Following a season of LGBTQ deaths on shows like The 100, The Walking Dead, Empire and Blindspot, writers and producers from shows including Faking It, Shameless, The Originals and The 100 gathered at the ATX Festival on Saturday morning to address the Bury Your Gays trope.
The decades-old trope — which is predominately defined as killing off a gay character to prop up the story of a straight one, or after a particularly happy moment in his/her life — came to the forefront once again after the death of The 100‘s Lexa (Alycia Debnam-Carey), who died in a tragic accident after consummating her relationship with Clarke (Eliza Taylor).
Suffice it to say, there was a swift outcry from fans, particularly among the LGBTQ community, who were upset that a show as progressive as The 100 seemingly turned to Bury Your Gays trope. (A very long list can be found here, but Tara on Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a prime example.)
“I think it was a failure to recognize the cultural impact that this would have outside the context of the show,” said Javier Grillo-Marxuach, who penned the episode depicting Lexa’s death. “The systemic failure to recognize it as an event of the magnitude that it would have… is the real subject of discussion. Perhaps if we knew, why did we still go through with it? Why did it not register with us? I think that’s a bigger issue.”
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But Faking It creator Carter Covington came to Grillo-Marxuach’s defense. “I feel like I have one of the gayest shows on TV, so I’ve earned the right to speak to this,” he said. “We’re all here for the same reason, which is to improve visibility of LGBT characters. To me that means having LGBT characters on TV that make people feel something.”
Covington went on to say that The 100 fans actually getting invested in this relationship ahead of Lexa’s death helped bring them together. “This is storytelling,” he said. “I think The 100, Javi and everyone is being assaulted. In the end they’re giving fans a chance to meet each other online. There’s so much good The 100 is doing for the community…. I hope you can start to forgive yourself.”
Grey’s Anatomy and Shameless writer/producer Krista Vernoff added the Bury Your Gay trope is more of a problem because there is much more LGBT representation on TV, recalling her time writing on Charmed, which she said was set in a San Francisco “mysteriously bereft of gay people.”
Covington concurred: “Look at how far we’ve come and what we’ve been able to do,” he said. “I’ve never been as inspired to be an LGBT creator as I am right now.”
However, Vernoff explained she didn’t sign the Lexa Pledge because it would put a limit on creative storytelling. “I’m really worried it’ll have the opposite effect of what fans want,” Covington added. Instead, “What we really should be looking at is how LGBT characters are portrayed.” Vernoff added: “We need to continue to work to make our series regulars more representative of the world.”
With that in mind, Covington hopes the backlash from the proliferation of the Bury Your Gays trope won’t have an adverse effect on including LGBT characters in future storytelling. “It’s always a challenge to create a show where LGBT themes are front and center,” because he says LGBT fans aren’t the majority, especially when it comes to advertising. “Networks are terrified, they’re completely scared right now. They don’t know where the industry is headed… I would hate for us to lose opportunities because of fear.”
But in the wake of what happened, GLAAD representative Megan Townsend said television can only grow and evolve from here. “Now the mistake has been made,” she said. “It’s come to everyone’s attention in ways it never has before.”