The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation released their Network Responsibility Index rates for the 2012-2013 television season earlier this year, giving various television networks less than excellent ratings.
These scores provide insight, among a pool of information, as to how television networks might improve their lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer character representation to help increase audience understanding of the LGBTQ community.
Matt Kane, the Associate Director of Entertainment Media for GLAAD, said that networks are not under a certain obligation to push their characters to self identify as LGBTQ.
“I think that networks are under the obligation to represent characters as they are. We actually don’t use the word preference. It’s what words the characters choose to use to self identify by,” Kane said.
Kane recognizes that self identifying is only one part of the LGBTQ movement.
“There are a lot of shows that do a great job representing LGBTQ characters. I think the most important thing is that we are represented. We need to be depicted alongside other characters,” Kane said.
GLAAD gave ABC, ABC Family, The CW, FOX, MTV, NBC, and Showtime good ratings in their Network Responsibility Index score, while CBS, FX, HBO, TLC, TNT, and USA were scored as adequate. History and TBS received failing scores. No networks received an excellent score.
While Kane emphasizes the importance of LGBTQ character presence, he urges for representation in a fuller format. He desires qualitative progression as well as quantitative.
“We want media to depict us in our full diversity,” Kane said.
Kane wants audiences to see that LGBTQ characters come from a variety of backgrounds and ethnicities and have different economic standings and upbringings. He feels that with more truth, more awareness for the LGBTQ community will come.
Alex Purdy, LGBTQ* student assistant at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, feels that many LGBTQ characters are sensationalized and stereotypical in current media.
“The media definitely plays on a lot of stereotypes,” Purdy said.
Purdy emphasizes how awareness for the LGBTQ community is crucial.
“We’re getting there and it’s positive, but it’s still important we take awareness to it,” Purdy said.
Purdy explained that when networks imply homosexuality without using specific terminology, it is called queer-baiting or gay-baiting. He notes the BBC’s ‘Sherlock’ does this between characters Sherlock Holmes and John Watson.
Purdy admires openly gay actor Neil Patrick Harris, but would like to feel the same toward a television character.
“I think we need to see more LGBTQ characters outside the comedic genre,” Purdy said.
Alex Ingersoll, an assistant professor of media studies at UWSP, said that there is more fluidity in television now than in past years with support of the LGBTQ community.
“Television is still one of the primary modes of representation in popular culture. In the last decade, there has been a normalization of ideas. I think you’re seeing a supporting fluidity,” Ingersoll said.
Ingersoll said that LGBTQ characters are becoming more fluid in gender and sexuality.
“These characters are more dynamic. By focusing on this type of fluidity, it shifts public thinking,” Ingersoll said.
He said that gay marriage and human rights are considered more now than ever, especially among a younger generation whose ideas may impact new media.
Kane hopes more characteristics outside of gender and sexuality emerge in every genre for characters in the LGTBQ community.
“We are part of this world, and we deserve to be part of the stories that are told about it,” said Kane.