Lesbians and bisexuals ‘not represented enough’ on the BBC

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

The BBC has published the results of a major study into its portrayal of lesbian, gay and bisexual people.

The internal research, conducted with gay and straight people, found that lesbian and bisexual people in particular feel underrepresented in the broadcaster’s programmes.

It also found that one in five people is uncomfortable with seeing gays and lesbians on television.

The corporation began the research last April, after a series of unfortunate incidents in which it was accused of sanctioning homophobia.

The most notorious of these was an online debate titled “Should homosexuals face execution?”, while another was an offensive segment on the bisexual actress Lindsay Lohan.

The BBC was also criticised for allowing Radio 1 DJ Chris Moyles to mock gay people, while a recent Stonewall report found that only 44 seconds of 39 hours of footage portrayed gay people in a positive and realistic light.

Today’s research was the culmination of audience research with 2,000 people and a public consultation which received more than 9,000 responses.

Gay and straight people were consulted, including some who were described as being “uncomfortable” with any portrayal of lesbian, gay and bisexual people.

The vast majority of respondents (70 per cent) thought that there is insufficient portrayal of lesbian, gay and bisexual people across the BBC, although 37 per cent of LGB people rated the content they did see as good. However, 24 per cent said it was poor.

The opinions of heterosexual people were detailed extensively in the research. The majority were comfortable with portrayals of gay people, although they were less likely to be concerned about positive and realistic depictions.

However, just over one in ten of all respondents thought that there was too much portrayal of gay people on the BBC. Eighteen per cent were ‘uncomfortable’ or ‘very uncomfortable’ about seeing gay people on television.

LGB respondents said they wanted to see more depictions of lesbians and bisexual people on the BBC, along with fewer stereotypical portrayals of gay men.

They cited news as an important area, saying that care should be taken to ensure people’s sexuality was mentioned only when necessary.

In drama, they said they wanted to see realistic storylines around gay and lesbian relationships, albeit ones which did not just revolve around characters’ sexual orientation.

LGB respondents pointed to the need for clarity in comedy which references gay people. They said that comedy scenes in which jokes were made at the expense of LGB people could be seen as unchallenged homophobia.

The results of the survey will be distributed across the BBC with editorial chiefs asked to look at the results and report back changes.

Amanda Rice, the BBC’s head of diversity, said: “The publication of this very significant piece of work sends a clear signal to all our licence fee payers that the BBC is committed to meaningful engagement with all audiences.

“Not only is this a key priority within our diversity strategy, it is also one of the best ways we can continue to learn about what the UK’s diverse communities want and expect of the BBC.”

The report was welcomed by gay charity Stonewall, which has criticised the BBC in the last two years.

Chief executive Ben Summerskill said: “These findings confirm those of Stonewall research in recent years which show that both gay and heterosexual licence-payers want to see more realistic, incidental representations of gay people on their TV screens.

“We recognise that the BBC has taken some steps forward in recent years and we’re very pleased that it now intends to build on that progress.”