLAAD's study looks at number of characters and amount of screen time they are given, one thing it doesn't measure is how much the queer characters adhere to LGBT stereotypes, whether the representation is positive or negative, and how their storylines compare with that of straight characters. Of course, sheer visibility of LGBT characters matters, but how those characters are treated does as well.