2018 saw record gains in LGBTQ roles on television, especially for people of colorOctober 27, 2018
2018 has been a bad year for the LGBTQ community in politics, but it’s been a record-breaking year in media, according to GLAAD’s annual TV diversity report. LGBTQ representation on television hit a record high this year, with 8.8 percent out of 857 series regulars on broadcast TV openly identified as on the gay, trans, or queer spectrum. And for the first time, LGBTQ people of color outnumbered white LGBTQ characters on-screen by 50 to 49 percent.
GLAAD counted 26 trans characters on TV, which is nine more than last year. A significant percentage of that progress was driven by Ryan Murphy’s new series Pose on FX, which has five new trans characters.
For the first time in three years, the number of bisexual+ men rose, clocking in at 33, compared to 18 in 2017. (Bisexual+ is a new term that expands the old definition of bisexual to include attraction to other gender identities besides men and women.) Bisexual+ characters in television tend to be women who are often portrayed through negative tropes like using sex as a manipulative tool. But this year, GLAAD’s study saw a rise in depicting bi+ men and also in telling more nuanced stories of bi+ women.
The study says Netflix is still the best streaming platform for diverse representation of LGBTQ characters, dominating outlets like Hulu and Amazon Prime. In particular, Netflix’s animated dark comedy BoJack Horseman features the only asexual character GLAAD’s study found on streaming platforms: Todd Chavez, BoJack’s trusty sidekick.
Beyond these numbers, the nuanced and favorable depictions of LGBTQ characters continue to increase. Steven Universe featured the first same-sex wedding on children’s television this year. Adventure Time confirmed a long-rumored queer relationship between Princess Bubblegum and Marceline the Vampire Queen. The reboot of Queer Eye on Netflix aired its second season, including an episode that discusses trans issues. The superhero show Black Lightning features a queer woman of color who also possesses superhuman strength.
Filmmakers and producers, on the other hand, are still failing to include LGBTQ characters in their work. And even when they do, the roles are often thin and seem like afterthoughts. In May, GLAAD’s 2018 film survey found that only 12.8 percent of 109 films included an LGBTQ character, down from 18.4 percent last year. Many of these roles were deemed “insufficient,” such as a quick reference in Get Out that the housekeeper Georgina might be gay, and a postmortem revelation that two characters in Alien: Covenant were a gay couple.
At least in television, it looks like we’re making progress. In 2017 and 2016, shows also broke records, with 6.4 percent of characters identifying as LGBTQ in 2017, up from 4 percent in 2016. Progress is incremental, but it looks like at least the TV showrunners are listening to social media and Hollywood’s continued calls for diversity, even if film lags behind.