LGBTQ TV characters at all-time high, but ethnic and gender diversity still sorely needed
Do not adjust your TV sets: Television is gayer than ever.
According to GLAAD's 2016 "Where We Are on TV" report, which quantifies just how many characters across cable, digital and streaming platforms are LGBTQ, the 2016-2017 season will have more queer characters than ever before.
Broadcast networks have put LGBTQ characters in 43 out of 895 regular roles, for a total of 4.8% of those roles — up 0.8% from last year. An additional 28 LGBTQ characters appear in recurring roles. Meanwhile, there will be 142 LGBTQ characters on scripted cable series and 65 on streaming (Hulu, Netflix and Amazon).
Of all the broadcast networks, ABC scored the highest (7.3% of characters were LGBTQ) while CBS was dead last with 2.2% of characters identifying as LGBTQ.
Of the 71 regular and recurring LGBTQ characters on broadcast TV, about half were gay men, with bisexual women accounting for 23%.
While LGBTQ representation was at an all-time high for broadcast networks, GLAAD didn't let the big networks off the hook. The advocacy organization highlighted broadcast's troubling tendency to kill off queer characters, especially queer women. GLAAD called deaths of lesbian or bisexual women on shows like Chicago Fire and Supernatural "superfluous" and said they "[continue] a decadeslong trend of killing LGBTQ characters — often solely to further a straight, cisgender character's plot line."
Cable networks had much higher numbers of LGBTQ characters — 142 characters overall, the same as last year. That amount comprises 92 regular characters, up from 84 last year, and 50 recurring, down 8 from last year. GLAAD gave special shoutouts to Freeform, formerly ABC Family, which featured 27 LGBTQ characters — the most on cable by far. Half of the transgender characters on cable are either on Freeform or Showtime.
Cable may be a bastion of LGBTQ characters, but not everything is rosy. 72% of LGBTQ characters on cable are white, a percentage that went up 1% from last year. Plus, there are some dark clouds on the horizon: Four LGBTQ-heavy series (Pretty Little Liars, Orphan Black, Black Sails and Teen Wolf) are set to leave cable TV this year.
This is only the second year GLAAD has tracked LGBTQ representation on streaming services like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon. Streaming made great strides for lesbian characters, who account for 43% of all LGBTQ characters counted, but four separate shows relied on killing off queer women this season: Orange Is the New Black, Wentworth, Marcella and East Los High.
GLAAD also commended Amazon not only for having the most transgender inclusive show on streaming — Transparent — but also for having the highest percentage of LGBTQ characters with a disability. Fourteen (29%) of the LGBTQ characters on Amazon series have a disability. People with disabilities still struggle to be seen on TV — only 0.9% of characters on TV have a disability, according to a recent study.
GLAAD's effort adds an important element to a larger conversation about diversity and representation on TV. For two years, #OscarsSoWhite has asked that Hollywood not only offer up films with more diverse casts, but tell stories that better reflect the country's diversity.
While there are clear numbers as to America's racial demographics, how many LGBTQ people exist is a bit unclear. As of 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. estimated that only 3.4% of Americans identified as something other than straight, while one recent study has shown that the upcoming Generation Z will be America's most sexually diverse, with 52% of teens identifying as something other than completely heterosexual.
Hopefully, one day, TV will come to reflect that straight people aren't even the majority anymore.