Number of queer TV characters fell in 2020 even though LGBT+ shows ‘dominated the conversation’

Dominque Jackson plays Elektra in Pose.

The number of queer characters on television dropped slightly in 2020, despite the fact that LGBT+ shows “dominated the conversation”.

The findings were released in GLAAD’s latest Where We Are on TV report, released on Thursday (14 January).

Of the 773 series regular characters scheduled to appear on broadcast scripted primetime television this season, 70 (9.1 per cent) are LGBT+, the report found. This was a drop from the previous year, when queer characters accounted for 10.2 per cent of series regular characters.

There are 31 additional LGBT+ recurring characters on broadcast television, bringing the total number of queer characters to 101 – a drop from 120 in last year’s report.

LGBT+ representation on screen faced its biggest drop in primetime scripted cable, where the number of LGBT+ series regular characters decreased from 121 to 81. Meanwhile, there were just 37 recurring LGBT+ characters on scripted cable shows, down from 94 in last year’s report.

However, the report also found that more than half of LGBT+ characters on primetime scripted cable are people of colour, marking a rapid stride for representation on-screen.

In its report, GLAAD said the drop in the number of LGBT+ characters on screen could be attributed to the coronavirus pandemic, which has seen numerous television shows temporarily shelved or delayed.

A number of LGBT+ inclusive television shows, such as The L Word: Generation QEuphoriaKilling Eve and others were delayed as a result of the pandemic, impacting on the number of queer characters on television in the process.

There was also a drop in the number of LGBT+ characters on streaming platforms, including Amazon, Hulu and Netflix. The report found that there were 95 LGBT+ season regular characters on streaming platforms over the last year, with an additional 46 recurring characters, bringing the total of queer characters on streaming 141. That marks a drop of 12 from the previous year’s report.

Worryingly, lesbian representation decreased on streaming platforms for the fourth year in a row, with lesbian characters accounting for just 28 per cent of LGBT+ characters.

There was also a concerning drop in the number of HIV-positive characters on television over the last year, dropping from nine in last year’s report to just three this year. All three of those characters are on Pose.

Four creators were responsible for one in five queer characters on TV.

The report also found that just four high-profile creators are responsible for creating almost one in five of all queer characters on television.

Greg Berlanti, Lena Waithe, Shonda Rhimes and Ryan Murphy were responsible for creating 17 per cent of all LGBT+ characters on television. The same four people were behind 14 per cent of queer characters in the previous year’s report.

“In the midst of a destructive pandemic, a long overdue cultural reckoning with racial injustice, and a transition into a new political era for this country, representation matters more than everts people turn to entertainment storytelling for connection and escape,” said GLAAD president Sarah Kate Ellis.

“This time of unprecedented change matched with increased demand represents an opportunity to break new ground with stories we have not seen before and create LGBTQ characters that do not reinforce harmful stereotypes.”

GLAAD announced the findings of its report at a virtual event on Thursday, where it highlighted the way forward for LGBT+ representation to improve in the future.

Megan Townsend, GLAAD’s director of entertainment research and analysis, said at the event: “LGBTQ-inclusive shows dominated the conversation in 2020, with series like Schitt’s CreekBatwomanThe Haunting of Bly ManorVeneno, She-Ra and the Princess of Power, and others celebrating high viewership, critical acclaim, and passionate fanbases.

“However, with LGBTQ inclusion in the industry still being led by a concentrated number of creatives and several inclusive series ending in this year’s study, networks and streaming services need to be taking note of the value of this dedicated audience.

“It must be a priority to introduce nuanced and diverse LGBTQ characters in 2021 and beyond, ensuring that this year’s decreases do not become reverse progress as the industry continues to evolve and adjust to this unique era’s challenges.”