Cable's Commitment to LGBTQ Storytelling
National Transgender Awareness Week has begun, and it marks an opportunity to continue recognizing the importance of inclusion and representation for transgender individuals and the LGBTQ community as a whole on television. The latest release of GLAAD's annual "Where We Are on TV" report, now in its 15th year of tracking the number of LGBTQ characters on television, revealed progress in many areas and highlighted places where the industry should continue to improve.
Cable still leads the way with the highest number of regular and recurring LGBTQ characters across all three platforms, ahead of broadcast and streaming services, with a total of 215 characters. And among the 38 regular and recurring transgender characters that appear on all three platforms, 20 of them appear on cable, up from eight last year.
GLAAD recognized Showtime as the top cable network featuring the most LGBTQ characters (38), followed by FX (31) and Freeform (26). The network has been one of the pioneers on television in telling stories about the LGBTQ community, including those about transgender and non-binary people, in its hit shows including The L Word: Generation Q, Billions, The Chi, Kidding, The Affair, Black Monday, Ray Donovan, and Shameless.
Last year, Showtime President of Programming Gary Levine told NCTA that what differentiates the network's shows from others is that they always contain a "certain level of risk, a certain level of quality, and characters who are real and complicated." This goes along with GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis's statement in the report, where she wrote, "Today, there is more urgency than ever for our stories to be explored, and for the full diversity of the LGBTQ community to be featured in series that are connecting with audiences on such a personal level." In other words, audiences need to see and hear real and nuanced stories about the LGBTQ community, including transgender individuals. It's not enough just to hit a certain quota of characters, and networks like Showtime are recognizing that. "We see it as our mandate to be as real and honest and relevant within the culture as we can possibly be," said Levine.
FX's Pose also got a shoutout for returning for a second season and not only featuring 10 LGBTQ characters, but for also telling the stories of those characters who are HIV-positive. Pose features the largest cast of transgender character on an American TV show, and received its first Emmy this year when Billy Porter snagged the award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series. Porter is the first openly gay black man to win this award.
And while unscripted television isn't tracked in the study, it's worth mentioning that another breakthrough occurred this year on MTV's eighth season of its reality dating series, Are You the One. The show featured an entire cast that identifies as sexually fluid for the first time on an American reality dating series. VH1's RuPaul's Drag Race also continues to be a hit, now in its eleventh season as America's reality competition television series that follows the host's search for America's next drag queen superstar.
Television has definitely come a long way since the first year that the GLAAD study came out, when only 12 LGBTQ characters were counted. However, there is still a lot of work to be done to increase representation, especially for the transgender community. In addition, GLAAD issued a challenge to all television programmers to ensure that within the next two years, half of LGBTQ characters on every platform are people of color.
As Ellis states, "The role of television in changing hearts and minds has never been more important." The cable industry is up for the challenge, and continues to raise the bar every year.