Story at a glance

  • LGBTQ+ people are historically underrepresented and misrepresented in American media and television.
  • GLAAD is a nongovernmental media monitoring organization specifically focused on the portrayal of the LGBTQ+ community.
  • A new report reveals that there are less LGBTQ+ series regular characters on prime-time television than last year.

Americans are watching television like it’s their second job. It’s not just you — adults 18 and older were spending more than 37 hours a week watching television in the first quarter of the year, according to Nielsen.

So it stands to reason that what you’re watching has an effect on how you see the world, especially considering that you’re probably seeing less of it in person this year.  

“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, President and CEO of GLAAD, in a release. “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.” 


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But fewer series regular characters scheduled to appear on broadcast scripted prime-time television this season are LGBTQ+ than last year, according to the latest report from the media monitoring watchdog. And nearly 1 in 5 of them appear on series tied to just four people: Shonda Rhimes, Greg Berlanti, Lena Waithe and Ryan Murphy. 

“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,” said Megan Townsend, GLAAD’s Director of Entertainment Research & Analysis, in the release. 


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After GLAAD challenged the industry to show more racially diverse LGBTQ+ characters, LGBTQ+ characters of color made up more than half of those on cable television last year — for the first time in the report's history. The report noted more series regular characters with disabilities as well as the second year of record-high female representation. But intersectional identities remain rare, with only one LGBTQ+ character confirmed to have a disability (Ryan Hayes, played by Ryan O’Connell, of Netflix’s "Special").

The report also looked at more than just the presence of LGBTQ+ characters, another area where the industry fell short. Just three LGBTQ+ characters were portrayed living with HIV, all three of which were from the show "Pose," limiting the reach of representation essential to addressing the stigma of HIV and AIDS. About 1.2 million people in the United States are living with HIV, according to the Department of Health and Human Services

“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.” 


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Published on Jan 15, 2021