there's more queer characters on tv than ever before, but they're mostly white
As TV makes progress with queer characters, black representation dips.
Photography Jojo Whilden/Netflix
This article was originally published by i-D AU/NZ.
The American LGBTQ advocacy group GLAAD has shared their annual Where We Are on TV report; surveying the state of queer representation on free-to-air and cable US television. These days, they're also taking into consideration all your favourite streaming services like Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu.
The report only looks at "primetime, scripted programming in the 2017-18 television season", so the numbers don't take into account reality TV or documentaries. Of the 901 series regular characters expected to appear on our screens over the next year, 58 were LGBTQ — that's just 6.4 percent. (For context, GLAAD have it that about 20 percent of young Americans are LGBTQ). Of those same 901 characters, 17 were transgender. If those numbers feel low, it's because they are, but it's also pretty much the best shape TV's ever been in.
The 2017-2018 season is the first in history that GLAAD could proudly count multiple recurring characters who were either asexual or non-binary. "While these identities have been depicted on screen before", the organisation writes in a press release, "those characters were often relegated to one-off episodes, which did not allow for nuanced exploration."
More good news: TV welcomed a record-high percentage of characters with disabilities — 1.8 percent — and the highest percentage of POC series regulars in the history of GLAAD's reporting. That percentage is inching closer and closer to half of all characters on TV, this year sitting at 40 percent, or 356 characters out of 901.
That said, queer characters remain overwhelmingly white: "77 percent of LGBTQ characters on streaming, 62 percent on broadcast, and 64 percent on cable", GLAAD report. Unsurprisingly, most LGBTQ characters are cisgender men.
Elsewhere, despite an overall increase in POC characters, after three consecutive years of improvement, representation of black characters has dipped once again. In the 2017-2018 season, only 18 percent of the 901 characters were black, a two percent drop from last years report, which boasted a record-high of 20 percent.
“Numbers are only a small part of the story when it comes to LGBTQ representation on TV and simply being present onscreen is not enough,” said Megan Townsend, Director of Entertainment Research & Analysis at GLAAD, in a press release. “While we’re pleased to see numbers on the rise, consideration of how LGBTQ characters are woven into storylines and whose stories are making it to screen is crucial for judging progress of the industry. And there is still work to be done.”