US TV Shows Have Record Number Of LGBTQ Characters In 2016

At the end of every year, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) publishes a report on the visibility of the LGBTQ community – and all minorities – on the small screen.

The detailed study looked at all the TV shows currently available on cable channels, network TV and legal streaming providers like Netflix and Amazon.

For the 21st year in a row, the study's report was made available online, and the results are rather exciting.


(Photo: GLAAD)

2016-2017 was record-breaking. The study found that 4.8% of recurring characters were LGBTQ characters. That's the highest percentage GLAAD has reported in the history of its annual study.

The study also found there are more black characters on TV than ever, and they comprise 20% of TV characters. Another issue remains, though: Only 38% of LGBTQ characters are women of color.

So while we can still rejoice, more progress needs to be made for representing black women on TV.

The study also said the number of transgender characters doubled compared to last year.

While last year's report said there were only seven transgender recurring characters on TV, this year, there are 16. Notable roles include Jeffrey Tambor in Transparent,  Laverne Cox in Orange Is the New Black and a leading character in CBS' upcoming series Doubt.

Next, we hope we can see similar progress for transgender actresses.

There were also more handicapped characters on TV than ever before: they represent 1.7% of lead roles, including Daphne, the deaf character featured in teen drama Switched at Birth, and Speechless' main character, who suffers from cerebral palsy.

(Image: GLAAD)

(Image: GLAAD)

(Image: GLAAD)

(Image: GLAAD)

'Bury your gays,' TV's bad habit

However, the big issue that this study found – which was rather positive overall – is the treatment of gay and bisexual female characters on TV. This year, too many shows used the "bury your gays" option.

Basically, that means many TV shows with LGBTQ characters often have those characters killed off, usually to get a reaction from the – mostly heterosexual – other characters.

We still can't forget Lexa's stupid and unjustified death in the third season of The 100, the loss of Orange Is the New Black's Poussey, and of course, Denise in The Walking Dead.

To illustrate this sad phenomenon, GLAAD said that 25 LGBTQ female characters died in 2016. It's alarming to think that many TV shows treat these characters as secondary and replaceable characters. Overall, in spite of the great improvements, a lot still has to improve. According to the foundation's President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis:

"While it's encouraging to see progress regarding LGBTQ representations on television, it's important to remind [viewers] that these numbers are just the beginning and that we need to insist for more diverse and complex LGBTQ characters for its community."

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