GLAAD released the 17th edition of its Where We Are on TV report this morning and here’s the tea: TV representation for the LGBTQIA saw some major gains… for the most part.
For the girls out there who are new to the scene, Where We Are on TV analyzes the overall diversity of primetime scripted series regulars on broadcast networks and assesses the number of LGBTQ regular and recurring characters on primetime scripted cable programming and original scripted streaming series on the services Amazon, Apple TV+, Disney+, HBO Max, Hulu, Netflix, Paramount+, and Peacock which premiered or are expected to return between June 1, 2021 and May 31, 2022. This marks the 26th year that GLAAD has tracked the presence of LGBTQ characters on television.
This year’s study found that of the 775 series regular characters scheduled to appear on scripted broadcast primetime programming for the 2021-2022 season, 92 characters (11.9 percent) are LGBTQ. This is an increase of 2.8 percentage points from the previous year and marks a new record high percentage of LGBTQ series regulars on broadcast. There are an additional 49 LGBTQ recurring characters on the platform for a total of 141 LGBTQ characters on broadcast.
For the first time in this report’s history, lesbian characters represent the majority of the LGBTQ characters on broadcast at 40 percent (56 characters), up six percentage points from the previous season. Gay men make up 35 percent (49) of characters, a decrease of five percentage points from last year. Bisexual+ representation increased very slightly this year, after two years of decreases. Bi+ characters represent 19 percent (27) of regular and recurring LGBTQ characters, an increase of one percentage point from last year.
This year, racial diversity of LGBTQ characters is up on broadcast and streaming, but down on cable. For a fourth year in a row, LGBTQ people of color (58 percent) outweigh white LGBTQ people on broadcast, continuing to meet GLAAD’s previous challenge of having more than half of LGBTQ characters who were also people of color. After meeting and surpassing the challenge last year, representation of LGBTQ people of color on cable decreased this year to 45 percent. Representation of LGBTQ people of color on streaming increased to 49 percent. GLAAD continues to call on all platforms to ensure at least half of LGBTQ characters are also people of color.
This year, there are 42 regular and recurring transgender characters tracked across all three platforms (broadcast, cable, and streaming), up from 29 last year. Of those, 20 are trans women, 14 are trans men, and eight are nonbinary trans characters. These characters appear in 25 dramas and 11 comedies. There are a further 17 characters who are nonbinary and not trans.
But not all was hunky dory with the report. There is plenty that can be improved when it comes to the diverse representation of queer people on TV. For instance, GLAAD counted only two characters who are living with HIV. This marks a decrease from the previous year’s three characters (all of whom appeared on FX’s Pose), and a significant decrease from the nine characters tallied in the study prior to that. Both characters counted this year are recurring, Michael in Netflix’s Dear White People and Sai in NBC’s Ordinary Joe.
In last year’s study, GLAAD and Gilead Sciences called on the entertainment industry to grow representation of HIV in an effort to drive cultural and societal change in ending the stigma of people who are living with HIV. With over 1.2 million people living with HIV in the United States, GLAAD continues to challenge networks to increase HIV storytelling in order to combat the stigma and stereotypes that still exist surrounding those who are living with HIV. GLAAD’s most recent State of HIV Stigma Study found that less than half of Americans (48 percent) feel knowledgeable about HIV. The study also found that there is still unfounded fear about people living with HIV, even though those receiving proper medical treatment cannot transmit HIV.
“The growing state of LGBTQ representation on television is a signal that Hollywood is truly starting to recognize the power of telling LGBTQ stories that audiences around the world connect with,” said GLAAD President & CEO Sarah Kate Ellis. “At a time when anti-LGBTQ legislation and violence continues to increase, it is cultural institutions like television that take on the crucial role of changing hearts and minds through diverse and inclusive storytelling. Networks and platforms must continue to prioritize telling LGBTQ stories that have been long overlooked, with a specific focus on the trans community, LGBTQ people of color, people living with HIV, and LGBTQ people with disabilities.”
“After finding several decreases in the previous year’s study, it is exciting to see quick progress made year-over-year with a new record high percentage of LGBTQ series regulars on broadcast, as well as increases in underrepresented parts of the community including queer women, transgender characters, and LGBTQ people of color,” said Megan Townsend, GLAAD’s Director of Entertainment Research & Analysis. “However, we continue to see that LGBTQ inclusion is often found in clusters from a concentrated number of creatives and networks who have prioritized telling our stories.”
Townsend continued, “Just three cable networks account for close to half of all LGBTQ inclusion on cable, and 8.5 percent of LGBTQ characters across all platforms tracked appear on shows tied to just four producers. As the LGBTQ community continues to quickly grow and drive buzz as heavy users of social platforms – and as there is more competition for audience’s attention and money than ever – it is clear that investing in telling nuanced, diverse LGBTQ stories and proactively marketing those programs can only benefit the network’s bottom line and positive perception.”
GLAAD uses the data from the Where We Are on TV study to shape its work as a resource to the industry throughout the year, including to advocate for leaders in the TV industry to greenlight more diverse and substantive LGBTQ representations that accelerate acceptance.