Every June, cities and towns play host to annual pride celebrations commemorating the LGBTQ liberation movement, given that June is LGBTQ pride month. For many, the parades and festivals are a rare opportunity to freely be themselves and gather with a community they otherwise wouldn’t have back home. This year, as COVID-19 cancels large public events and a renewed spirit for racial and social justice has swept the U.S., many are taking this month to reflect and learn about experiences beyond their own. Some are reading books, some are attending virtual town halls, and others are watching TV. And while there is still a lot of work to be done, the good news is that over the past few years, television has experienced a surge of LGBTQ stories, voices, and lives previously excluded from the spotlight. That representation goes behind the camera too, with shows like Pose (FX) and Vida (Starz) boasting a diverse queer writers’ room and production staff.
According to the annual GLAAD “Where We Are on TV” survey, cable networks again lead the pack for the highest number of LGBTQ characters (215), followed by streaming (153) and broadcast (120). Representation of Bisexual+ women reached a new height, accounting for 22% of LGBTQ+ characters on cable networks. The latest report also found 105 black LGBTQ characters across all three platforms, with 48 of those found on cable networks.
And more good news is that each platform reached or surpassed the 10% benchmark set in last year’s report. These goals and initiatives are crucial because, as GLAAD notes, “The Public Religion Research Institute found that less than one-quarter of Americans have a close friend or family member who is transgender – and so the overwhelming majority of Americans learn about trans people from what they see in television, movies, and news.”
Of course, representation is more than checking boxes; it must strive to honestly reflect the world in which we live in terms of color, gender, and expression. One great example is BET’s new show Twenties from creator Lena Waithe. The comedy, which premiered in March, is semi-autobiographical and follows main character Hattie as she navigates the professional and social world as a queer Black woman in Los Angeles.
"Art is at its best when it's saying something true that nobody wants to touch," Waithe said during Billboard and The Hollywood Reporter's second annual Pride Summit. She continued, saying that often on TV, queer women, "fall into these sort of heteronormative roles of, oh, that’s where people go, 'Oh, so you're the boy, she's the girl.' And so when you see two masculine-presenting women, people say, 'Well, who's the woman?' I don’t get it." Twenties joins the ranks of celebrated projects like Pose and Vida that not only focus on queer people of color, but put them in the driver’s seat behind the camera as well.
So this year, in the absence of the usual fanfare and cheering crowds, we can still find a semblance of community on screen, and take the time to celebrate and learn from shows like Pose or Twenties. Because when people are given the space to tell their own stories, everybody wins.