Why LGBT is Underrepresented on Primetime TV


Earlier this week, LGBT advocacy group GLAAD released their annual survey of national primetime TV. For the 2010-11 TV season, only 2.9% of regular characters in primetime scripted broadcast TV were LGBT, down from 3.9% last year. Fox led the way with Glee, while Modern Family and True Blood were also cited as shows that are including more LGBT characters. Despite the fact that LGBT individuals already make up a significant proportion of nearly every community, a hardcore conservative few would prefer that LGBT individuals not exist at all, even in make-believe TV land. But why should the public even care about who made-up television characters pretend to be?

LGBT media portrayals have definitely come a long way from the downright degrading and insulting depictions of sexual predation from yesteryear. While stereotypes continue to persist, it seems that the media has learned to balance its portrayals with more accurate representations of reality.

But it should still be a national mark of cultural and social shame that the LGBT community remains underrepresented in contemporary media. Aside from a handful of key characters, LGBT roles are often token or ancillary. And controversy still erupts — though, thankfully, less with each instance — whenever a character displays non-heterosexual romantic preferences.

The complaints are twofold, both of which are archaic and display stunning levels of prejudice. Most repeated are claims that LGBT behavior is “sinful” or “wicked.” Non-heterosexual preferences are depicted as being in morally opposition to a religious message. But so are a lot of things. Usury, for instance, is restricted in both Christianity and Islam, and yet, scandalously, CNBC runs stories on banks every day on their 24/7 sin-a-thon station.

Equally damning are zealous calls to “think of the children," an unfounded paranoia that media portrayals of upstanding, productive, and well-rounded LGBT characters corrupt this nation’s youth. Aside from the fact that there are no mainstream portrayals of explicit sexual activity from any orientation, claiming that children can be “turned” gay is absurd. Calling these even-handed media portrayals “corrupting” merely stigmatizes sexuality and makes a difficult time in everyone’s life — coming to terms with one’s sexuality — even more trying.

By preaching vitriol, organizations like the Media Research Center are only heaping misery upon and promoting the ostracization of fellow citizens.

It is not, but should be, the media’s duty to portray some measure of reality on our screens by representing the nation’s plurality and diversity in an even-handed, accurate fashion. The unrealistically uniform casts of characters currently portrayed in media are deeply detrimental to society, since they depict a lineup of “normalcy” that veers far from the truth, and in its own small but conspicuous ways, prolongs deep divisions in society.

The day will come when society ceases to invest so much anxiety over the sexualities of our television characters. It may take some years yet, but hopefully, some day a display of LGBT romantic preferences will be just as banal as any other make-believe scenario on TV.

Photo Credit: PhilWolff