Things are looking up for LGBTQ representation on TV, according to GLAAD’s Where We Are on TV report, released Thursday. The annual report analyzes the overall diversity of primetime scripted series regulars on broadcast networks and assesses the number of LGBTQ characters on cable networks as well as original scripted series on Amazon, Hulu, and Netflix for the 2018-2019 TV season. Overall, the percentage of LGBTQ series regulars on broadcast television increased from last year’s 6.4 percent to 8.8 percent — a record high.
Bolstered by this progress, the advocacy group threw down the gauntlet and issued the TV industry a challenge: increase LGBTQ representation to 10 percent of series regular characters on primetime scripted broadcast series by 2020. That doesn’t seem like a difficult or unreasonable goal to achieve, especially considering that GLAAD and Harris Poll’s Accelerating Acceptance study shows that a significant 20 percent of Americans 18-34 identify as LGBTQ. This is a coveted demographic for advertisers on networks, and therefore good for the bottom line.
GLAAD president and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis said in a statement, “Not only do stories that explore the rich lives and identities of LGBTQ people move the needle forward culturally, but they pay off in ratings – shows like ‘Will & Grace,’ ‘Supergirl,’ ‘Empire,’ and ‘How To Get Away with Murder’ all attract millions of viewers weekly and demonstrate that audiences are hungry for new stories and perspectives.”
Here’s a breakdown of the increases in the number of characters, according to platform:
Broadcast: 75 of 857 regular characters were identified as LGBTQ, an increase from last year’s 58. Recurring LGBTQ characters jumped from 28 to 38.
Primetime Scripted Cable: The amount of regular and recurring LGBTQ characters increased from 173 to 203. FX Networks, which produces and airs Ryan Murphy’s groundbreaking period drama “Pose,” led the pack with the most LGBTQ characters on cable at 23 characters, edging out Freeform, which now ties with Showtime and TNT with 21 LGBTQ characters each.
Streaming: Regular and recurring LGBTQ characters on streaming original series jumped from 65 to 112 on Amazon, Hulu, and Netflix, with the last boasting the highest number of characters among the three streaming giants. Among numerous gay and transgender characters, Netflix also features an asexual character — Todd Chavez on “BoJack Horseman” — and pansexual character Ambrose, a warlock on “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.”
This uptick in representation is good news across the board for underrepresented groups. Women have finally achieved gender parity, with equal percentages of male and female LGBTQ characters at 49.6 percent. Also, for the first time, TV can boast more LGBTQ people of color (50 percent) than white ones (49 percent) on broadcast, which could be read as a response to GLAAD’s call for increased racial diversity last year. Among them is a record-high percentage of black characters (up 22 from 18 percent), Latinx (tying last year’s record at 8 percent), and Asian-Pacific Islander (up one percent to 8) among series regulars.
Representation numbers were up for other marginalized groups across all platforms, including bisexual+ people (up 117 characters from 93), transgender people (up 26 from 17), and HIV-positive people (up seven from two).
Beyond just the numbers, GLAAD also highlighted big strides in the significance given to these LGBTQ roles. Gone are the days when tokenism was enough; nuance and depth in character’s stories are essential to truly represent diversity, and that means meatier roles.
Last year, out bisexual actor Alan Cumming broke new ground as the first gay lead on a U.S. scripted broadcast drama with CBS’ “Instinct.” Now, television is continuing to put LGBTQ characters front and center with shows like The CW’s “Charmed,” Starz’s “Vida,” and the upcoming “Tales of the City” adaptation. CBS’ “The Red Line” from executive producers Ava DuVernay and Greg Berlanti will premiere in 2019 and star Noah Wylie as the husband of a man who was mistakenly killed by a police officer.
GLAAD’s Megan Townsend added, “This year we noted two history-making television moments: the premiere of FX’s ‘Pose,’ which features the largest number of transgender series regulars on a scripted U.S. series ever, and this fall The CW’s ‘Supergirl’ introduced audiences to TV’s first transgender superhero when Nicole Maines made her debut as Dreamer/Nia Nal. This is all part of a welcome increase in television telling groundbreaking stories featuring characters whose identities have long been left off screen.”
Besides making a call to the industry to increase overall LGBTQ representation, GLAAD also noted two areas that deserve attention:
Lesbian Representation: In the 2015-2016 season, 33 percent of LGBTQ regular and recurring characters were lesbians, but many of them were killed off their shows as part of the decades-long “Bury Your Gays” trend. Broadcast TV has never fully recovered, although this year the number has reached 25 percent. The numbers are still skewing towards gay men, although bisexual+ people actually make up the majority of the LGB community.
People With Disabilities Representation: An estimated 19 percent of Americans have a disability, according to the 2010 census. This TV season features 18 series regulars with disabilities. That’s an increase from 1.9 percent to 2.1 percent. While this is a record high, that’s an abysmally low “high.” GLAAD suggests one way to fix this problem is by doubling up on representation onscreen since more than one-third of adult LGBTQ people identify as having some kind of disability, according to advocacy group RespectAbility.
“An additional way that broadcast, and all the platforms tracked, can do better to accurately reflect the full diversity of the LGBTQ community is to include more LGBTQ characters who have disabilities,” reads GLAAD’s report. “Losing Dr. Arizona Robbins, a longtime series regular on ‘Grey’s Anatomy,’ was a blow to a community that is vastly underrepresented already.”