Where Hollywood films appear to be failing, television is making strides.
With the release of its annual report card on LGBTQ representation on television, GLAAD found 8.8 percent of series regular roles on broadcast TV identify as part of the community — a record-high number since last year’s 6.4 percent. This marks the highest percentage in 14 years, when GLAAD decided to expand the study to count all broadcast series regulars.
Additionally, the findings show parity between male and female LGBTQ representation and determined, for the first time in history, more LGBTQ people of color (50 percent) are represented on broadcast television than white LGBTQ people (49 percent).
Megan Townsend, Director of Entertainment Research and Analysis at GLAAD, highlighted Supergirl‘s introduction of trans actress Nicole Maines as Dreamer/Nia Nal, television’s first trans superhero.
Cable television and streaming platforms also achieved highs. GLAAD singles out Pose, the show with the most transgender actors in series regular roles, in leading FX to offer the highest number of LGBTQ roles across cable. With original titles like Luke Cage (now canceled), Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Voltron: Legendary Defender (heading into final season), and GLOW, Netflix holds the same distinction across all streaming platforms.
When it comes to cable, however, GLAAD clarifies that the 56 characters counted hail from only eight series. The organization also accounts for the 31 characters who “will not return in next year’s report due to series cancellations, announced finales, anthology series format, or characters who have been written off but who appeared as a regular or recurring character during the stated research period.”
“With anti-LGBTQ policies being debated here and abroad, the stories and characters on television are more critical than ever before to build understanding and acceptance of LGBTQ people,” said Sarah Kate Ellis, GLAAD President and CEO. “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.”
So, with all these strides being made, where does the television industry go from here?
LGBTQ representation is becoming more well rounded, for sure — including record-high percentages of black (22 percent), Latinx (8 percent), and API series regular characters (8 percent) on broadcast television — but Ellis challenges the industry to incorporate LGBTQ characters in 10 percent of all regular roles in primetime scripted broadcast series by 2020. The report also suggests actively making more LGBTQ characters leads instead of blending in with the ensemble or set as the single non-hetereosexual character on a program.
Representations of bisexual, HIV+, trans, and people with disabilities, though also on the up, can do better.
With trans visibility, specifically, the report urges streaming platforms, which touted the highest number of trans characters, to cast more trans actors in trans roles. “This kind of casting can have damaging effects on the transgender community that go far beyond the TV screen,” it reads.
In 2018, there are 26 regular and recurring transgender characters across broadcast, cable, and streaming. That number comprises 17 trans women, five trans men, and four characters who are non-binary.
“It’s heartening to see television include more trans characters as part of the ensemble, and to see most of those characters being portrayed by trans actors,” GLAAD Director of Transgender Media & Representation Nick Adams says. “This year Pose and Supergirl are leading the way in terms of trans characters who are both fully human — and superhuman. However, it’s disturbing to see original content created in other countries airing on U.S. networks that still include deeply transphobic portrayals of trans characters. That type of content has no place on TV in 2018, and networks must be more responsible about what they put on the air.”