Representation matters. Especially now that movies and series are becoming a big part of our lives. Through Netflix, television and even social media, we are always surrounded by storylines and characters. Characters we become attached to and project ourselves onto. And in that way, representation matters. Because all of those characters are everywhere, all we see, and we need to be able to find people who really represent us, the typical children, teenagers, or adults. I’m not going to talk about all of the diverse types of representation. I’m more specifically going to discuss LGBTQ+ representation on screen, especially in TV shows.
For a little bit of history, the first-ever television drama was shown in 1930 to the British Prime Minister. 89 years ago. Even so, it wasn’t until the late 1940s that many programs really started to air. The first series that even talked about homosexuality was South, a television play that aired in 1959, but it was seen by very few people. However, the first openly-gay character in a primetime TV show was only portrayed in 1977, by Billy Crystal in Soap.
And now, Disney Channel is making history by bringing its first character to say “I’m gay” in 2019.
Again, representation matters. So that everyone can relate to someone, and see themselves in a character. So that different stories can be told, not the same ones on repeat. So that it’s more realistic, because it is not true that everyone has the same sexual orientation. So that it can even help us overcome some of our problems by showing us solutions.
Television needs to accurately portray our society. Did you know that a survey showed that 57% of young adults don’t identify as strictly heterosexual? Now, television does not show that at all.
Although, it is getting much better at this whole representation thing. The number of characters who identify as LGBTQ+ went from 6,4% in 2017 to 8,8% in 2018 in broadcast series. Shows like Queer Eye, Dear White People, Will and Grace, and Orange Is The New Black are all contributing to the phenomenon.
The thing is, it’s one of the two ways that people often learn about the LGBTQ community, the other one being from knowing someone who identifies as LGBTQ. It raises awareness, and makes coming out easier for some people by showing them that queer people can be happy and loved.
I hope this made you realize how much LGBTQ representation is needed, important, and how far it’s come. There are still problems with it, though. We need fair representation, because the vast majority of queer characters are still white and male. I want to see more non-stereotyped queer characters, and more trans characters, so that everyone can have a voice.
Still, the progress made in these past few years has been incredible. Representation has touched so many lives, whether by showing people the beauty of LGBTQ relationships or helping them come to terms with who they are and who they identify as. Yes, there is still progress to be made, but television’s on the right track.
Representation matters. And it always will.
Written by: Béatrice Légasse