The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation released their annual “Where We Are on TV” report on Tuesday. GLAAD counted a total of 881 series this year.
The report is released every fall and analyzes the overall diversity of fictional primetime television show characters on both broadcast and cable television networks.
For the first time in their report, GLAAD counted the number of LGBT characters that appeared on original series shows that stream on sites Netflix, Hulu and Amazon. On the 23 streaming series, 43 regular characters and 16 recurring were LGBT.
Broadcast primetime had no characters that identified as transgender and cable only had three, but streamed series had the highest percentage of their characters identifying as trans*. Of the total transgender characters, only one of them was a trans man. This is frankly a terrible and gross lack of representation for an entire community of people. Hopefully, shows like “Orange is the New Black” and “Transparent,” which feature strong, well written and complex transgender characters (and are notably both on online streaming services rather than traditional cable or broadcast) will inspire showrunners to include more trans men and women in upcoming series.
Bisexual representation is also on the rise, but many of these characters perpetuate harmful bisexual stereotypes, according to the report. Although, I do feel some shows, notably “The 100,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” and “Arrow” treat their bi female characters with respect and care. Bisexual men on television are unfortunately almost nonexistent, which is a huge shame.
While black characters are at the highest percentage since they started gathering racial data, regular characters living with disabled characters has dropped. Between both broadcast and cable however, only one recurring character is depicted as having HIV.
When you break the broadcast networks down by gender, almost half (48 percent) of FOX’s characters are female. NBC has the most characters are people of color with 41 percent.
While broadcast and cable have been doing an excellent job in raising diversity in people of color, they’re definitely lacking in adding LGBT representation. Although characters on television they have more intersectionality with having characters who are not only people of color, but also LGBT.
Streaming services definitely cater to a brand new audience and it’s reflected in this report. They have the highest number of LGBT characters out of all three television outlets.
The success of these original shows caters to an newer generation of viewers—a generation of viewers where their favorite shows can be watched in the palm of their hands, no matter how busy or not-so busy their lives are.
The ability to be able to watch your favorite television shows is more crucial now in a more fast-paced American working society than ever before, since watching an episode of your favorite show is most often a way people relieve stress.
Television is also a reflection on American society as a whole, which should now be calling for more POC and LGBT characters.
But slowly and surely diversity in both these departments is on the climb. Shows like “Black-ish” and “Empire,” which are led by an African American cast, are critical and fan favorites, and Viola Davis, who plays a queer woman of color on “How To Get Away With Murder,” made history with her recent Emmy win.
What does concern me most as an avid television watcher is the decline in disability representation.
I have to confess, I think the original spike in disabled characters last year could be attributed to the success and casting of “American Horror Story: Freak Show” since a range of characters on the show were disabled in real life.
Also, I would like to ask the question of what exactly GLAAD is defining as a disability? Is it one you can see or is it something requires medical attention and possibly discussion in mainstream society? Are mental illness and spectrums of autism in this category as well or is it only just counting physical disabilities?
These are just some question I think GLAAD should keep in mind next fall when they release this report.
Representation has come a long way in the last 10 and 20 years, but I think, like everything else, there is always room for improvement.
This articles was originally published on Oct. 28, 2015 by independent student newspaper, The BG News, which can be found here.